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Syrian Christians Plead for No-Fly Zone to Protect 'Only Hope for Our Long-Term Survival'

Turkish soldiers atop a tank patrol the northwestern city of Afrin, Syria, during a Turkish government-organized media tour into northern Syria on March 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

A coalition of Syrian Christian political and military groups issued an appeal today to Christians around the world to back their call for a quickly established no-fly zone over northeast Syria to protect the region’s religious minorities from Turkish invasion.

The plea was signed by the Syriac Military Council, the Syriac National Council of Syria, European Syriac Union, American Syriac Union, and Syriac Union Party of Syria, and comes on the heels of the SMC — the Christian unit within the multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian Syrian Democratic Forces that has cleared regional territory of ISIS — warning that Christians in Syria are “at risk of extinction” at the hands of Turks after U.S. withdrawal.

The described Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian Christian coalition of groups represented in today’s request said they “urgently need protection from Turkey’s threats to invade and ‘cleanse’ our territory from Christianity, religious freedom, and democracy.”

“U.S. President Donald Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw U.S. troops leaves us powerless and open to be destroyed by either Turkey or other regimes scrambling to see our demise in the vacuum this will create,” they said. “Turkey is threatening us daily in the local media to invade and kill us. They are calling us ‘infidels.’ When Turkey was allowed to enter Afrin by the West, Turkey committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing against the religious minorities. All the Christians had to flee the area as Turkey’s jihadi troops conducted door to door searches to hunt the Christians down to kill them and destroyed all of Afrin’s churches. They had to flee with nothing, and take refuge in the area that Turkey is now threatening to invade: north and east Syria.”

The Christian coalition added that “when President Trump gave Turkey’s Recep Erdogan the permission to replace the U.S. forces this means Turkey will crush the multi-religious democracy that is happening in north and east Syria.”

“It alone is an island of religious freedom, decentralized and representative government, and is the only hope for our long-term survival as Middle Eastern Christians.”

The SDF alliance of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian/Syriac Christians, and other ethnic minorities was founded in October 2015 and is about 70,000 strong. Equality is a core value of the SDF: the successful battle to rout ISIS from their declared capital, Raqqa, was commanded by Rojda Felat, a Kurdish woman, and the SDF spokesman, Kino Gabriel, is a Christian with the Syriac Military Council.

The Syriac Christian alliance stressed that they “know what it means to live under the Ottoman Empire’s Caliphate,” with a “collective memory of the Ottoman’s ‘special treatment’ of Christians” including laws that made them second-class citizens, the jizya “extortion taxes,” oppression, “persecution, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.”

“From the beginning of the civil war in Syria until now, we Christians have worked actively as a bridge between the communities in north and east Syria working for pluralism and democratic values in the alliance we have promoted, both politically and to defend all people of north and east Syria,” the plea continued. “We Christians have played a significant role in local government and have freedoms that we haven’t experienced for centuries in Syria: like the right to use our native language, Aramaic, the language of Jesus. We took a leading role in creating the Syrian Democratic Forces. Our people have fought and died side by side with our allies: Kurds, Arabs, and the U.S.-led Global Coalition in the war against the Islamic State. We had hoped we, who have given everything for the same freedoms of the West, would be supported to secure our democratic institutions in post-war negotiations.”

They emphasized that “an abrupt American withdrawal would mean chaos and war throughout the region,” and they “need time to develop alternative and lasting security arrangements” as “without protection Christians will be the first target of Turkey’s jihadist groups.”

“We hope you can join us in our appeal to the International Coalition not to leave us unprotected and without guarantees,” the Christian coalition continued. “Without your support we fear that when Turkey invades we will see the end of Christianity in north and east Syria.”

The Syriacs are calling for a no-fly zone to protect against Turkish forces “as soon as possible” considering that Turks overpowered the fierce SDF fighters in Afrin.

“It is urgent to stop the invasion and occupation of Syria,” they added. “This would give us back hope and trust in our Christian sisters and brothers in the U.S. and other Western countries. It is time to stand together for our Christian values. Together, we need to defend and preserve Christianity so it is not wiped out from the Middle East.”