As Turkish forces continue to advance into Northern Syria, the Kurdish people, many of whom are Christians, remain in grave peril.
Turkey has been advancing into North-Eastern Syria, making gains in the key border towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad. On Monday, in a last-ditch effort to save their people, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who largely represent and protect the Kurdish minority, struck a deal with Russian-backed Syrian government forces (the SAA) in order to push back the Turkish assault.
There are unconfirmed reports that the deal between the SDF and the Syrian government, likely brokered by Moscow, involves the complete dismantling of the SDF (and an incorporating of current Kurdish forces into a Russia-controlled Syrian military), in exchange for a guarantee of Kurdish autonomy, freedoms and rights, to be enshrined within a new Syrian constitution. The Kurds have also demanded central government representation.
The security situation for Christian minorities, however, remains severe.
How many Christians are in the region?
Prior to the commencement of the Syrian Civil War, there were approximately 250,000 Christians in the self-governed Kurdish Rojava region. As of 2019, this number has plummeted to around 150,000, after five years of bloody armed struggle saw the YPG/SDF Kurdish forces bravely beat back the bloodthirsty militants of the Islamic State.
Despite this momentous victory, they now face a new threat in the form of Turkish Islamic imperialism. Indeed, the latest Turkish incursion, which was made possible by a sudden US troop withdrawal ordered by President Trump, threatens to devastate the Christian minority once again.
The Turkish army and Turkey-backed Islamic proxy forces have, in the last few days, been seen to be committing war crimes against the Kurdish people, including the murder of leading female Kurdish politician Hervin Khalaf, the Secretary General of the Future Syria Party.
The 35-year-old was “taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish-backed mercenary factions”, according to the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the SDF, the Guardian reports. “This is a clear evidence that the Turkish state is continuing its criminal policy towards unarmed civilians.”
If this wasn’t bad enough, Turkish shelling has put the 11,000 ISIS fighters, currently held by the Kurdish YPG forces, at imminent risk of escape — ISIS has a longstanding record of committing genocide against Christian minorities.
Unfortunately, many militants and their families have managed to break out of prison already:
In light of the sudden Turkish invasion, those belonging to the ancient Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Church, groups of Kurdish and Arab Evangelicals, plus the various Armenian churches, all remain at imminent risk of attack.
These are precious and historic communities of faith. Indeed, many of the Christians in the North East speak a dialect of Eastern Aramaic, very similar to the language that Jesus himself would have spoken. Remember also that other Christians are direct descendants of the Armenian survivors of the Ottoman (Turkish) genocide of 1915. They can envision history repeating itself — a notion that is utterly terrifying to the faith community.
What is the scale of aggression against Christians?
The Turkish army and it’s terrorist counterparts is an almost exclusively Islamic entity, with a history of brutalizing Christians.
Persecution watchdog In Defense of Christians reported the deaths of three Christians shortly after Turkey began its bombing campaign. Many more are likely to be killed as ground forces advance. Indeed, you only need to take a glance at the situation in Afrin to understand just how bad it could get for the Christian population.
Afrin was attacked by the Turkish army and the notoriously anti-Christian “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) in March of 2018 after formerly being controlled by the Kurdish-led YPG. Over the course of their attack and occupation, the Turkish army and their terrorist affiliates have been accused of using chemical weapons against the population along with perpetrating other crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing — including the mutilation of a female corpse and the shooting of fleeing refugees.
“The remaining Christians in Afrin live in fear and were publicly threatened with death by the Islamist allies of Turkey,” North East Syrian press organization, the Rojava Information Center, told Faithwire.
“Turkish-backed demographic engineering in Afrin has been well documented, with attempts to “Arabize” the region south of the Turkish border, pushing out Christians, Kurds, Yezidis and other ethnic and religious minorities who were living in Afrin.”
The RIC added that “Turkish air strikes on Afrin in 2018 reportedly destroyed several ancient Christian sites, including the UNESCO recognised Brad Christian heritage site, and the Julianus Church, one of the oldest Christian churches in the world.”
“There have also been documented reports of Turkish-backed forces – many of which are Islamist groups who stand accused of human rights abuses and war crimes – destroying Christian places of worship and artefacts.”
Now, as Turkey continues to advance deeper into Kurdish territory, the threat to Christians will only continue to increase. So far, the UN reports that more than 13,000 Kurds have been displaced as a result of the Turkish offensive, while experts anticipate that some 300,000 could flee their homes as a result of the conflict, according to the Independent.
“The loss of human life and culture could happen in the remaining areas of North and East Syria as well, if Turkey and its Islamist allies would take over the cities with a much larger Christian population than Afrin,” the RIC added.
The press agency explained that the Turkish invasion has already “caused damage to the Christian community, and Syrian Christians are among the casualties of the attacks thus far.”
“Turkish bombardment targetted the predominantly Christian village of Pirik in the countryside of Derik city (Al Malikiyah), with one Christian wounded and an Arab shepherd killed,” it added. “The Christian neighbourhood of Bishrefiye in the border city of Qamishlo was targetted with Turkish artillery, destroying many homes in the neighbourhood. Christian residents were injured and killed in the attack.”
In July of this year, the then US-backed Syriac Military Council warned that the Turkish aimed “to kill and destroy us and to finish the genocide against our people.”
Now, tragically, it appears that this prediction is becoming a reality.
“Residents are extremely scared. The air is full of tension. Children are crying and the parents are helpless,” one Syrian Kurd and resident of Tal Abyad, told the Independent. “The town is on high alert. People here are afraid of a possible genocide by the Turkish enemy. It is disastrous.”
“People were so scared, they were telling me, ‘They are bombing us right now!’” Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, told NPR of the Turkish offensive. “We think this is a message to the Kurds and Christians there to leave, so Turkey can move refugees there. We think it’s a form of ethnic cleansing.”
Please pray for those caught up in this horrific war.