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Christians fear Turkish attack could end Christianity in northeast Syria

A priest leads a small Christmas mass in the embattled northern Syrian city of Kobani, Dec. 25, 2018. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

January 5, 2019

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - A joint statement by Syriac Christian organizations in Syria, Europe, and the US on Thursday demanded the establishment of a no-fly zone to stop a possible Turkish attack following an announced US withdrawal, fearing it could effectively end Christianity in northern and eastern Syria.

“We urgently need protection from Turkey’s threats to invade and ‘cleanse’ our territory from Christianity, religious freedom, and democracy. US President Donald Trump's sudden decision to withdraw US troops, leaves us powerless and open to be destroyed by either Turkey, or other regimes scrambling to see our demise in the vacuum this will create.”

Turkish senior officials have threatened that their military would cross the southern border to attack areas in Syria east of the Euphrates, both before and since the announcement of Trump's decision in late December.

A significant population of Christians lives in the territory that Turkey has said it will attack, now under the control of the Self-Administration in Northern and Eastern Syria (NES).

According to the statement made by groups which include the Syriac National Council of Syria, the American Syriac Union, and the European Syriac Union, “Turkey committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing against the religious minorities [in Afrin].”

“All the Christians had to flee the area as Turkey’s jihadi troops conducted door to door searches to hunt the Christians down, to kill them and destroyed all of Afrin’s churches. They had to flee with nothing, and take refuge in the area that Turkey is now threatening to invade; north and east Syria.”

Before Turkey attacked Afrin in January, around 500 Kurdish Christian families were living in Afrin.

The organizations say that "when President Trump gave Turkey’s Recep Erdogan the permission to replace the US forces this means Turkey will crush the multi-religious democracy that is happening in north and east Syria.”

Experts, such as Political Science Professor at Missouri State University Dr. David Romano, told Kurdistan 24 that if Ankara attacks the areas in question, “Turkey’s Islamist rebel proxies simply cannot be expected to treat Syrian Christians and Yezidis kindly either.”

“We saw the kind of abuses and looting they committed in Afrin,” he added. “To expect anything different in Kobani or Jazira would be naive in the extreme.”

A priest known as Zani from Afrin who fled to Kobani and now leads prayer in a newly opened church there told Kurdistan 24 after holding Christmas mass that the community has grave fears about what could happen if Turkey attacks the town.

"We're in Kobani now, but there are threats and we are very concerned about them. Our church in Afrin was destroyed, and so we came to this one," he said.

The Syriac organizations fear that the effects of a new Turkish invasion could end up being similar to what Christians experienced under the Ottoman Empire.

"It was our great grandparents that fled Turkey due to the 1915 genocide to Syria’s North East region. We, the descendents of the survivors are at risk of reliving a genocide of the proportions our ancestors told us about, and by the same oppressor: Turkey.”

Therefore, the Syriac organizations called on the West to stop a possible Turkish attack.

"Without your support we fear that when Turkey invades we will see the end of Christianity in north and east Syria."

As a result, they call for creation of a “no-fly zone for North East Syria to protect us against Turkey.”

Over the past few years, the Trump administration has pledged to protect religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, a common demand of Christian conservatives that backed the president.

Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, an outspoken supporter of President Trump, wrote on his Facebook page on Dec. 26 that he received a “letter from Syrians who share a deep concern for their country.”

“I’m sure President Trump remembers that during the 2016 Campaign he promised to protect the Christians. Pulling out troops to quickly has the potential to put many in danger.”

In an interview with Newsmax on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US leader would ensure that religious minorities in Syria will be protected.

Editing by John J. Catherine Updated.January 5, 2019. Copyright 2018 Kurdistan 24

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