This article originally appeared in the New York Times.
A Turkish airstrike this week killed a senior leader of an organization banned in Turkey as his convoy was leaving a village in northern Iraq, officials said.
The airstrike was the latest of many that Turkey has carried out in Iraqi territory, with the permission of the Iraqi government, in an effort to weaken the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
But the target in Wednesday’s strike, a man known as Zaki Shingali, is considered a hero to many members of the embattled Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, whose women and girls were forced into sexual enslavement by the Islamic State and whose men were killed by the thousands.
When the Islamic State overran the area in 2014, government troops fled and left civilians to fend for themselves. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which maintains bases in the Sinjar mountains of northern Iraq, came to the aid of stranded Yazidis. The organization, also known as the P.K.K., the initials of its Kurdish name, created a security corridor that allowed civilians to flee, say survivors of the massacre and regional experts.
8) In that hour of dire need, Kurdish #YPG & PKK forces entered the Sinjar region from Syria, fought their way to the mountain and established the most vital front lines in Sinjar’s resistance to IS. Their effort saved the lives of up to 100,000 Yazidis who were evacuated.
— Matthew Barber (@Matthew__Barber) August 16, 2018
Zaki Shingali, an ethnic Yazidi and a Turkish citizen, was leaving a service commemorating the fourth anniversary of the killings on Wednesday in Kojo, the Yazidi village that suffered the greatest losses.
He died from his wounds early Thursday, said Mahmoud Shingali, the coordinator for civil affairs between Sinjar and the federal government in Baghdad. Turkey described Zaki Shingali as the most senior P.K.K. leader in the Sinjar area, according to a pro-government newspaper, who appeared on the country’s most-wanted “red list.”
Online, Yazidi activists and survivors of the massacre posted messages criticizing Turkey and commemorating Zaki Shingali, whose real name was Ismael Özden.
“We don’t want Sinjar to be a hotbed of the P.K.K. and we don’t want to be the enemies of Turkey,” said Murad Ismael, who co-founded Yazda, a group providing support to Yazidi women raped by Islamic State militants. “But Turkey watched patiently as the Yazidi genocide unfolded and did nothing.”
“Mam Zaki was one of the first who arrived to help us,” Mr. Ismael added, using a Kurdish word that means uncle.
Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee who was abducted from her village on Sinjar mountain and repeatedly raped by Islamic State fighters before escaping, wrote in an email: “Mam Zaki was a fine human who came to the rescue of Yazidis. For this we are thankful. That said, Sinjar cannot be a place for people to fight their wars.”
As many as 40,000 people are believed to have been killed in decades of conflict between Turkish soldiers and P.K.K. fighters. The P.K.K. has found refuge in Iraq’s remote mountains, and in recent years, Turkey has been fighting the group outside its borders, including carrying out airstrikes on Iraqi soil.
The continued P.K.K. presence in the Sinjar region of Iraq, the ancestral homeland of the Yazidi people, has created a complicated and increasingly tense dynamic.
Numerous armed groups have tried to lay claim to the rugged landscape and its collection of villages. The area was overwhelmingly Yazidi until 2014, when they were forced to flee the Islamic State’s advance and seek shelter in refugee camps set up hours from their homes. Years later, a sizable portion of the community is still living in those same open-air tent cities, unable to return as the struggle for control unfolds on the mountain.
One of the players in that battle for control is the P.K.K., which is also considered as a terrorist organization by the United States.
This article was originally published in the New York Times.