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 / Aug 15

Every Monday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice. This week we are dedicating the entire post to stories from Syria.

1. Battle for Aleppo drags on as rebels break month-long siege of eastern Aleppo by Assad forces. Anti-government rebels from inside Aleppo reportedly linked up with rebels stationed outside the city, breaking the siege. However, fighting has intensified as Russian jets and Syrian government helicopters have pounded the city. International aid organizations have been sounding the alarm for weeks that the city’s 250,000 civilians are in grave danger.

2. Russian defense minister announces three-hour “humanitarian ceasefires” in Aleppo. The Russian official stated that “all military action, air and artillery strikes” would be halted for three-hour segments from approximately 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM to allow for humanitarian aid to enter the city. However, some observers are skeptical of the ceasefire, believing that Assad and Russian forces use the ceasefires to reequip, regroup and resupply troops.

3. United Nations investigates possible chlorine gas attack by Assad forces in Aleppo. The attack reportedly killed 4 and injured dozens more. The UN special envoy said that if the attack was indeed carried out by government forces, it would amount to a war crime. The use of chlorine in warfare is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

4. U.S. Holocaust Museum releases powerful new film on the situation in besieged Aleppo. The film represents a rare step for the US Holocaust Museum, which typically avoids policy issues. Warning: The film (embedded below) shows graphic content.

5. The family of 17-year-old British teenager, Kadiza Sultana, confirmed that she was killed in Syria by a Russian airstrike in May. Last year, Kadiza, along with two other teenage schoolmates from her London neighborhood, left the UK purportedly to become the brides of ISIS soldiers. More than 800 Britons are thought to have joined ISIS or other military groups in Syria or Iraq, though nearly 400 are thought to have returned.

Bonus Longread: The War on Doctors. ”Since March 2011, at least 738 Syrian doctors, nurses and medical aides have died in more than 360 attacks on medical facilities.” A new Foreign Policy dispatch provides harrowing details suggesting a deliberate attempt to target doctors and medical professionals in rebel-held areas in Syria. The last doctor in Zabadani died from a gunshot wound to the head—from a sniper. Also this week, 15 physicians from Aleppo appeal to the Obama Administration for help.

The story also includes the account of the death of Dr. Hasan al-Araj, the last cardiologist in rebel-held Hama:

It was April 13, just past noon, and Hasan al-Araj was behind schedule as he left an underground hospital for his next rounds. He was usually careful to check the skies above him in Hama, where he was the last surviving cardiologist in the province’s rebel-held territory, for the Russian and Syrian warplanes that regularly cruised overhead. But, in his haste, he did not use his walkie-talkie to confirm with colleagues that the skies were clear.

A missile exploded near his van as he drove away. In the wreckage, colleagues found body parts and pieces of his white medical coat.

“It was targeting,” said Ahmad al-Dbis, a pharmacist and medical aid worker who worked closely with Araj. “It’s known that that’s the location of a hospital, and it’s known that most of the people moving around there are medical staff.”

Have suggestions for a top five article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].