“All our fields were burned and all our villages wrecked,” recounts Jalal, a woman who once lived in the village of Birafdkla, the traditional home of the Rikan tribe along the Turkish-Iraqi border. “Every day Turkish planes and guns bombed our village, hunting for the PKK,” she complains, referring to the fact that the Turkish military often cross over the Iraqi border in order to hunt down members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.
Jalal, who now lives in about 30km west of Amadiya near Dohuk, doesn’t think she will ever be able to return to her mountain home. And she is not the only one.
Almost 30 years ago, villagers living on the 15 kilometre strip of land stretching from the border between Iraq and Turkey were evacuated from their villages. This was due to an agreement between the Turkish and Iraqi governments. There were 122 villages in this area and these included the hamlets of Nirwa, Rika and Dosky Shory.
But the villagers who left in 1985 and who have basically given up on being able to return to their family properties, are launching a legal case that will attempt to get the villagers the compensation promised to them back when they first left their homes.
“The agreement concluded with the Turkish by the former Iraqi government says that the villagers affected should be compensated,” Haval Wahab, the lawyer handling the case, told NIQASH – he said he had filed the case in the Iraqi courts in Baghdad but that, up until now, there had been no movement on the issue because of the fact that the court system wasn’t operating properly.
Wahab said he had met with the village leaders and elders from Nirwa, Rika and Dosky Shory to discuss the case. Everyone was very positive, he reported. “And when we initiated the lawsuit in March, people responded quickly. Within the space of two months, 16,000 people had given me the power of attorney, to file suit on their behalf.”
“Neither the federal government in Baghdad or the Kurdish government [in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan] have shown any sympathy to these people’s case,” Wahab complained. “It’s a matter of national interest and at the very least the Kurdish government should support their own people.”
Although it was the former Iraqi government, led by deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, that had helped to organize the enforced evacuation of the villagers, one of the villagers involved, Nizar Jatinsi, from Dosky Shory, noted that: “the current Iraqi government has inherited this problem and is therefore legally obliged to compensate us for the losses we incurred.”
“I am sure that we will win the lawsuit,” Abdullah Neroy, another of the original evacuees from the border village of Dutaza said. “The Turkish government has been paying compensation annually to the villagers that were evacuated from their side of the order. We just need to follow up on this and we’ll win the case.”
Human rights organizations estimate that during the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government, as many as a million Kurdish villagers have been forced from their homes and as many 4,000 villages in the mountainous areas evacuated.
The PKK has been fighting for greater rights for the Kurds of Turkey and Kurdish autonomy since the early 1980s. The group is designated a terrorist organization by some countries and the violent conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives over the years. The PKK tend to be based in the inaccessible Qandil mountains on the Iraqi Kurdish side of the border and launch their attacks into Turkey from there. And this is the area from which most of the villagers have been evacuated.
“Over the past few years, the fields and the forests in these areas have been targeted by the military,” Sardar Kaka Hama, mayor of the district in which the villages were, said. “The bombing resulted in forest fires and the destruction of agricultural land. These people should be compensated,” he argued.