Christians in Syria 'at Risk of Extinction': 'If Turkey Invades, Our Churches and People Will be Gone'
The Christian unit within the multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian Syrian Democratic Forces put out an "urgent call" to the coalition fighting ISIS that Christians in Syria are "at risk of extinction" at the hands of Turks after U.S. withdrawal.
The Syriac Military Council said the global coalition that relied on the SDF to clear territory of ISIS has to "ensure security and protection for religious and ethnic minorities living in North East Syria."
"ISIS is still a threat. Turkey's mercenary troops, who fought with al-Qaeda and ISIS, are waiting to get the green light to move into Syria, so that they can kill all 'infidels' of the region," the group said in a statement. "That means Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and other minorities."
The council noted that they have "lost many martyrs" fighting under the banner of the SDF because "we believe that it is our duty as Syriac Christians to stand together with the Kurds and Arabs to fight and resist all radical religious terrorist groups and other invaders."
"Our military cooperation in the SDF strengthened the partnership and coexistence between Arabs, Kurds and Syriac Christians in our region," the SMC added. "We have committed to respect the dignity of every group regardless of religion or ethnicity."
The Kurdish-led SDF is the ground force that has swept through ISIS territory, from clearing small villages and evacuating citizens to engaging in intense urban combat as ISIS fighters used booby traps and tunnels to slow down their foes.
The alliance of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian/Syriac Christians, and other ethnic minorities was founded in October 2015, is about 70,000 strong, and has picked up recruits as they've liberated ISIS territory. Equality is a core value of the SDF: the 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.
U.S. military officials have high praise for the SDF, from their command structure to the discipline and determination of the soldiers.
The SMC statement thanked the U.S. and other members of the global coalition "for their support in the fight against ISIS," and "we plead with them not to leave abruptly before security and protection is ensured for Syriac Christians, Yazidis, Armenians, Turkmens, Kurds and Arabs of the NE."
"The outcome of the invasion of Afrin makes visible what will happen to us. Churches will be destroyed. Christians and Yazidis, designated 'infidels' by Turkey's mercenaries, will be killed and massacred. Turkey threatens to kill all SDF troops, allies of the Global Coalition. Women of all ethnicities, now free, will be raped, enslaved and veiled. Do not abandon us on the battlefield and allow our people to be crushed by Turkey."
More than 100,000 Syriac Christians still live in northeast Syria. The SMC warned of a "serious risk of the end of the presence of Christianity in this region if we do not have security in place when the U.S. leaves."
"Yesterday, we freely celebrated Christmas," they added. "If Turkey invades, our churches and our people will be gone."
The SDF is a fierce, proven fighting force, but doesn't have the military equipment needed to defend against Turkish airstrikes, the SMC emphasized.
"We need the presence and support of Global Coalition forces, EU member states or UN Forces to avoid another war and massacres like those Turkey committed in Afrin," they continued. "And to finally eliminate ISIS in our region, we also ask the Global Coalition and NATO to reject the plans of Turkey or any other foreign country of the region to enter the borders of NE Syria, which are already secured against terrorists. Our SDF forces are already stationed on the front lines and together with the Global Coalition forces, such as France and the UK, we will be able to put an end to fascism, radicalism and dictatorship."
The SMC pleaded with the U.S. and other partners to not "abandon" hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons who found refuge in the SDF-controlled northeast. "Do not abandon our people, who united to stand for democracy, equality and tolerance in the midst of sectarianism and dictatorship," they added. "A debt is owed to all of our martyrs, who gave their lives to preserve the Syrian religions and cultures that have suffered for millennia and to remove the scourge of ISIS from the world, including your countries."
"Now is the time for Christian, Western countries, and for Christian churches and believers worldwide to protect our Christian people in NE Syria from falling victim to brutal war, dictatorship, fascism, and radicalism."