The Italian Foreign Missions Agency, AsiaNews headlined on October 31: “Turks and jihadists in ‘soft’ ethnic cleansing of Kurds and Christians in North East Syria.” According to international activists and NGOs on the spot, “the Turkish army and the pro-jihadist militias that support the offensive launched by Ankara against the Kurds in the north-east of Syria have perpetrated a ‘soft’ ethnic cleansing affecting members of other religious minorities including Christians.”
“According to Ishak, a member of the Syrian Democratic Council, the pro-Turkish militants would have the order ‘not to physically touch the Christians,’” reports AsiaNews, “but are free to expropriate lands and property. Syrian armed groups allied with Ankara ‘are repeating what has been done in the past to Afrin,’ when the Turks invaded the city of northwestern Syria in 2018 with the help of armed gangs and mercenaries. Despite all the assurances given by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there were summary executions and attacks killing or wounding civilians.”
In an October 18 interview with Aid to the Church in Need (AED), Emeritus Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, Syrian-Catholic of Hassaké-Nisibis, in the north-east of Syria, recalled that for a long time he has asked the Kurdish party in power in the territory of his archdiocese not to constantly brandish the Kurdish identity. “The Kurdish population in those areas of Syria is just 10%,” he says. Autonomy in the region is seen in the West—as well as in Turkey—as an exclusively Kurdish affair, while it is actually an alliance of the Kurds with Christians and Arab and Turkish Syrians. “The Kurds will lose everything,” Archbishop Hindo predicts, “as they have already lost everything when pro-Turkish militias took Afrin.” And if we consider the city of Qamishli, “a large number of Christians do not even have Syrian nationality,” he notes. “They are still Turkish or Iraqi. If they are still hunted, they have no rights or future. A quarter of Qamishli’s Catholics have already fled in the last two years. Turkish attacks in Qamishli also affected Chirkin prison, from which several ISIS terrorists escaped. With the support of the Saudis and Turks, these jihadists will still terrorize our regions, before traveling to Europe to commit bloody attacks.”
“The Syrian Chaldean Church has Masses being offered all over the country, rosaries are being recited, for peace to come,” said an AsiaNews Agency correspondent on October 16. “The thoughts of the faithful are particularly directed towards the Christians who remain in the region of Hassake despite the Syrian civil war. Two hundred of them, in particular, had taken refuge in the city itself and are now at risk of being overtaken by the conflict. In total, they would be between 30 and 40,000 in the region of Jazira,” he continued.
On October 28, Bishop Nidal Thomas, the episcopal representative of the Chaldean Church in Hassaké, told the AED about the plight of Christians in the north-east of the country. “At least 300 Christians have been forced to leave the towns of Ras al-Ain, Derbasiyah, Tall Tamr and one area of al-Malikiyah, and we are afraid that if the fighting continues, there could be a still greater exodus, which might even include the town of Qamishli, where there are 2,300 Christian families living at present.” Bishop Thomas believes that fleeing Christians could hardly choose the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq as a destination. “Life there is too expensive for the impoverished Syrian Christians. Quite apart from the fact that the Iraqi people have not done anything to prevent the dramatic situation that has unfortunately unfolded in Syria. There were thousands of Christian families in need in our country. No one tried to defend us.”
Today, Christians in the north-east of Syria, since the assassination of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, fear a return of jihadism. “Unfortunately, this is an eventuality we have to take into account,” says Bishop Thomas; many men from the Islamic State reportedly joined the Free Syrian Army that entered the Ras al-Ain region.
“We Christians are the ones who have suffered most as a result of this interminable conflict. We are the weakest link, because we want to live in peace and reject war. Two-thirds of the Christians have left the country and the remaining third might not be able to survive. And meanwhile, the Western countries are fighting among themselves to divide up Syria, which also has been brought to its knees by the international sanctions,” denounced Bishop Nidal Thomas. Bishop Hindo also rebelled a few days earlier: “The United States, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany should all offer their own mea culpa. They acted in Syria for their own interests, hiding behind the ideals of freedom and democracy. Instead, they have done nothing but weaken our country, at the expense of its own people. Why don’t they fight for freedom and democracy in Saudi Arabia?”