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Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

  • Dorian Jones

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement.

Nearly 4,000 Yazidis who fled to Turkey have found sanctuary at the Cinar refugee camp in Diyarbakir. The camp is one of 11 set up by local authorities under the control of the pro-Kurdish HDP party.

Mixerbi Suleiman, his pregnant wife and their seven children spent weeks in the mountains of Syria and Iraq before finding safety in Turkey.

"When Daesh [the Islamic State fighters] came, we could not stay any longer," Suleiman said. "We had to flee. There is no way any human can stand against them. No force can be enough to fight them. We ran to the mountains."

Camp director Metin Palandoken said the Diyarbakir municipality built the camp after thousands of Yazidis turned up on its doorstep.

At a women's center, children will be taught their lessons in Kurdish, the mother tongue of most Yazidis. In Turkish state camps, lessons are in Arabic.

Palandoken said the classes would be run by Yazidis themselves, a move that built trust after so much oppression.

Yazidis have been massacred for centuries, Palandoken said, and "because of this they don't trust anyone, especially Muslim societies. But in these last four months, we succeeded in gaining their trust."

Twelve of the 15 committee members who run the camp are Yazidi refugees.

But camp organizers said that other than the provision of some tents, the Turkish government has provided little support.

Turkey's ruling AK Party responds that there are perfectly adequate state camps. It accuses the pro-Kurdish HDP of using its camps to promote a Kurdish rights agenda.

"They are trying to get a political profit out of this," said Fatma Oncu, AK Party national committee member. "Our priority should be the safety of these refugees, but they turn it into a show for international media. We are still Turkey. There is no other country here."

But many Yazidis say they are reluctant to go to state camps, because they would have to live with Arabs. They recall their traumatic experiences at the hands of Arab members of the Islamic State, said refugee Mehim Ibrahim Eydo.

"We don't want to live with Arabs — we don't want to see them again," Eydo said. "My neighbors were Arabs, and those who wanted to kill me were Arabs. I lived in Iraq with Arabs for 30 years. Even if I have to fight 20 more years, I will not have my children go back and live with them again."

The idea of co-existence frightens many Yazidis, who now say their future is no longer in Iraq or Syria, but in asylum in Europe or the United States.