IRAQI KURDISTAN: As adults, we are just afraid for our children; residents of Merkejia speak with CPT about the impacts of the Turkish bombings.


29 May 2017

IRAQI KURDISTAN: As adults, we are just afraid for our children; residents of Merkejia speak with CPT about the impacts of the Turkish bombings.

by: Julie Brown

The explosion was massive, even through the small video on Kak Najib’s phone we could see the devastation and huge plume of smoke that engulfed the whole side of a nearby mountain. This was just one of many bombs that fell on the area surrounding the village of Merkejia last fall.

Merkajia is an Assyrian village that lies within the northern mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. These mountains are a dividing point between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan as well as a battleground between the Turkish government and The Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK.  While media sometimes gives nod to this decades long conflict, the realities of life for those like the villagers of Merkejia, people whose communities are on the frontlines, are rarely told.

"Last November, the Turkish airplanes dropped a barrage of bombs on the area surrounding this small village", Kak Najib, the Mukhtar (village leader) of Merkejia, told CPT on 11 May 2017. The first bombs fell in the evening when Kak Najib and his family were in their house.  He explained that at first they stayed inside their home and took shelter but as the bombs continued to fall they went outside afraid that one could hit the house and it could collapse on them.  The women and children left the village and only the men stayed behind to protect their homes and property. “As Assyrians we believe that we will die one day and that we should not be afraid of death. I have seen many wars, Saddam forced me to go to Kuwait.  As adults, we are just afraid for our children,” he explained.

The bombs shattered all the windows in every home in Merkejia and cracked several walls. Kak Najib pointed to a large crack in his home just over a large portrait of Jesus hanging in his family room.  When CPT asked how people could show solidarity with the villagers of Merkejia he simply said, “Let people know that we are being bombed.”

                                                          Wall inside Kak Najib´s house   

                                               Walls inside Kak Najib's house in Merkajia. Photo by: Julie Brow 

After the bombing ended, Kak Najib went out into the village’s surrounding lands. What he saw shocked him. When he attempted to survey the damages to the area and his fields he found parts of bodies of Kurdish fighters strewn over the landscape. He said that he did his best to collect them and keep them from the wold animals so that these people could have a proper burial.  Although Merkejia’s residents are not involved in fighting, and even have an agreement with the fighters to stay away from the village, no one is immune from the effects of the bombings. Over fifty bombs hit the area in a week. Apart from the fighters, no village resident lost their life, this time.

Civilians in the region continually feel the effects of the Turkish bombardments for many years. Many families have left, homes are damaged, and the shepherds can no longer raise herds in the area because with every bombing the animals run and get lost. The bombs have repeatedly burned and destroyed the fields around the village. The villagers from Merkejia have land deeds that date back to the Ottoman Empire.  Kak Najib held up a large map depicting the Assyrian village’s historic land that his family has lived on for generations.  He remarked, “This is our land, even if it is all burned we will never leave.”

                      Kak Najib shows the map 

                                 Kak Najib showing the historical map of his village's land to the CPTer. Photo by: Julie Brown.

This bombing took place in November of 2016, however, CPT records show that over forty Turkish cross-border bombardments on Kurdish areas similar to Merkejia have taken place just in the first five months of 2017 alone.