Just when the heat is at its most insufferable in the Middle East, Turkey is planning to attack Syrian Kurds. What secular media reports aren’t saying is that thousands of Christians are in the way.
With America’s attention riveted on recent shootings in Texas, California and Ohio, few people realize that we could be at the brink of war with Turkey. Turkey, to its credit, has taken in millions of Syrian refugees in recent years. But Turkish leaders have vowed to destroy the Kurds, made up of more than 30 million people scattered over four nations and the world’s largest people group without a country.
Was it Turks, ISIS or someone else who set off the the car bomb next to a church in Qamishli, Syria, a few weeks ago?
Foreign news wonks are the main folks following this, but it could be a big deal very soon. I’ll let Foreign Policy set the stage for the upcoming conflict:
Tensions between Washington and Ankara spiked on Monday as Turkey began amassing large numbers of troops and military equipment on the border with northeast Syria in preparation for an attack against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds who helped defeat the Islamic State.
While he did not explicitly threaten a military response, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper strongly implied that the United States would take action if Turkey attacks the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a mostly Kurdish group that Turkey argues has ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party militant group, known as the PKK, which both the United States and Turkey have designated a terrorist group. Such an incursion would be a significant escalation of ongoing friction between the two NATO allies and would threaten not just the Kurds, but also U.S. troops in the region.
There are lots of reporters tromping around the area.
David Ignatius’ July 25 Washington Post editorial tells Donald Trump for once to get it right, in terms of defending the Kurds against their mortal enemies, the Turks. The Kurds, he says, are “one of the extraordinary survival stories of the Middle East.”
Another Post story on Aug. 4 story tells of the Trump administration’s “last-ditch effort” to save the Kurds from a Turkish invasion.
With tens of thousands of Turkish troops massed near the border, a high-level Defense Department delegation plans to present what U.S. officials describe as a final offer to address Turkey’s concerns at a meeting Monday in Ankara.
The meeting marks the climax of a years-long dispute between the two NATO allies over U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who have led the ground war against the Islamic State, but whom Turkey considers a terrorist threat to its own security. Kurdish-led victories against the militant group have effectively left them in control of much of the border area.
Enter the religion angle.
Many of the folks who live in this border area are Christian. A CruxNow piece, written by a longtime friend of mine, Dale Gavlak, brings in the Catholic angle.
AMMAN, Jordan — Syriac Christians in northeastern Syria are calling on the United States to help defend them against a buildup of Turkish troops along the border, fearing they will be overrun and suffer the same fate as Afrin, where jihadist forces pushed out inhabitants last year.
The appeal by the U.S.-backed Christian Syriac Military Council, made available to Catholic News Service, warns of a possible Turkish attack on the eastern Euphrates River region in Syria. It said it fears the onslaught could affect thousands of Christians who live in Syria’s northeast, and it urges Washington to intervene.
“Turkey has been amassing troops at Ras al-Ayn, where there is no U.S. military presence,” Syriac Christian political leader Bassam Ishak told CNS by phone…
Personal note: I went to seminary with Bassam in the early 1990s. For years, he ran a Christian bookstore in Damascus. But the political crisis in his home country has made him an international religious leader.
“The safe zone Turkey has proposed is 32 kilometers (20 miles) deep. It’s in these areas where Kurds and Christians live. If Turkish forces come in, the expectation is that they will push out the inhabitants and turn the region over to extremist jihadist groups that they support, just like they did in Afrin a year ago,” he said…
Ishak and Syrian religious leaders like Chaldean Catholic Father Samir Kanoon of Qamishli said the region’s inhabitants view Turkey as an enemy of Christians due to past history. Syriacs and other Christians living in Turkey were caught up in the 1915 Ottoman Empire’s genocide of Armenian Christians, which saw 1.5 million Armenians killed.
Those who managed to escape the Armenian genocide landed in northern Syria where now, a century later, they’re afraid the Turks will repeat themselves.
CBN, one of the few religious media following these events stresses a potential upcoming genocide.
For many Christians and ethnic minorities, this would mean disaster.
"Most of our Christian people live in this area and if any military operation happened in this area, it will be a real fear on our people," Abdelahad Gawriye of the Syriac Union Party told CBN News.
More than 100,000 Syriac Christians, one of the world's oldest Christian communities, live there and they fear Erdogan will finish the genocide that ISIS started.
Last year, Erdogan's army worked with jihadist mercenaries to overrun the Syrian city of Afrin. The forces displaced hundreds of thousands while searching for Christians and burning churches.
A Kurdish web site said much the same thing as CBN.
Obviously, the phone lines are buzzing between a lot of Christian groups in the area and their American contacts. There’s a bunch of evangelical groups working in the shadows here that none of these articles mention. Last January when President Trump unexpectedly announced a U.S. pullout from Syria (which didn’t take place), NPR did this story on all the back-channel negotiations involving American evangelicals anxious to protect what few Christians remain in Syria and Iraq.
The always-resourceful Kurds do have an ace in the hole.
Back to the Post:
At the same time, the Kurds have warned that a fight with Turkey may leave them unable to guard makeshift prisons in eastern Syria holding Islamic State inmates. The militants — 8,000 Syrians and Iraqis and about 2,000 from other countries — were captured during operations that led to the dismantling of the caliphate earlier this year.
“Either we will fight” the Turks “or guard” the prisoners, said Aldar Xelil, a leading Kurdish politician in northeast Syria. “We cannot do both together.”
Imagine 10,000 former ISIS fighters loosed near the Turkish border. Naturally, the Kurds will make sure those guys head north.
Keep an eye on this volatile situation, remember the religious undercurrents happening here and the fact that American evangelicals with major White House contacts back the Kurds. Are the same groups: CBN, the Family Research Council and Open Doors, pressuring the White House now as they did in January?
Again, there’s a lot of religious freedom angles here. Is any DC-based reporter following this story? I’m waiting to see.