Young acolytes stand together as they attend Christmas morning mass at the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Qamishli in northeastern Syria on December 25, 2018. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Christians and Yezidis of northern Syria have issued warnings that their minority communities will face an existential threat if the United States follows through on its premature departure from Syria. They urge the US and the international community to keep up the pressure on ISIS and have called for the establishment of a no-fly-zone over northern Syria to prevent a Turkish assault.
“In the event of a future Daesh [ISIS] storm gathering steam in Syria, with tacit or indirect support from Turkey, Yezidi families cannot be left again as sitting ducks to be attacked, slaughtered, and raped,” the Free Yezidi Foundation said in a published statement on Friday.
The Netherlands-based charity issued a two-pronged warning. Firstly, if the United States leaves Syria now, before ISIS is defeated, the group will make a comeback. Secondly, the extremists’ revival will be much easier if the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are weakened by a Turkish attack.
“There is no doubt that ‘Daesh 2.0’ will be born upon the withdrawal of US forces and the reduction of SDF strength,” it stated.
ISIS committed genocide against the Yezidis in Iraq, killing thousands and abducting and enslaving thousands more.
Yezidis in Afrin, northwestern Syria, experienced similar atrocities when Turkish forces and their allied Syrian militias took over the enclave in early 2018, the Free Yezidi Foundation said.
It appealed for Washington to continue its airstrikes against ISIS and to delay for as long as possible withdrawing US forces from the country.
A group of Christian leaders from northern Syria issued a similar plea.
“We urgently need protection from Turkey’s threats to invade and “cleanse” our territory from Christianity, religious freedom, and democracy,” the American Syriac Union, Syriac Military Council, Syriac National Council of Syria, Syriac Union Party, and the European Syriac Union said in a joint statement on Thursday.
The Christian minority in northern Syria fled to the area one hundred years ago when the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against the Christian Armenian population.
Recalling that it was their grandparents’ generation that fled Turkey at that time, the Syriac groups say “We, the descendants of the survivors are at risk of reliving a genocide of the proportions our ancestors told us about, and by the same oppressor: Turkey.”
Turkey has threatened to launch an attack against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Ankara considers the armed YPG a terror organization with ties to the PKK.
US President Donald Trump’s announcement he wants to pull out of Syria left the Kurdish forces, and the minority communities living in northern Syria, exposed to a Turkish attack.
Turkey has aligned itself in Syria with militia groups that have looted, extorted, and killed local populations in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin. Some former ISIS militants are believed to have joined these militias.
The Syriac groups urge the United States to slow down its exit, saying they need time to develop an alternative security plan.
One option they want to see is the establishment of a no-fly-zone that they argue would at least give the local forces some chance of defending themselves against the Turkish army.
“This would give us back hope and trust in our Christian sisters and brothers in the US and other Western countries,” they said, warning that if Christians are not protected, they could be wiped out.
Washington’s special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, has floated
the idea of a no-fly-zone for parts of Syria, enforced by the United Nations.
Jeffrey will visit Turkey this week with Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton to discuss the US exit from Syria.
Trump has agreed to slow down the withdrawal after he faced widespread criticism for leaving before ISIS is defeated and abandoning Kurdish allies.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that protecting minorities
in northern Syria and Kurds remains a priority for Washington.