Turkish offensive in Syria and Iraq: one Christian victim, churches and houses damaged
Ankara has launched a spring offensive "Claw Lock" against Kurdish targets across the border. A 26-year-old Christian man was killed in Khabour, as jihadists attack with Turkish support. Dozens of targets hit in Iraqi Kurdistan. Opposition says it is a hypocritical "policy" aimed at covering up the internal crisis.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Churches and Christian faithful are among the victims of the spring offensive launched by the Turkish government against PKK targets (the Kurdish Workers' Party, considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara) in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.
Last weekend, the fighter planes of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - who critics say is using the war to mask serious internal economic difficulties - hit dozens of targets and killed at least 19 fighters of the Kurdish organisation. However victims also included Christians fueling fears of further escalation while international attention is focused on Russian-Ukrainian affairs.
Christian sources in north-eastern Syria report that on Easter night Turkish fighter planes bombed the Assyrian village of Tel Shanan several times. At the same time, heavy clashes took place on the ground between jihadist groups - supported by Ankara - and members of a Christian militia (Mnk) present in the area.
The previous day, Turkish bombs had damaged a church and destroyed several houses in the village of Tal Tawil near Tal Tamar. Tal Tawil is a Christian-Assyrian village in Khabour that has resisted multiple attacks by the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) since the beginning of the conflict in Syria and is now in the crosshairs of Turkish soldiers and mercenaries linked to various jihadist factions.
The Christian victim (pictured), who died on Easter Sunday, was a 26-year-old Assyrian fighter named Zaya, a member of the Khabour Guard Council, who was shot during an assault by a pro-Turkish jihadist militia. Two weeks earlier, another Christian fighter was wounded in an attack by Turkish occupation forces.
In the meantime, military operations in Iraqi Kurdistan are multiplying, with ground and air offensives as part of the 'Claw Lock' operation. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar confirms that fighter jets have hit dozens of shelters, bunkers, caves, tunnels, ammunition depots and a PKK headquarters.
Omer Celik, a spokesman for the ruling Akp party, said: "In principle, our neighbours [referring to Syria and Iraq] should drive terrorist groups out of their territory by themselves. But since they don't seem to be able to do it, we have to protect our people.
The military escalation comes at a time of growing discontent among Turks over the soaring inflation rate and rising prices, particularly for food and accommodation. A spring operation, as has happened in the past, was widely anticipated also by the members of the PKK themselves, but its scale is seen by many as an attempt by the government to distract public opinion from the growing difficulties.
Others believe it is a way of stoking ill-feeling towards the Kurds and the pro-Kurdish democratic party HDP, which is currently fighting a possible closure due to accusations of (alleged) links with the PKK. In a statement, a spokesman defines it as "hypocritical" to launch an offensive against civilians in Kurdistan while Ankara wants to mediate peace between Moscow and Kiev to gain international consensus.