Fears of north-eastern Syrian Christians
Christians in north-eastern Syria report “enormous air and military bombardment” of their cities. Many are fleeing for safer areas south of the border, while church leaders have expressed a concern that there some members of the Turkish and Syrian forces will “pursue an Islamist agenda”, according to a release from the charity Open Doors
Pastor George, a Christian leader from the Alliance Church in Qamishli, a city very close to the Turkish border in eastern Syria, fled on Saturday (12 October) with his family and church members. They hope to reach Hassakeh, about 80 km south of Qamishli. “There was a lot of shelling yesterday on the border. Some homes were completely destroyed,” he said.
An estimated 40-50,000 Christians in the region could be affected by the Turkish military offensive.
Another church leader told Open Doors that there has been “shelling and severe armed clashes” near the border town of Kobani.
Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO, Henrietta Blyth, said, 'Open Doors works with church partners in the region and is helping them prepare for potentially thousands of Christians fleeing the border areas under attack. We will keep a very close eye on the needs of the local church but, for now, we will continue our projects in the area distributing food and medical aid and rolling out winter survival packs.
'We hope and pray that the political and military leaders involved in this latest conflict will act with restraint and compassion as, once again, tens of thousands of people in Syria are facing displacement from their homelands. Open Doors’ partners have worked hard to settle Christians back into their homes after their displacement from earlier conflicts and this new offensive will put their lives in danger and may force them to flee once again.'
Christian leaders have expressed concern that elements within Turkey's forces and their Syrian opposition allies are pursuing Islamist agendas that are hostile not just to Kurds but also to any communities that are not Sunni Muslim. They say converts from a Muslim background will be particularly vulnerable.
North-east Syria is home to a diverse number of Christians, including Muslim converts within the Kurdish population.
Although there is no evidence yet that Christians are being intentionally targeted in this new conflict, the threat of extremist action will be compounded if the security of prisons holding suspected Islamic State militants is compromised during the intense fighting.