‘FINAL STRAW’ COULD THREATEN SYRIAN CHRISTIANS
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
A recent missile attack killed two Turkish police officers in northern Syria’s Azaz region. A Reuters news article quoted Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying that this was “the final straw” and reported “Turkey was determined to eliminate threats originating in north Syria.”
It should be no surprise that a leader wants to protect his nation and soldiers from attacks. But there is a complicated history here. One that likely has fellow Christians in Syria wary of what a new campaign to “eliminate threats” may involve.
Turkey has already been active militarily in war-torn Syria, particularly in the northeast section that has been home to many Christians. In a Voice of America (VOA) article last month titled “Christians Concerned About Turkish Attacks in Northeast Syria,” one spokesman for a Christian militia recounted a recent attack on Christian-majority Tel Tamer. “The Turkish shelling recently destroyed two schools, a municipal building, a bakery and a power line in the area.”
Another leader, Bassam Ishak, president of a Syrian Christian political group, added, “The recent Turkish bombardment on the city of Tel Tamer caused a sense of instability and anxiety among the residents of the city, prompting many Assyrian Christian residents to flee.”
As if this were not concerning enough, it appears Turkey’s activities putting Christians in harm’s way is not new. Amy Austin Holmes, a public policy fellow at the Wilson Center, has been monitoring Turkey’s activities in Syria and Iraq. In a piece written for The Hill in August, she suggested that Turkey had not lived up to its agreement to protect religious minorities in the region after signing a U.S.-organized cease-fire in October 2019. In fact, Holmes said her data showed Turkey-aligned forces violating the ceasefire more than 800 times in the first year and Christian-majority Tel Tamer facing attacks “every single month.”
Keep in mind that these Assyrian Christians were also assaulted by ISIS during its genocidal rampage. Far from helping this community rebuild after that horror, such attacks are further destabilizing it.
Nadine Maenza of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) told VOA, “It is stunning that Turkey continues to attack civilians in northeast Syria, even targeting Syriac-Assyrian villages in the Khabur River Valley, forcing some of the last remaining residents who survived genocide from ISIS to flee.”
For its part, Turkey contends that it is engaging in counter-terrorism activities against what it claims are arms of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is also recognized as a terrorist group by the U.S. and other powers. The Wilson Center’s Holmes takes issue with Turkey’s claims and, after providing examples that don’t fit that narrative, said, “Turkish claims about ‘anti-PKK’ operations need to be fact-checked.”
Nevertheless, Turkish leaders are resolute. Just Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his nation would “do what is necessary for its security.”
Will you pray for Christians in Syria? Share in the comments below!
Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena.
(Photo Credit: Tarik Haiga/Unsplash).
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