Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday said his country could hit the UN-aided Makhmour refugee camp, 40 miles southwest of Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) capital city Erbil, where over 12,000 Kurdish refugees who fled Turkey live.
According to a report by Kurdistan 24, Erdoğan justified his threat against the UN-aided camp on the grounds it had become “a breeding ground” for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“If Iraq says we will solve this, then perfect. But if not, then we will hit Sinjar and Qandil. And I am saying this for the first time, Makhmour. Makhmour is very important. If not solved we will hit it,” Erdoğan told Turkey’s pro-government news channel CNN Turk during a live interview.
“Qandil is feeding on Makhmour,” Erdoğan said about youth participation from the camp to PKK, adding he would not care what the UN says in such an eventuality if it has to “solve this.”
Qandil, a range of mountains straddling the Iraq-Iran border, is the seat of PKK which the Turkish army is currently making advances toward. Sinjar is a town where the predominantly Kurdish minority of the Yazidi faith became the target of a genocidal campaign by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2014.
It is the first time, however, that a Turkish leader threatened the use of force against a refugee camp on the grounds it provides fighters to the PKK. Makhmour’s inhabitants fled Turkey into the Kurdish region in northern Iraq in 1994, at a time of intense fighting between Turkish security forces and the PKK.
Extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and depopulation of thousands of villages in Kurdish provinces marked the 1990s’ conflict.
“They first stayed in Atroush camp near the Turkish border, then split into two groups in 1997. Between 4,000 and 5,000 refugees moved to local settlements in the governorate of Dohuk and Erbil,” according to the UN Refugee Agency.
The Ankara government has at times tried to repatriate them, with no success, mainly due to its continued political, cultural, and linguistic persecution of Kurds. The Makhmour camp, along with the nearby town after which it is named, fell for a short time into the hands of ISIL militants during their 2014 blitzkrieg across Iraq. It was eventually liberated by Coalition-backed Peshmerga forces and PKK militants.