Yazidis and Christians face existential threat in northeast Syria following Turkish intervention and US pull back of troops

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent

(Worthy News) - The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) heard last week that President Donald Trump’s partial withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria in 2019 created a vacuum in which Turkey and Turkish-backed militia have been able to threaten local vulnerable civilian populations including Christians and Yazidis. Condemning Turkey’s latest airstrikes and ground operations in the region, the USCIRF called for the US government to “utilize all diplomatic and economic leverage to protect vulnerable religious minorities in northern Iraq — as well as neighboring northeastern Syria — from Turkey’s indiscriminate military operations,” the Christian Post reported.

As advisor to the federal government and Congress on international religious freedom issues, the USCIRF held a hearing Friday that focused on religious freedom in northeast Syria during Turkish occupation and since Trump’s decision to pull back US troops in the region. 

Among other experts who gave evidence at the hearing, senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center Amy Austin Holmes told the USCIRF panel that Christians, Yazidis, and other local religious minorities are again faced with existential threats. “They have been killed, disappeared, kidnapped, raped, detained, subjected to forced religious conversions and held for ransom until their families pay exorbitant sums of money to secure their release,” Holmes said. “They have been forcibly displaced and driven from their homes. Their places of worship have been defaced, destroyed, and looted. Even their cemeteries have been demolished and vandalized.” Moreover, Holmes said: “The international community has failed to take action,” Holmes said.

Following Turkey’s intervention in October 2019, Holmes said at least 137 Christian families were displaced. “I also provided a list in my written testimony of those Christians who been displaced and the villages from which they have been forcibly displaced,” she said. “The second deadliest site of the Armenian genocide … is under the control of Turkey and Islamist militias.”

In a statement following the hearing, USCIRF Chairman Tony Perkins said: “Turkey’s operations in Iraq and northeastern Syria make it clear that regional ambitions — not domestic security — are driving its actions today, and it cannot be allowed to do so with impunity.”