Christian Aid Groups Vow to Stay to Help After US Withdrawal From Syria

Syrians who were displaced by the Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria carry their belongings as they walk to receive a tent at the Bardarash refugee camp, north of Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Earlier this month, the pastor of a Kurdish Christian church in northeastern Syria gathered his congregation to decide whether to leave or stay as Turkish forces pressed into the region after U.S. troops had suddenly withdrawn. In an area threatened for years by both the Syrian civil war and the international fight against the Islamic State group, the church was now in the  path of a new offensive against the Kurdish militias that Turkey had branded as terrorists.

Just eight families told the pastor they planned to leave, according to Open Doors President and CEO David Curry, whose organization supports persecuted Christians in the region. Most decided to stay.

“The rest are staying to try to be salt and light and love in this community. So that kind of courage is the thing that sticks out to me,” said Curry.

Other stories have emerged from Syria: missiles falling on communities, churches attacked by ground forces and a feared resurgence of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, and other extremist groups, according to Curry.

Children have been injured and killed in bombings in towns along the border with Turkey, according to The Washington Post.

At least 166,000 people have been displaced since the Turkish invasion began Oct. 9, according to the United Nations. At least 21 civilians were killed during a supposed cease-fire announced last week by the U.S. and Turkey, according to the Kurdish Red Crescent.

Smoke and dust billow from targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, seen from southeastern Turkey. Turkish artillery pounded suspected Syrian Kurdish positions near the town in northeast Syria amid reports that Kurdish fighters had retaken the town as Turkey pressed ahead with a military incursion that has drawn widespread condemnation. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

And U.S. Christians have been quick to react — not only expressing disapproval of President Donald Trump’s Oct. 6 decision to remove about 1,000 soldiers who had provided a cordon of security for the Kurdish areas in Syria, but also springing into action via Christian aid groups operating in that country, including Curry’s Open Doors.

“There are great security concerns for the Kurds and the Christians in this area,” Curry said.

What happens in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria is important to Christians in the U.S. because the Kurds in turn offer sanctuary to the Christian, Yazidi and other persecuted religious minorities that the Trump administration has vowed to protect.

David Curry. Photo by Nathan
Golden, courtesy of Open Doors

The Kurds, most of whom are Muslim, have welcomed those religious minorities and “allowed them to live in and amongst them as you would hope they would do in a great society,” Curry said. They have fought alongside U.S. troops against ISIS.

“I think right now there’s great puzzlement, surprise, disappointment that the Western world, from their perspective, seems to have abandoned them. And we’ve got to make sure that, from my perspective, we’re supporting these religious minorities,” Curry said.

Trump has said the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds in northeast Syria “has nothing to do with us” and compared the two sides to “two kids” fighting.

“Our votes caused this as the United States,” said Jeremy Courtney, founder of Preemptive Love, a Christian-led coalition that has been on the ground in Syria since 2016.

“Whether you voted for or against, at the end of the day, we’re all one nation, and so our American votes 100% gave the Kurds over — surrendered the Kurdish civilian population over to carnage, to destruction — and we need to take a kind of collective American responsibility for what we’ve done.”

American military convoy stops near the town of Tel Tamr, north Syria, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. Kurdish-led fighters and Turkish-backed forces clashed sporadically Sunday in northeastern Syria amid efforts to work out a Kurdish evacuation from a besieged border town, the first pull-back under the terms of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)

Meanwhile, some of the president’s most faithful conservative evangelical defenders have been uncharacteristically outspoken in their disagreement with him over Syria.

In a statement written before the cease-fire was announced, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference Executive Vice President Tony Suarez said: “This is not a decision most Evangelicals advocated for.

“There have been conversations with members of the administration since the decision came about. I continue to believe that we have and are making a difference.”

Suarez said he was pleased with the leadership taken by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who traveled to Turkey to broker the cease-fire with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That cease-fire, which Turkey has called a “pause,” was set to end Tuesday (Oct. 22).

Suarez also called Syria “a total mess” and said an eventual attack by Turkey was inevitable.

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Source: Religion News Service