Crashed Turkish drone sparks fires in Nahla Valley, locals assemble firefighting force

July 10, 2023

A Turkish reconnaissance drone crashed on Friday in the Nahla Valley of northern Iraq, according to eyewitnesses, sparking fires across an estimated 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) of Assyrian agricultural lands. Previous reports linked these fires to an airstrike.

Locals extinguished the flames with firefighting equipment donated from the Shlama Foundation that included air blowers, fire vests, water pumps and oxygen masks.

The crash evoked memories of a fire in the valley two years ago, when a Turkish airstrike ignited huge tracks of farm lands.

At the time, locals struggled to put out the flames, lacking proper firefighting equipment. Calls to authorities to help extinguish the flames went unanswered. The administration in Dohuk doesn’t have the capacity to support in these emergencies, a Nahla resident told the Journal.

Residents were left to fight the flames without oxygen masks or protective gear, and relied largely on containing the blaze by cutting downs trees and clearing brush.

“If people were equipped with [firefighting gear] in the villages, they would have been able to save a lot of land, they would have been able to put out the fires and solve the issues themselves a lot sooner,” said Jenny Korkes, an Assyrian who was living in Erbil at the time of the 2021 fire. “We can’t have strong communities and power if we don’t have the infrastructure and the resources to protect ourselves.”

Following the extinguishing of that fire, locals recruited the support of the Shlama Foundation and donations from the diaspora community to raise money for firefighting kits.

Nahla residents using new firefighting kits to battle flames sparked by a crashed Turkish drone. (Photo provided)

The Nahla Valley is comprised of eight Assyrian villages and about 800 people.

That number has declined dramatically in recent years, at one point estimated to be in the tens of thousands, as families face mounting pressures to leave due to ongoing Turkish bombings and increased job prospects in the larger cities.

Turkish drones and fighter jets are nothing new in this part of the world. For years, Turkey has conducted regular military operations in northern Iraq targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, which its views as a terrorist group.

Ankara’s broader campaign in the north has included building new military bases, chopping down forests to make way for roads, and a barrage of airstrikes that have displaced locals and forced entire villages to shutter.

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