The Syrian Kurdish Christian community has called for immediate international protection after the Turkish military began shelling a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria Sunday.
The Turkish government is determined to oust the U.S.-allied Kurdish militia, which responded with its own rocket attacks on Turkish towns.
In response to news of the operation, the US State Dept. urged Turkey to deal with the situation swiftly, requesting that the action be “limited in scope and duration.”
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert further asked Turkey to be “scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties,” adding that all parties involved in Syria should focus on defeating the Islamic State group, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not take kindly to those words, snapping back:
“The USA is telling us that the operation period must not be very long. I asked them was your period in Afghanistan short? You entered Iraq before we came to rule Turkey and are still in Iraq.”
“This is a national struggle,” Erdogan was reported as saying Sunday. “We will crush anyone who opposes our national struggle.”
“We are not alone… Allah is with us,” he added, “God willing, this operation will come to an end in a short time.”
— hONoUR (@Jakoben1789) January 21, 2018
Turkey is convinced that the YPG is a terror organization and a major security threat due to its links with Kurdish rebels fighting in southeastern Turkey. Erdogan believes the YPG to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades.
The Syrian government, Iran and Egypt have all condemned the attack. Activists said the attacks have killed at least 18 civilians in the Kurdish-held enclave, Afrin, in just the first 24 hours of the operation.
Turkish officials say 11 rockets launched from Syria have landed in Turkish towns along the border, killing at least one Syrian refugee and injuring an additional 47 people.
“We are determined, Afrin will be sorted out,” Mr Erdogan said in a live television broadcast from Ankara Monday. “We will take no step back.”
“We spoke about this with our Russian friends; we have an agreement,” Erdogan added.
Many Christians appear to have been caught up in the shelling.
Pastor Valentine Hanan from the Good Shepherd Church in Afrin city has called for international protection, saying that they are against Turkish shelling on Afrin, according to an official statement.
“As the Good Shepherd Church in Afrin city, we demand urgent international protection for the believers in Afrin and the cease of this Turkish shelling. We are also against the heavy Turkish shelling and the return of Islamic groups to the region,” read the statement as reported by Sputnik on Monday.
The church has called on Christians around the world to pray for and help them. “We as the church first ask God for protection and then ask for prayers and aid from our brothers,” it said.
There are some 250 Christian families in Afrin canton, 190 families in Afrin city, 45 families in Rajo and 15 families in Maabatli, according to the church.
The YPG militia is predominantly made up of Christians.
Leaders of the #Christian churches in #Afrin issue a desperate plea for “intervention & protection” as #Turkish military attacks intensify. Says, “many lives are in mortal danger… we are unable to protect ourselves or our families… please help us.” #Efrîn #Syria pic.twitter.com/RUapkuSa5W
— Samira Ghaderi (@Samira_Ghaderi) January 22, 2018
“The brutal Turkish aggression” on Afrin was part of Ankara’s policy of “support for terrorism” in Syria, said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as reported by the BBC.
Kurdish political parties based in Turkey condemned the military offensive as the government’s attempts at ridding the region of Kurds.
Very concerned about the Turkish attack on the city of Afrin. We hope that these attacks, which have led to the loss of civilian lives are ended immediately. (1 of 2)
— Masoud Barzani (@masoud_barzani) January 22, 2018
“It should also be well known that the attack of the Turkish State towards Afrin is part of the policy of annihilating the Kurds,” read a joint statement from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the Peace and Democratic Party (BDP), Democratic Society Congress (KCD), and the Freedom and Socialism Party and Freedom Movement.
Thousands of volunteers have also reportedly been enlisted to fight for Turkey against the YPG.
— Samira Ghaderi (@Samira_Ghaderi) January 21, 2018