The Jerusalemite Initiative, a nonprofit organization to empower Arabic speaking Israeli Jerusalemites Christians, organized a demonstration on Saturday night in Jerusalem adjacent to the Prime Minister’s residence, bringing together Christians and Jews in a demonstration of solidarity the Kurds in northern Syria.
“This week, the Turkish dictator Erdogan initiated a war in northern Syria against the Kurds and Christians,” The Jerusalem Initiative said in a statement. “Hundreds of Kurds and Christians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been forced to leave their homes.”
Though the majority of Kurds converted to Islam in the Middle Ages, there were Kurdish converts to Christianity even after the spread of Islam. In recent years some Kurds from Muslim backgrounds have converted to Christianity.
There are approximately 30 million Kurds located primarily in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. One of the largest stateless people in the world, the Iraqui constitution has designated Kurdistan as an autonomous region. Approximately 750,000 people live in the Kurdish-controlled area of northeast Syria that stretches 300 miles from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. Estimates claim that somewhere between 40,000-100,000 of these Kurds threatened by the Turkish invasion are Christians.
“We cannot stand by silently while this goes on,” the statement continued. “Today’s demonstration was attended by Jews and Christians from Israel, Jerusalem and the world, as well as Kurdish Muslims and Jews from Kurdistan.”
During the demonstration, a live Whatsapp broadcast featured a senior Christian leader from northern Syria who, along with the Kurds, is part of the local SDF government – the Syrian Democratic Forces. He said that his people are praying for the world to wake up, emphasizing that Christians and Kurds must work together in full cooperation. In addition, he wanted to thank the people of Israel for their support and solidarity.”
Amit Barak, the co-founder of the Jerusalemite Initiative, told Breaking Israel News that this was the first demonstration in a series that will continue until the situation is resolved. Future solidarity and protest events are already planned in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and a prayer vigil is planned at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Tuesday night.
“We call on Christians around the world and in particular those in Jerusalem to shed their indifference, to take a step and publicly express solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in northern Syria,” Barak said.
Elias Zarina, a social activist who grew up in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter and was educated in Bethlehem and co-founder of the Jerusalem Initiative, emphasized the importance.
“The Christian Arabs are the first Christians and we are on big family spread throughout the Middle East,” Zarina told Breaking Israel News. “As Christians, this threat from Turkey is as much a part of our ethnic subconscious as the Holocaust is for the Jews.”
He noted that just as the Jews were victims of genocide in Europe, Christians were victims of genocide in the Middle East. The current Turkish invasion of Syria is a grim reminder of the genocide perpetrated by Turkey against Christians one hundred years ago. During and after World War I, the Ottoman government systematically murdered 700,000 to 1.5 million mostly-Christian Armenians. In 2007, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) reached a consensus that the “Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.”
“We are in grave danger of history repeating itself,” Zarina said. “This may seem distant to American Christians but for us, it is very real. The conflict in the Middle East is not just between the Jews and the Palestinians. Christians are being horribly persecuted and we turn to our Christian brothers to speak up.”
Last week, the White House released a statement stating that the U.S. military would be leaving Syria, abandoning their Kurdish allies as Turkey moves in for a military invasion. The statement came in response to an announcement that the Turkish government intended to launch a military incursion into Syria against the Kurds. Turkey wants to create a 20-mile buffer zone inside Syria along the 500-mile border and resettle up to two million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it currently hosts. The U.S. would like to restrict the proposed buffer zone to nine miles.
There are currently approximately 1,000 U.S. military personnel in Syria with 100-150 being pulled back from the area Turkey intends to invade. Reuters reported that U.S. troops were seen leaving two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain on the border with Turley in northeast Syria.
Though not an endorsement of Turkish aggression, Turkey’s actions put the U.S. in a difficult position. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) and as such is a military ally of the U.S.
At the same time, the American forces in the Syrian Civil War openly allied with the Kurdish YPG fighters and support them militarily, considering the group to be a key element in fighting ISIS. The YPG is targeted by Turkey for its alleged support for the PKK, a Kurdish far-left militant and political organization based in Turkey and Iraq. Turkey, NATO, and the U.S State Department have classified the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The Syrian-Kurdish force has lost 11,000 fighters in the war against ISIS.
There is growing concern that the lack of a U.S. military presence will create a vacuum permitting the resurgence of ISIS. Turkey released a statement assuring that they would ensure this would not happen.
Another concern is for the more than 10,000 ISIS prisoners being held by Kurdish forces. This number includes more than 2,000 foreigners who came to the region to join ISIS. France, Germany, and other European nations have refused US requests to take back nationals who fought for ISIL. Kurdish officials have expressed concerns of a possible breakout by ISIS prisoners in case of fighting in the area.
This is the third Turkish military incursion into Syria since 2016.