By / Oct 11

Earlier this week President Trump announced that he was withdrawing all U.S. forces from northern Syria and handing control to the Turkish government, the sworn enemy of the Kurds, allies of the U.S. who have been fighting Islamic terrorists in the region.

Many experts believe Turkey is more concerned about fighting the Kurds than in fighting ISIS and securing the tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners and their families being held by Syrian Kurds. On Wednesday, the Turkish military launched a ground and air assault on American-allied Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.

Who are the Kurds?

The Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East—behind the Arabs, Turks, and Persians—and the largest in the area to not have their own permanent nation-state (though they control a semi-autonomous area of northern Iraq). There are between 25 and 35 million Kurds living in a mountainous region that covers the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Armenia.

Various Kurdish groups are embroiled in several conflicts in the region: against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, against the Assad regime in Syria, and against the government of Turkey.

Where exactly is Turkey, and why is it significant?

Turkey is on a peninsula in Western Asia that serves as a crossroads between the continents of Europe and Asia. Turkey is bordered by eight countries: Georgia to the northeast and Bulgaria to the Northwest; Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic on the east; Syria and Iraq to the south; and Greece to the west. The Black Sea is to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Aegean Sea to the west.

Turkey is a member of NATO and has the second largest standing army in that treaty organization (the U.S. has the first). The U.S. has an airbase in Incirlik, Turkey with approximately 5,000 service members. This base has been a primary point of operations for the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS.

Who is ISIS?

ISIS (also known as Islamic State) is an Islamic terrorist group that was established in Iraq in 2004 and pledged allegiance to “Al-Qaeda in Iraq.” They later broke away from Al-Qaeda because of differences in doctrine and objectives and formed a distinct organization. In 2012 and 2013 they expanded into Syria, and called themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). (Most Western media translate “Levant” as “Syria,” hence ISIS.) Since 2014, they have expanded their ambitions to be a global organization and today simply refer to themselves as Islamic State.

The stated long-term goal of Islamic State is to establish a “caliphate” to rule over the entire Muslim world, under a single leader and in line with Sharia (Islamic law). A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph, a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.

What have the Kurds done to oppose ISIS?

ISIS began attacking the Kurdish people in Syria in 2013. In response, Kurdish fighters backed by the U.S. launched an effort to repel ISIS from various parts of the region. Since then the Kurds have retaken tens of thousands of square miles of territory in north-eastern Syria and established control over a large stretch of the border with Turkey. They have also captured large numbers of ISIS fighters and have them detained in prison camps in the region. To date the Kurds have reportedly lost 11,000 soldiers in the war against ISIS.

Why is Turkey attacking the Kurds?

For the past hundred years the Turkish government has abused and marginalized its Kurdish citizens. Turkey also considers the Kurds who have been fighting ISIS in Syria to be an offshoot of terrorist group attempting to create a separate state within Turkey.

Why should Christians be concerned about the changes in the region?

As ERLC President Russell Moore said on Twitter, “Kurdish Christians (and others among the brave Kurds) have stood up for the United States and for freedom and human dignity against ISIS terrorism and the bloodthirsty Assad regime. What they are now facing from Erdogan’s authoritarian Turkey is horrifying beyond words.”

Additionally, as Sen. Lindsay Graham tweeted on Wednesday, the abandonment of our Kurdish allies “ensures the reemergence of ISIS.” And as the U.S. State Department highlighted in a 2017 report on international religious freedom, ISIS remains one of the world’s most significant threats to religious freedom.

The State Department pointed out that in areas under ISIS control, the terrorist group committed individual and mass killings, and engaged in rape, kidnapping, random detentions and mass abductions, torture, abduction, and forced conversion of non-Muslim male children, as well as the enslavement and sex trafficking of women and girls from minority religious communities.

ISIS has committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities, including attacks on Christian pilgrims and churches in Egypt.

By / Dec 15

“Dear world, there's intense bombing right now. Why are you silent? Why? Why? Why? Fear is killing me & my kids.” That’s a tweet from Fatemah, a mom trapped with her children in Aleppo.

Why are we silent?

Try telling Fatemah that it’s Christmas over here. Winter storms are blasting much of the country. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates. We’re wrapped up in the pageantry of the president-elect’s Cabinet picks.

And it seems we’ve lost the capacity for outrage over what’s happening to innocent people in places like Syria and Iraq. In between spikes of interest like 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body on the beach; 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh’s vacant stare after being pulled from the rubble; and now the heart-wrenching goodbye videos from people trapped in Aleppo, we revert to complacency.

How do we keep our hearts tender for the suffering in our world? How do we see as God sees, care as he cares, love as he loves?

Most Christians have heard the powerful prayer of World Vision’s founder, Bob Pierce: “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” I suspect it was as much a prayer for himself as for others. A broken heart can be healed, and Bob wanted his to stay broken, to keep him in the place God wanted him to be: absolutely intolerant of a child’s pain.

We need to do the same if we want to be used by God in these situations. We have to let suffering into our hearts. Other people’s pain should touch us deeply and set off our rage and move us to action.

In the past few years, my travels to the Middle East and encounters with Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis have kindled a “holy unrest” in me about their plight. But the truth is, you don’t have to go there to care. Ordinary people are speaking directly to us, using technology and social media to metaphorically grab us by the collars.

Fatemah, who I quoted above, posted on her daughter Bana’s Twitter account, which has 295,000 followers. In recent months, the sweet, doe-eyed girl with missing teeth has told about seeing people injured and killed, hearing bombs falling, lacking clean water. The tone of her tweets has become more dire as fighting intensified in Aleppo.

Imagine it’s World War II and Anne Frank is tweeting to the world. Bana’s situation is just as precarious.

I join my voice with those in Aleppo imploring Americans to get outraged over the senseless violence. Use your rage to compel action. You can pray. You can tell your congressional representative that the U.S. government needs to do more to stop Syria’s bleeding. You can give to World Vision or to other organizations providing relief.

But don’t stop there. Let your heart be broken for the suffering in the Middle East and around the world. Pray it stays broken as long as any mother anywhere pleads for help and any child fears this night will be her last.

Join World Vision’s Stephanie Hammond and others as we join our voice for human dignity at Evangelicals for Life 2017.

By / Mar 30

The Syrian Civil War remains one of the most complicated conflicts in the world today. The following interview breaks down the drivers, causes, and future of a civil war that has displaced more than half of the country’s population.

At the 2016 Religious Liberty Partnership consultation, I sat down with Middle East expert Jonathan Andrews. Andrews was with Middle East Concern for more than 10 years and is now an independent writer and researcher. His recent book Identity Crisis: Religious Registration in the Middle East explores an interesting facet of religious liberty in the Middle East.

In the following interview, Andrews provides his perspective on how the Syrian Civil War started, where the war is now, and where things might be headed.