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Turkish military moving into Iraq will put minorities under severe risk

25 October 2007

Turkish military action in the Kurdish Region of northern Iraq will put the lives of Iraqi minorities, who are already facing violence and persecution, at severe risk, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) warned on Thursday.

A large proportion of Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis live in the area administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) or in the neighbouring areas of Nineveh or Kirkuk.

"Groups like the Yazidis will become victims of both sides. On one side they are being killed by fanatics who call them unbelievers. If Turkish troops invade Iraq they will also be subject to violence because they live and mix in the Kurdish areas," Ali Seedo Rasho, President of the Yazidi Cultural Association in Iraq, said in a phone interview from Syria to where he has fled for his own safety.

Yazidis, adherents of a 4000-year-old pre-Islamic faith, have been the targets of bloody violent attacks, the worst was in August where close to 500 people were killed in two bomb attacks. Around 55,000 Yazidis are believed to be living in the Kurdish areas. Some 3,000 Christians are also reported to have moved to the Kurdish areas while sizable numbers of Turkmen and Shabaks also live there.

Rasho says that most minorities like the Yazidis are already living in very tough economic circumstances and a military onslaught will worsen the situation for them. "Life is already very difficult for them, they don't know how to protect themselves as it is, so Turkish military action will cause big problems for them," he adds.

Last week the Turkish parliament voted to let troops conduct military operations in Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels, who use northern Iraq as a refuge to conduct attacks on Turkey. Governments, including the US and UK, have urged Turkey not to march into Iraq and the Iraqi government itself has made the request whilst also pledging to limit the rebel's activities and close their offices in Iraq.

MRG condemns violent attacks by armed separatists in Turkey that have led to civilian deaths in horrific bombings, and calls on those responsible to be brought to justice. However, any large-scale military incursion into northern Iraq risks destabilising and inviting increased insurgent attacks on KRG areas or neighbouring governorates, leading to a large loss of human life.

"The history of Turkey and Iraq shows that during armed conflicts, it is the smaller minorities who suffer most. The Iraqi, Turkish and Kurdish authorities must avoid armed conflict that will further destabilise the situation in both countries," said the MRG Press Office, MRG's Head of International Advocacy.

A landmark report by MRG in February 2007 stated that religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq are facing unprecedented levels of violence, and in some cases, risk being eradicated completely from their ancient homeland.

Notes to Editors

  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • For more information or to arrange an interview:

MRG Media Officer Emma Eastwood

T: +44 (0) 207 4224205 M: +44 (0) 7989699984

E: [email protected]

Ali Seedo Rasho, Yazidi Cultural Association in Iraq

M: +963 947 159502