Kurds

Turkish invasion of Syria would mow down Kurdish Christians. Are media tracking this?

Turkish invasion of Syria would mow down Kurdish Christians. Are media tracking this?

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.”

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Who are the Yazidis of Iraq? (And why are they facing such bitter persecution?)

Who are the Yazidis of Iraq? (And why are they facing such bitter persecution?)

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

I’ve heard of Yazidis but don’t know much about them. What are some basics of their beliefs?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The genocidal effort by the “Islamic State” (I.S.) to exterminate devotees of this small Kurdish religion centered in mountainous northern Iraq is a great moral outrage of the era. The opponents’ bloodthirsty zeal exceeds even the persecution, enslavement, exile, and murder I.S. has visited upon Christians.

With Mosul as the current focus of coalition combat to expel I.S., note that just 36 miles northeast of that metropolis lies Lalish, the holy city of the Yazidi (also transliterated as Yezidi, Azidi, Zedi, or Izdi). It’s the site of the major shrine and pilgrimage destination, the tomb of 12th Century Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, venerated as the founder (or co-founder) of the faith.

Yazidism is also in the news because refugee Nadia Murad Bassee has emerged internationally as the Yazidi voice for thousands of fellow young women subjected to kidnapping, sexual trafficking and rape at the hands of I.S.  In recent weeks she was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, and shared the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought with another Yazidi, Lamiya Aji Bashar.

Such hate has persisted over centuries and Yazidi annals count 72 previous waves of persecution. Muslim extremists find the Yazidis especially repellent and threatening. They are considered apostates from true Islam and thus deserving of death, and also as supposed “devil worshippers.”

In fact, this is a unique and lavishly syncretistic creed.

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ISIS, rape and birth control: Stunning New York Times feature raises new questions

ISIS, rape and birth control: Stunning New York Times feature raises new questions

There are certain stories that, when you see the headline, you drop everything and click until the piece pops up in living color on your screen. Such is Sunday’s New York Times piece on ISIS’ rape culture. “To maintain supply of sex slaves,” the headline reads, “ISIS pushes birth control.”

When it comes to covering ISIS, one thinks things can't get any more horrifying and then more revelations come out about worse atrocities in the sad lands under their sway. Moreover, the story was set in Dohuk, an Iraqi city I visited 11 years ago, where a lot of these poor women who’ve escaped ISIS end up before they’re shipped out of the area for asylum purposes.

DOHUK, Iraq -- Locked inside a room where the only furniture was a bed, the 16-year-old learned to fear the sunset, because nightfall started the countdown to her next rape.
During the year she was held by the Islamic State, she spent her days dreading the smell of the ISIS fighter’s breath, the disgusting sounds he made and the pain he inflicted on her body. More than anything, she was tormented by the thought she might become pregnant with her rapist’s child.
It was the one thing she needn’t have worried about.
Soon after buying her, the fighter brought the teenage girl a round box containing four strips of pills, one of them colored red.
“Every day, I had to swallow one in front of him. He gave me one box per month. When I ran out, he replaced it. When I was sold from one man to another, the box of pills came with me,” explained the girl, who learned only months later that she was being given birth control.

Apparently there is quite the import business in contraceptives going on in eastern Syria and northern Iraq where ISIS has its female Yazidi prisoners. The piece continues:

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From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

At the time of 9/11, I was living in South Florida and attending an Eastern Orthodox parish in which the majority of the members were, by heritage, either Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time hearing the details of their family stories -- about life in the old country and the forces that pushed them to America.

The key detail: It was never easy living in the Middle East during the Ottoman Empire era, even when times were relatively peaceful. While it was easy to focus on the horrible details of the times of intense persecution, it was important to realize that Christians and those in other religious minorities had learned to accept a second-class status in which they were safe, most of the time, but not truly free.

In other words, the Good Old Days were difficult, but not as difficult as the times of fierce persecution, suffering and death.

Clearly, the rise of the Islamic State has created a new crisis, one that is truly historic in scope -- especially in the Nineveh Plain. The drive to eliminate Christian populations in a region that has been their home since the apostolic era raises all kinds of questions about religious freedom, as well as questions for the USA and other Western states to which these new martyrs will appeal for help.

In recent years, human-rights activists have asked when this phenomenon would receive major attention in elite American newsrooms. The coverage has, in recent years, been on the rise. That said, a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine feature on this topic must be seen as a landmark.
The epic double-decker headline proclaimed:

Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?
ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.

There is much that I want to praise in this piece. It's a must-read piece for everyone who cares about religion news in the mainstream press.

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The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The purge of Christians from Mosul in northern Iraq -- home to thriving Christian communities almost since biblical times -- is a historic human rights abuse. Yet mainstream media have done comparatively little coverage on it, probably because they're stretched thin with the twin stories of the airline shoot-down in Ukraine and Israel's invasion of Gaza. Also, of course, the Islamic State is in no mood to allow access to the "kafir" media.

Still, some reports have emerged, and some are brave, sensitive and frank on what the Christians are suffering.

The New York Times is often tone-deaf on religion in the U.S., but the newspaper has distinguished itself in stories like this one. Tim Arango's newsfeature opens with an anecdote on the loss shared by Iraqi Christians and many Muslims:

BAGHDAD — A day after Christians fled Mosul, the northern city controlled by Islamist extremists, under the threat of death, Muslims and Christians gathered under the same roof — a church roof — here on Sunday afternoon. By the time the piano player had finished the Iraqi national anthem, and before the prayers, Manhal Younis was crying.

“I can’t feel my identity as an Iraqi Christian,” she said, her three little daughters hanging at her side.

A Muslim woman sitting next to her in the pew reached out and whispered, “You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.”

The warm scene here was an unusual counterpoint to the wider story of Iraq’s unraveling, as Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria gain territory and persecute anyone who does not adhere to their harsh version of Islamic law. On Saturday, to meet a deadline by the ISIS militants, most Christians in Mosul, a community almost as old as Christianity itself, left with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

The article logs the outrage over the Islamic State's brutality, from leaders as diverse as Pope Francis and Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations. Arango plays up the angle that the militants are enemies of most Iraqis, not just Christians:

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