Kurdish Christians fear ‘tragedy’ as Trump ‘abandons’ northern Syria

Turkey attacks Kurdish territories after the withdrawal of US forces. The move could lead to “one more tragedy to the Christian presence in Syria”.

Evangelical Focus

10 OCTOBER 2019 · 12:03 CET

Turkish armed forces fighting at the Turkey-Syria border. / Twitter @TKSGnkur,
Turkish armed forces fighting at the Turkey-Syria border. / Twitter @TKSGnkur

Turkey launched its first attacks against Kurdish groups in the northern border of Syria on Wednesday, only hours after the United States withdrew their troops in the region.

Kurdish armed groups had been close allies of the United States in their fight against Daesh, the so-called Islamic State.

The controversial decision of President Donald Trump to leave the region was used by the government of Ankara and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attack their traditional enemy.



“Our aim is to destroy the terror corridor which is trying to be established on our southern border and to bring peace to the region”, Erdogan said on social media.

In the first hours of Turkish air strikes and artillery fire, thousands of civilians had to flee their homes. At least seven people had been killed in the first attacks.

Erdogan targeted the Kurdish militia of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), saying the “terrorists of the PKK [the Kurdish Workers Party] were also targets”. In February 2018, Turkey already used the instability in Syria to occupy the city of Afrin. This new manoeuvre is held on a much larger scale, and would allow Erdogan to repatriate back to Syria around 2 million asylum seekers that have arrived to Turkey in the last years.



Trump justified his heavily criticised decision on Twitter. “Going to the Middle East is the worst decision ever made in the history of the United States”, he wrote, and added that “the stupid endless wars, for us, are ending”.

The European Union has condemned the Turkish invasion.



Kurds live in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Around 750,000 are in the area on Turkish attack, including between 40,000 and 100,000 Kurdish Christians.

According to Christianity Today, the head of the Supreme Council of the Syrian, Joseph Kassab, said “the expected military invasion and the possible confrontation with the Kurds might oblige Christians of the region to leave (…) This means one more tragedy to the Christian presence in Syria”.

Ashty Bahro, former director of the Evangelical Alliance of Kurdistan in Iraq, also expressed grave concerns relating to the religious minorities in the region. “It is very possible that the American withdrawal from the region will lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region (…) How can another country enter the pretext of liberation from terrorism? Will the target be only terrorism or ‘undesirable people’? Leaving the area without proper care will lead to another disaster”.

Even stronger in its condemnation was a statement by the Syriac Military Council, a Christian group of the SDF. According to Christian Broadcasting Network, they said: “Turkey aims to kill and destroy us and to finish the genocide against our people (…) We hope and pray that as we have defended the world against ISIS, the world will not abandon us now”.

Experts fear the peace agreements and common democratic efforts achieved between Kurds, Arabs and Christians could now be at risk.



Some evangelical leaders in the United States have challenged the decision of the US government. Evangelist Franklin Graham called to “pray for the Christians who the Kurds have been protecting. They could be annihilated. Would you pray with me that President Donald Trump will reconsider? Thousands of lives hang in the balance”.

Russell Moore, President of the Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission also warned about the consequences ahead: “Kurdish Christians (and others among the brave Kurds) have stood up for the United States and for freedom and human dignity against ISIS terrorism and the bloodthirsty Assad regime. What they are now facing from Erdogan’s authoritarian Turkey is horrifying beyond words”.

The USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) said the withdrawal of US forces could “negatively impact the rights and survival of vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities”.

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