12 March 2018
Residents flee after Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters captured the village of Khaldieh in Afrin, Syria. Christian activists warn that a million Syrian civilians will face certain slaughter in northwestern Afrin, where they allege Turkey and its militant allies have already carried out war crimes. (photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Christian activists warn that 1 million Syrian civilians will face certain slaughter in northwestern Afrin, where they allege Turkey and its militant allies have already carried out “war crimes” and “ethnic cleansing.”
They have appealed to U.S. President Donald Trump and top U.S. officials to stop the bloodshed, warning that failure to act jeopardizes the hard-fought U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State in Syria.
Civilians from other parts of Syria and outside the country have reportedly offered to stand as “human shields” between the Kurdish-backed fighters and Turkish forces set to storm Afrin.
Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, said, “I have never seen so much violence as in Syria.” In remarks on 9 March, he likened the situation to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The nuncio called the situation in the war-ravaged land “hell on earth,” especially for vulnerable children.
In March, Syria’s conflict entered its eighth year. More than 350,000 people have died, 5 million are refugees and 6.3 million civilians are displaced within the country.
Syria is currently “one of the most dangerous places for children,” Cardinal Zenari said. “It’s terrible. I always say, it’s a massacre of the innocents.”
Two Christian activists, Bassam Ishak and Lauren Homer, told Catholic News Service of the relentless assault by Turkey and militants from hardline jihadist movements, including the so-called Islamic State.
“Turkey has committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing already in Afrin and the Federation of Northern Syria,” or FNS, they told CNS.
Ishak heads the Syriac National Council and is a member of the political bureau of the Syrian Democratic Council. He is a graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Homer, an Anglican, is a Washington, D.C.-based international human rights lawyer.
“Turkey has already ‘cleared’ villages of Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others, promising to replace them with Syrian refugees. In fact, Afrin already has enlarged its population by 50 percent to house [internally displaced] Syrians, who are among those being killed, injured or captured,” they said.
People in and around Afrin are facing the warplanes, tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons of NATO’s second-largest standing army, Turkey.
A local health authority reported more than 220 dead and 600 civilians injured in this mainly Kurdish area of northwestern Syria, some 30 miles from Aleppo.
Videos and photos from Afrin taken by both Kurds and members of the Turkish forces depict bombed-out houses, mangled bodies of children killed by the blasts and civilians being herded away.
Largely untouched by Syria’s deadly conflict until recently, this part of the Federation of Northern Syria succeeded in creating a nonsectarian, pluralist, inclusive government system not seen elsewhere in the Middle East in which there is religious freedom and equal rights are granted to all.
Activists are calling for an immediate no-fly zone over Afrin, enforced by U.S. drones or warplanes; implementation of the 24 February U.N. Security Council resolution requiring a cease-fire by Turkey in Afrin; humanitarian aid and safe passage out for civilians; and mediation of a long-term cease-fire and withdrawal of Turkish troops to its own borders — potentially with promises of U.S. or U.N. border monitors.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish council that governs Afrin demanded the U.N. Security Council establish a no-fly zone over Afrin and forcibly respond to the Turkish offensive.
“This U.N. and U.S. and NATO inaction will go down in infamy as an inconceivable abandonment of our ‘allies’ the SDF and the FNS. Genocide seems to be only something we are interested in in retrospect, to mourn and wring our hands over,” Homer warned.
Anti-aircraft weapons are needed to stop the attacks, observers say, but the Syrian Democratic Forces, composed of Kurdish and Christian fighters, were never given the necessary arms. At this point, U.S. aerial patrols would be needed. The Kurds and Christian fighters largely won the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State in Syria.
“Military solutions are no real solutions. Taking Afrin will not solve any problems, neither the internal problems for Turkey in the long run, nor will it help solve any issue that is part of the Syrian question,” Ishak told CNS. Turkey says it is battling Kurdish “terrorists” as its pretext for invading Afrin.
“Instead, it will just further complicate the situation and increase the level of competition between actors jockeying for influence in Syria,” Ishak said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian military, backed with Russian airpower, carried out intensive ground and aerial assaults on the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. Syrian government forces have reportedly captured more than half of the area.
The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders said more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the area since late February, while almost 400,000 residents are living under heavy bombardment, after having been subjected to nearly five years of siege, lacking food and medicines.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called on the international community to intervene in Syria to help end the violence. Calling the war in Syria “inhumane,” Pope Francis urged for an end to the fighting, immediate access to humanitarian aid and the evacuation of the injured and infirm.
9 March 2018
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians War Syrian Conflict
The faithful gather for worship at St. Thomas Church in Palayur, a leading pilgrimage site for Christians in India. Read about how Christianity is enduring in India —
for 2,000 years and Counting — in the Winter 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)
8 March 2018
Iraqi Christian children attend a session to help young refugees at the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Amman, Jordan. To find out how Iraqis are Finding Sanctuary in Jordan, check out the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Nader Daoud)
7 March 2018
In this image from 2014, two children greet a visitor to Gaza in the ruins of their neighborhood. Read more about Growing Up in Gaza in the Autumn 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Shareef Sarhan)
6 March 2018
Iconographer Ian Knowles works on an icon in his studio in Bethlehem. To learn more about efforts to preserve this ancient form of artistic prayer, read Prayers in Paint in the Summer 2013
edition of ONE. (photo: Nicholas Seeley)
5 March 2018
Father Mikhael Khachkalian, the only Armenian Catholic priest in Tbilisi, Georgia prepares for the liturgy in the tiny chapel of the Armenian Catholic Center in Tbilisi. To learn more about A Firm Faith in Georgia, check out the Spring 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)
2 March 2018
Students take a break from their studies at a school run by the Daughters of Charity in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. To learn more about the opportunities they are receiving, read A Letter from Ethiopia in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
1 March 2018
Students at the Father Roberts Institute in Lebanon join hands to perform the dabke, a folk dance native to the Levant. Learn how the church is serving Lebanon’s most vulnerable and Reaching the Margins in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
28 February 2018
A woman kisses the Stone of Unction, or Stone of Anointing, representing where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial after the crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on 28 February. The sacred site reopened Wednesday after being closed for three days over a dispute about taxes. (photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
27 February 2018
Eritreans walk through Asmara, Eritrea, marking the Feast of Kidane Mehret on 25 February.
Last weekend, hundreds of Eritrean Christians turned out to mark an important feast on the Ethiopian and Eritrean calendar.
The Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox and Catholic churches have a tradition that after Jesus’s Ascension, his mother went to Calvary to pray to him for a favor. Jesus descended in a host of angels to ask what she wanted. Mary asked him to save anyone who would pray or do works of charity in her name. Jesus’s promise to do so is known as Kidane Mehret, the Covenant of Mercy, remembered on Yekatit 16 in the Ethiopian calendar. This usually corresponds to 23 February in the Western calendar; some churches celebrate the feast of Kidane Mehret on the nearest Sunday.
Friends and supporters of CNEWA may also recognize the phrase “Kidane Mehret” from the children’s home that bears that name in Addis Ababa — another reminder of God’s mercy at work in the world.