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US Religious Freedom Commission Calls Out Turkey for 'Going After Religious Minorities' in Iraq and Syria

06-18-2020
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Sinjar, Northern Iraq
Sinjar, Northern Iraq

Yazidis and others living in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq are still reeling from Turkish airstrikes that terrorized them over the weekend.

Turkey says it was targeting Kurdish rebels belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, which both Turkey and the US deem as a terrorist organization.

Using the codename "Operation Claw-Eagle," Turkish fighters blew up 81 targets Sunday including shelters and caves in Sinjar, the Qandil Mountains, and Makhmour which is home to thousands of Kurds.

The attack occurred just a few days after some 200 Yazidi families were moving back into their homes in Sinjar after being displaced in 2014 when the Islamic State committed genocide against their people.

"So it was very troubling to us as well as to many others around the world," Nadine Maenza, a commissioner on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) told CBN News.

Turkey says PKK fighters were planning attacks against Turkey from hideouts in the region, but Maenza says there's no proof.

"These attacks to do 81 strikes in an area that is so poor, so desperate, with so few Yazidis having returned and the ones that did return had to experience literally watching Mount Sinjar on fire was really troubling and really disturbing to them," she said.

"It seemed as if they weren't trying to hit the targets that they were trying to make a statement and to scare. Was it to keep the Yazidis from coming or was it to make a point that they consider the PKK to be dangerous and worthy of these kind of strikes even though it didn't seem to match the facts on the ground?" she continued.

More than 400,000 Yazidis remain in refugee camps in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. 

Before they were defeated, ISIS kidnapped 6,000 Yazidi women and sold them into sex slavery. 3,000 of these women are still missing. 

Six years later, construction is just starting to begin to rebuild their communities that ISIS ravaged.

Maenza says for Yazidis, along with Christians in the region, there's a great need for self-governance and the building of security forces so these minority populations can be protected.

"For Turkey to come in and do this right now as they're just starting to try and get people back sent a message against Yazidis," she said.

Just last week USCIRF conducted a hearing on how Turkey has taken away religious freedom from a number of religious minorities, including ancient Christian communities, in northeast Syria. 

Maenza says this latest attack appears to be straight from the public relations playbook of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- to make news on the international stage in order to distract from what's happening inside his country. In this case a waning economy, the pandemic, and a growing coalition of political foes.

She compares the airstrike in Iraq to Erdogan's arrest and imprisonment of American Pastor Andrew Brunson four years ago which served as another domestic distraction at the time.

USCIRF has condemned Turkey's behavior both in Iraq and Syria.

"Turkey should not be going after religious minorities either in Iraq or Syria. When they do we're going to call them out," she says.

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