Syria – Ethnic and Religious Minorities Threatened with Extinction Again

Ahmad Al-Khalid – Special Monitoring Mission to Syria – OCP News Service – 7/11/2019

Despite declared by US President Donald Trump’s victory over terrorism in Syria, ethnic minorities and various religious communities can face the threat of persecution by radical groups. According to experts, the population of Northern Syria could expect such a scenario in connection with the plans of Turkey to establish the so-called safe zone of up to 30 km deep into the country.

According to the non-profit and non-partisan human rights and advocacy organization “In Defense of Christians,” there are about 40,000 Christians in that area. This is a third of their pre-war population. The majority of them has been subjected to violence by the ISIS terrorists in 2014-2016, most of them were forced to leave their homes for this reason.

Turkish forces reportedly shelled Christian neighborhoods of Qamishli city and a church in al Qahtaniyah town on the first day of the operation “Peace Spring”. Moreover, a number of Yazidi and Christian religious buildings were destroyed and damaged.

During an interview with American CBN News channel, Attorney and religious freedom advocate Lauren Homer suggested that Turkish-backed militants could begin an ethnic cleansing campaign in the captured areas. She also warned that the Christians located in Northern Syria are under the threat of extinction or exile “due to savage attacks by Turkey’s President Erdogan.”

Pope Francis also expressed his concern for the fate of the Syrian Christians. According to the Catholic News Agency, during a homily, the pope said that “his thoughts go once again to the Middle East. In particular, to the beloved and tormented Syria, from which dramatic news arrives again about the fate of the people of the country’s Northeast.”

There are many examples of religious cleansing in the recent history of Syria. The most striking of them is the mass exodus of Christians from Homs province in 2012. According to the Vatican agency “Agenzia Fides”, the Christian population of Homs had dropped from a pre-conflict total of 160,000 down to about 1,000 due to the persecution by FSA militants.

Despite the bitter experience of sectarian strife, there are positive trends now. In particular, the initiatives proposed by international players were able to stop the Turkish offensive and, thus, maintain security in the region. But nevertheless, international organizations need to pay attention to the problems of minorities in Syria, which could be at risk at any time.

Ahmad Al-Khalid – OCP News Service