The village of Khalifan is a short but bumpy drive north from the city of Soran in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the northern part of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, it sits somewhat precariously in the small triangle of land between the Iranian and Turkish borders. Twenty-three families live in Khalifan. It is a beautiful area, and they are a close community. They make a living on the land and cheerfully welcome visitors like our CPT team.
But Khalifan is not a relaxing rural paradise. In recent years the villagers have been under constant threat of bombardment from the Turkish military base clearly visible on a nearby mountaintop. Since 2018, the village has lost 60 cows, 20 horses and dozens of goats killed in Turkish bombings. The people of Khalifan live in a permanent state of fear.
On 13 January, two young shepherds were on Chiadel Mountain, minding a herd of goats. Fourteen-year-old Bahjat Audi and his 17-year-old cousin Lazim Murad had both left school after 6th grade because the closest high school was too far away, so now they help with the farming.
Lazim and Bahjat were watching their herd of around 100 goats and decided it was time to head home for lunch. As they descended the hill, they were shocked to see an explosion of blue smoke before them. Lazim looked down to see he was bleeding from his legs and neck. He looked over and saw Bahjat also bleeding.
Lazim phoned his father Murad to tell him they were injured. His mother, Bisko, hearing her husband rush off, knew something was wrong and also set off up the hill. They brought the boys back down and saw the full extent of wounds all over their bodies. Doctors were unable to remove most of the shrapnel. Bahjat still has eleven pieces of shrapnel in his body and regularly feels pain in his back and legs. Lazim still gets pain in his neck.
The families of the boys are still in Khalifan. Murad says that “all the people and animals are under threat here. Every day we call the shepherds ten times to see if they are okay. Every family has to do that.” Many would find these circumstances too much, but leaving is not an option for the family: “We are poor people. We cannot make a life in the city. We can only live here.”
The defiance and resilience of these families is inspiring, but they should not have to fear bombings from a neighbouring country in their own village. Turkey justifies their actions by saying they are targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but Murad does not believe that. He says, “I swear there are no PKK in the area; it is just an excuse. Turkey does not separate PKK and civilians. We are all Kurds to them.”
Turkey’s ongoing terrorizing of civilian villages is, in reality, an invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan, slowly claiming more and more territory by building military bases like the one that shelled Bahjat and Lazim. Villages nearby have been evacuated—Siran is empty, and Mergarash has only a few families left. The effects go beyond those individual families being displaced; the traditional culture of rural Kurdistan is threatened as families are forced to move to the cities. But in Khalifan, the consequences are easy to see. Two young boys will spend the rest of their lives bearing the scars of a military invasion that Turkey’s allies in NATO and even the Kurdish Regional Government are doing nothing to stop.
At CPT, we call on the Turkish Armed Forces to cease their military operations inside Iraqi Kurdistan and stop targeting civilians. We call on other nations to put pressure on Turkey to do so. Otherwise, more people will be injured or killed for the supposed crime of farming goats in their own village.
We asked Bahjat what he would like after all he’s been through. His answer was simple: “I just want these military bases removed.”