(AINA) -- On August 25, 1999 armed Bahdinanis of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) imposed a blockade against a string of eight Assyrian villages in the Nahla area of northern Iraq. Earlier in August, the Bahdinanis of the KDP had ordered the villagers not to transport any food into the villages under threat of force. Having no other viable recourse, they appealed to United Nations (UN) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) monitors in northern Iraq to intervene on the Assyrians' behalf. Fortunately the UN and the ICRC demanded a lifting of the blockade against the Assyrian villages as at least a portion of provisions directly originated from the UN "oil for food" Resolution 986 program. In order not to appear to be in defiance of a UN resolution, the Bahdinanis temporarily relented. However, intimidation and on again off again blockades have continued despite UN protests.
The Nahla area lies several kilometers east of Aqra in the Dohuk province of northern Iraq. The eight wholly Assyrian villages remaining in the Nahla district include Merokeh, Belmat, Khalilaneh, Hizaneh, Jouleh, Chameh Chale, Rabatkeh, and Kash Kawa. The Assyrian villages in this district have remained relatively isolated and it has been this relative isolation that has thus far spared them. However, on account of their isolation, Assyrian villagers there are dependent upon provisions brought in from the Aqra city center. With no developed road system, supplies are carried by hand or mule monthly across dirt roads and through mountain passages. Even prior to the August blockade, the villagers were sometimes exposed to confiscation of their goods by Bahdinani bandits or KDP operatives often after the villagers had trekked several kilometers on foot and just as they had nearly reached their homes.
Following the initially successful UN and ICRC intervention, armed KDP Bahdinani thugs continued their campaign of terror against the Assyrian villages. On the night of August 27 and 28, the Bahdinanis besieged the village of Kash Kawa and indiscriminately fired automatic weapon rounds upon Assyrian homes. Fortunately, no Assyrians were harmed by the shots although livestock were killed and property was damaged. The armed KDP operatives subsequently entered the village intimidating the inhabitants. Residents of the village were pulled from their homes in the middle of the night and gathered into a group. Mindful of previous Kurdish atrocities, women and children cried in horror and fear. Two Assyrian men, Mr. Samir Daniel and Mr. Yonadam Moshe were singled out from the crowd and severely beaten upon their heads with the buts of rifles, leading to concussions and severe external hemorrhaging -- all before terrified women and children.
The alleged "justification" by the Bahdinani leadership for the initial blockade and subsequent brutality against the residents of Kash Kawa was a supposed belief by the KDP that Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerillas were benefiting from the relief supplies entering the village. With the arrest of the PKK leader, Mr. Abdullah Ocalan, in Turkey, significant numbers of fully armed PKK fighters have fled Turkey into northern Iraq. The presence of still more armed Kurmanji tribesmen from Turkey into the area has been unsettling and destabilizing. Assyrian villages have also been raided for supplies and food by PKK guerillas in recent months. The increasing tension between the PKK and the KDP has raised the specter of still greater blood feuds by the various Kurdish ethnic groups and political parties, leaving the Assyrians in a precarious position.
The Assyrian villages in the Nahla region are a small remnant of what was a markedly more robust and significant Assyrian presence in the Aqra area a mere twenty to thirty years ago. Many of the surrounding Assyrian villages were destroyed by the Iraqi government in the 1960's and 1970's and subsequently illegally expropriated by Bahdinani settlers. Ironically, the pretext for the Iraqi government destruction of Assyrian villages in northern Iraq was that they were aiding these same Bahdinanis of the KDP that are now attacking the Assyrians under the pretext that the Assyrians are now aiding the Kurmanjis of the PKK.
The Assyrians in northern Iraq have not supported either of the two warring ethnic factions, as the Assyrians are only too painfully cognizant of the previous destruction and expropriation of Assyrian villages by the PKK in southeastern Turkey and by the KDP in northern Iraq. Assyrians in the area also remember all too well the December 1997 massacre of seven unarmed Assyrian civilians from Mangeshe, Dohuk in northern Iraq by the PKK (12-28-1997 AINA report). In the case of Kash Kawa the Bahdinani forces of the KDP eventually left the village after wreaking havoc, confiscating supplies, and ultimately, finding no evidence of pro-PKK sentiment.