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Christians concerned about religious freedom if Turkey enters Syria

08 Jan 2019 – By Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Growing numbers of Christians in North America and Europe are joining Christians in Syria’s northeast in expressing concern for the future of religious minorities and Kurds in that region should the U.S. give Turkey the “green light” to take over the fight against Islamic State.

“News of any Turkish military involvement in northern Syria impacts us strongly and negatively,” Chaldean Catholic Father Samir Kanoon of Qamishli, Syria, told Catholic News Service.

“Certainly, Christians don’t want to see Turkish troops entering Syria given the past brutal history of the 1915 massacres of Christians carried out by the Turks,” Father Kanoon told CNS by phone.

“Because of the massacres, Christians were forced to escape from Turkey, and this is where they fled, to northeastern Syria and Aleppo. Turkey is viewed by many as the enemy of Christians,” he said. Qamishli is a city in northeastern Syria on the border with Turkey, close to Iraq.

“And again, Turkey now wants to interfere in Christian affairs in northern Syria and for that, it has a political agenda,” said the priest. He warned that any problems could result in more Christians fleeing northern Syria.

Meanwhile, Syriac Christian organizations in Syria, the U.S. and Europe have called for a no-fly zone over northern Syria to stop any possible Turkish attack, fearing further trouble for Christians who were endangered by Turkey’s takeover of Afrin early last year.

“We urgently need protection from Turkey’s threats to invade and “cleanse” our territory from Christianity, religious freedom, and democracy,” read the statement published on 3 January by the Syriac National Council of Syria, the American Syriac Union, and the European Syriac Union. The groups include Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops and hand over the fight to Turkey “leaves us powerless and open to be destroyed by either Turkey, or other regimes scrambling to see our demise in the vacuum this will create,” the statement said, a reference to Iran, which has supported Syrian government fighters.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands-based Free Yezidi Foundation also urged Washington to “delay withdrawal of forces for as long as possible” and to be able to conduct air attacks in Syria and Iraq.

In a statement on 4 January, it warned that without a no-fly zone over northern Syria and U.S. troop presence to prevent a potential Turkish assault on Kurdish strongholds, “waves of refugees” from northeastern Syria will flood into Iraq.

The United Nations has described the Islamic State campaign against the Yazidis since 2014 as “genocide,” with 3,000 killed and nearly 7,000 Yazidi women and girls abducted and sexually abused.

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