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Turkish attacks stop displaced Iraqi Yazidis from returning home

Turkey's regular targeting of Sinjar region is affecting the area badly and preventing displaced people from returning.

SINJAR, Iraq - Yazidis returning to their homes in the Sinjar district of Iraq have demanded international intervention to protect them from the ongoing Turkish bombing.

Since 2017, near 80 Yazidi people were killed by Turkish airstrike, 64 of them from Sinjar Resistance Units which is formally affiliated with Popular Unites, according to a high ranking military officer in YBS.

Saad Hamo is a young Yazidi who was forced to leave south Sinjar and settle in Mount Sinjar after the Islamic State (IS) invaded the district, forcing thousands of Yazidis into displacement, but not before committing what the UN believed was a “genocide” against them and other Iraqi components.

Many Yazidis were reluctant to return to their homes amid the ongoing Turkish attacks under the pretext of attacking Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) sites, Hamo told Al-Monitor. In the Sardashti camp for displaced Yazidis, “These people did not leave Sinjar despite all the tragedy that befell them, and we are looking for other ways to convince those who remain in the displacement camps in Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to return.”

Hamo never left the area and witnessed how his people resisted IS. If another war breaks out, he said, “I will never leave.”

Now, there are 350 thousand internally displaced Yazidis in Iraq, and more than 100 thousand have left Iraq permanently. Despite the victory against IS in 2017, the displaced Yazidis were not able to return yet.

On Feb. 2, Turkey bombed several military sites in Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, belonging to the 80th Regiment within the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), mostly made up of Yazidis. Joint military sites between the Iraqi army and the PMU were also targeted. The Turkish Ministry of Defense published pictures showing Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar supervising the operation which destroyed PKK hideouts.

The Turkish attacks on Sinjar have been repeated for years, killing and injuring many. Turkey claims these attacks target the PKK, which is classified as an international terrorist organization.

Iraq condemned the Turkish attacks on Feb. 2 through the official Security Media Cell, calling on the Turkish side to adhere to good neighborliness and expressing Iraq's readiness to cooperate in controlling the security situation on the common borders.

The KRG's Counter-Terrorism Service said several people were killed and wounded in the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, but did not provide further details.

Leaders of the Yazidi community demanded that attacks on Sinjar end to allow the displaced to return to their city. Former Iraqi MP Saib Khidir tweeted on Feb. 2, “The continuous bombing series on Sinjar has threatened the Yazidi presence in Iraq.”

Many Yazidis now believe it is impossible to enjoy a safe and dignified life in Iraq, specifically in Sinjar. Yazidi activist Murad Ismail, the founder of the Sinjar Academy, told Al-Monitor that the community is "losing hope.”

Ismail noted, “This is a direct result of the failure of Iraq and the international community to create a safe space for our people to recover from genocide. Instead of creating hope for a deeply traumatized community and instead of healing our wounds and bringing some justice to the lost lives of 10,000 Yazidis, Sinjar is turning into a war zone. More than half of our people are still suffering under unimaginable conditions in displacement camps and may never be able to return.”

Ismail suggested deploying international peacekeeping forces or allowing the Yazidis to seek asylum in Western countries.

However, Hamo believes in returning the displaced Yazidis with the support of reconstruction operations and public services. He agreed with Ismail on the necessity of international peacekeeping forces but stressed the importance of holding onto the historical land of the Yazidis.

The Yazidis in Sinjar suffer an absence of basic services or a unified administration for the city, although on Oct. 9, 2020, the central government and the KRG signed the Sinjar Agreement, which aims to form a unified administration.

The people of Sinjar believe the agreement is part of the solution for their return, but they wonder why its implementation was delayed, especially in terms of recruiting 2,500 police personnel and unifying administration in Sinjar.

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