The Sheladzes’ fury and the KDP—Turkey’s common concerns



Turkey bombarded and killed six civilians inside the Iraqi Kurdistan in the Sheladze area near the Iraq-Turkey border in January. Six days later, angry people in the area and relatives of the victims gathered and demonstrated in front of a Turkish military base close to them. The Turkish soldiers opened fire, killed one person, and injured ten others. The demonstrators rebelled, took over, and burned the base.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has control of the region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is ruled by the KDP, is responsible for the safety of the people in the region. In a neutral view, the expected reaction of the Kurdish authorities would be an immediate denouncement of the Turkish attack and provision of necessary medical and psychological help to the injured people. They might even bring the case to the international stage and demand compensation for the victims and an end to the Turkish violations against civilians. But, not surprisingly, the KDP did nothing and turned a blind eye. After the burning of the Turkish base, the KDP felt the seriousness of the danger. The head of the KRG, Nechirvan Barzani, sent his condolence to the victims’ families; in the meantime, he condemned the attack on the Turkish base and accused the protesters as troublemakers, positing that there was a suspicious hand behind the accident. Thus, Barzani did not condemn Turkey for the atrocity. Soon, the KDP came on alert, and the security forces (Asayish) started a campaign against the activists and opponents of the Barzani family and the KDP (the KDP and the Barzani family are two sides of the same coin). The security forces arrested over 30 people. Some of them are still in the KDP’s custody. The KDP’s security forces also closed down the NRT office (a Kurdish News TV channel) in Duhok city.

But why are there Turkish military bases? Is it because of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)? Why did the KDP defend the Turkish military bases? The cooperation between Turkey and the Barzani family/the KDP started in the early 1990s. Turkey supported the KDP in the internal war between the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK); after that they cooperated against the PKK in the Qandil Mountains. For both the PDK and Turkey, the PKK is an enemy. However, the PKK is not the only threat that worries the KDP. The KDP does not trust the PUK nor the Gorran Movement or other political rivals in the Iraqi Kurdistan, which not has seen democratic rule yet. The people are angry and very tired of the KDP’s and PUK’s corruption and betrayal. After the failed referendum in September 2017, countless people boycotted the last election in 2018 as a protest to the corrupt and false political leaders. People saw the election as a farce. People want change from the despotic rule of the Barzani and Talabani families. On the other hand, the Iraqi Kurdistan has been a good market for Turkey thanks to the Barzani family’s help. Turkey and the Barzani family have a strong economic relationship that involves oil contracts and other significant trade projects. A political change would jeopardize Turkish economic gains in the Iraqi Kurdistan. Consequently, Turkey protects the Barzani family and their political and economic interests in return for Barzani family helping Turkey in the war against the PKK and protecting and supporting Turkish interests in the Iraqi Kurdistan and the region. So the Turkish military presence in the Iraqi Kurdistan is affected by several factors, not only the war against the PKK. In fact, there are three threats that concern the Barzani family: the PKK, the economic interests, and finally political rivals and the unsatisfied citizens. Therefore, the Barzani family and Turkey have common concerns.

The people of the region that suffer under the Turkish bombardment are powerless and want a stop to the atrocities; they want to live in peace in their villages. They cannot stop the PKK’s activity in the border area, and they see the Turkish troops as occupiers that they do not want there. Turkey has killed many people since the 1990s, and nobody has helped the villagers. The KDP does nothing and blames the PKK but not Turkey usually. For instance, the KDP members of the Iraqi Parliament blamed the PKK for the bombardments and disturbances and asked them to leave the Iraqi Kurdistan.

The KDP does not tolerate criticism or opposition to the interests of the Barzani family and the party. The party’s security and intelligence forces have the individuals and organizations under constant observation. The mass arrests carried out by the KDP were a typical firm reaction of the party in order to come down hard on any critical voice in the region. Not surprisingly, the Turkish defense minister thanked the KRG for its quick and firm reaction.

Finally, the protest of the Sheladze people and the burning of the Turkish military base was an unexpected incident for the KDP. This is in fact the first serious threat to the occupying forces and the KDP’s despotic rule.

By Shakhawan Shorsh

7 February 2019