Last week I wrote about the atrocities committed by Turkey as it continues its invasion of northeastern Syria and its failure to keep the terms of the supposed ceasefire they pledged to the United States and the world.
While Turkish and Russian troops in armored vehicles—purportedly to keep the peace—patrol an area formally controlled by the United States and Syrian Democratic Forces that included the Kurdish YPG, Turkey’s President Erdogan has unleashed attacks on Kurdish civilians (and other minorities) using Islamist Jihad militias. They are armed and supported by Erdogan. He uses these thugs to invade the area and terrorize its inhabitants because it gives him plausible deniability.
In other words, he can claim to be honoring the ceasefire, as the actual Turkish armed forces apparently are not officially taking part in the attacks.
These events are significant as they are taking place at the same time that the U.S. House of Representatives officially recognized the genocide of the Armenian Christian people by Turkey’s predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, during World War I. That ethnic cleansing targeted multiple Christian groups where 1.5 million were killed: Armenians, Greeks, Syriacs, Maronites, Assyrians, and more. Even as the House voted on this significant resolution, it appears that history is repeating itself in northeastern Syria.
President Erdogan has taken a largely secular Turkey, once a dependable NATO ally and friend to the West, and changed it into an ever-increasing Islamist-state fashioned after the old Ottoman Empire with himself as its caliph. The democracy and personal freedoms for which the nation was once known are largely a thing of the past. The imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, for which the ACLJ fought and won his release, was but one example of Erdogan’s persecution of Christians and his paranoia that has led him to purge the Turkish military, arrest journalists and judges, and imprison those he deems as political enemies.
As reported by Sam Sweeney in the National Review, Turkish-backed forces are moving into a series of villages along the Khabur River that provided refuge for Assyrian Christians who fled Turkey over one hundred years ago. Most of the Christians there are descendants of the Christians of the Persian Empire, a people whose history is traced back to the earliest days of the Church. They still speak Aramaic, the native tongue of Jesus.
By World War I, these Christians were concentrated mainly in southern Turkey and portions of Iraq. As Sweeney reminds us, “In 1915, the collapsing Ottoman Empire, having decided that the territory that would become Turkey should be rid of its Christian population, began to pave the way for an ethnic Turkish state, in an area that was once confoundingly diverse. Turkey’s ongoing oppression of its Kurdish population is an attempt to finish what it started when it eliminated the country’s Christians.” History is indeed repeating itself.
After massacres in what became Turkey, and years later in Iraq, many of these Christians crossed over into French-controlled Syria where they lived until this day. When ISIS invaded the area in 2015—raping, murdering, and pillaging as they went—the Kurdish YPG and several Christian groups joined to form the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF. With the support of American airpower and advisers, ISIS forces were defeated, and the people were liberated.
Now the Christians are fleeing again, even as Turkey’s Islamist militias invade villages as they shout Allahu akbar—God is great! Churches are desecrated, civilians maimed and killed, and humanitarian aid is not allowed to enter. Christians, Yazidis, and others are forced to convert—or flee for their lives.
This is an atrocity that the world must condemn. The mere idea that a NATO ally would commit and facilitate this nightmare once again on the people of this region should be unimaginable. Unfortunately, it is imaginable and very real.
The House of Representatives passed a resolution last week to impose new and harsh sanctions on Turkey. The House-passed bill, from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, would bar most U.S. weapons sales to Turkey and slap sanctions on foreigners attempting to send the Turks military equipment. It would also block high-ranking Turkish officials from their assets in the U.S. and restrict their travel.
The authors of one of the Senate’s sanctions bills, Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have been calling, amid uncertainty about their measure, for the upper chamber to take up the House bill. “We are pushing very hard to get a vote in the United States Senate on a bill that would impose sanctions on Turkey for its attacks on the Syrian Kurds,” said Senator Van Hollen.
The Senate has not acted and seems disinclined to do so anytime soon. They need to make this a priority. In Syria, “wrong rules the land—and waiting justice sleeps.” Turkey’s persecution of Christians and other religious groups and their increasingly close alliance with Russia must not be left unaddressed.
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