Turkey Targets Syria’s Christians

October 23, 2019

“Turkey Targets Syria’s Christians,” by David L. Phillips, Institute for the Study of Human Rights, October 22, 2019:

…Turkey has a sordid history. It was responsible for the 1915 Armenian genocide and, more recently, as a state sponsor of terrorism. Beginning in 2013, Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, under Erdogan’s instruction, operated the jihadi highway from Sanliurfa to Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS caliphate, providing weapons, money, logistics and medical services to more than 40,000 ISIS fighters from about 80 countries who transited through Turkey to Syria. Thousands of Turks also joined the ranks of ISIS.

When ISIS invaded Iraq and Syria in June 2014, with Turkish-backing, it targeted “apostates” – Shiites, Kurds, Yezidis, and Christians. Mosul’s 60,000 Christians were executed, displaced or trafficked as sex slaves. The same fate befell Christians in the Nineveh Plains and northern Syria. ISIS converted ancient churches into mosques, madrassas, and prisons. They tore down crosses and used chisels to deface tombstones in church graveyards.

The jihadist magazine, Dabiq, displayed images of crucified Christians as “a message in blood written to the Nation of the Cross”. It featured a picture of St. Peter’s Square with an ISIS flag superimposed atop its holy obelisk. The ISIS leader said his fighters would march “all the way to Rome,” and along the way, “break the crosses [and] trade and sell their women.”

Armenians in Syria were terrified about Turkey coming in, because of what Turkey did to their parents and grandparents 100 years ago. Kessab, an Armenian Christian town in the northwest, was attacked by jihadists, with support from the Turkish military, who advanced from the village of Gözlekçiler on Turkish territory. Thousands of jihadists used five different border crossings to cross unimpeded from Turkey. Many cars with Syrian license plates were observed ferrying fighters from the Turkish base at Kayapinar. In Kessab, 670 families were uprooted and 15 families taken hostage. Three Armenian churches in Kessab were desecrated by the jihadists. Syria’s Christian population was 250,000 in 2011. Only 30,000 remained by the end of 2016.

Syriacs are the second largest Christian community in Syria. Assyrian civilization dates back to 2,500 BC when Assyria was an ancient Mesopotamian kingdom spanning northern Iraq and the Nineveh plains. Assyrians, who pioneered the ancient Aramaic alphabet, self-identify as Syriacs, Arameans, and Chaldeans.

The Syriac Orthodox Church traces its history to St. Peter and St. Paul in the first century AD. Jesus spent some of His ministry in Syria and made Peter the first Pope while in Syria. Its Metropolitan, or religious leader, is believed to be the successor of Christ’s apostles and Saint Peter. Many Syriacs hailed from Hasaka, living alongside Kurdish neighbors, with whom they enjoyed good relations.

Christian churches and institutions, including schools and hospitals, were destroyed by Turkish –backed militias. The beheading of priests and community leaders was filmed in ISIS-execution videos, which included images of eleven desecrated churches. Hundreds of Syriacs were executed, thousands displaced, and scores of churches destroyed. Nuns were kidnapped and raped. In February 2015, jihadists attacked 35 Assyrian Christian villages along the Khabour River, causing 3,000 to flee. Jihadists ransomed their Assyrian captives for $100,000 each.

Turkish-backed militias offered a stark choice: convert and pay for protection, or die. According to the Syriac Union Party, “More than 100,000 Syriac Christians, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, fear Erdogan will finish the genocide that ISIS started.”…

For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Turkey, see here. For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Syria, see here.