Displaced Kurdish women and children, who fled from violence with their family after a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria, sit in a classroom Oct. 22, 2019, at a public school used as shelter in Hassakeh, Syria. CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters

Editorial: A cry for justice

  • October 24, 2019

Syrian Christians have been neglected, forgotten and cast aside like “the scum of the world,” charged the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church.

He was angry, and who could blame him after Islamist forces, emboldened by a U.S. about-face and backed by Turkey, attacked an area of northeast Syria mainly populated by Christians, Kurds and Yazidis. Some 150,000 civilians, including 70,000 children, have been driven from their homes, the latest indignity in what amounts to a pogrom threatening to eradicate Christianity in the Middle East.

“We Christians of the East are neglected and abandoned by this world, which searches for its immediate material interests,” said Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan. 

“We know that those who will pay the price are particularly innocent — especially Christians who cannot defend themselves. … We continue to suffer from terrorist attacks, acts of violence, blind religious and sectarian fanaticism, and thus we are displaced, uprooted and annihilated.” 

The attacks, which began Oct. 9, became inevitable the moment U.S. President Donald Trump, with little warning, all but rolled out a blood red carpet for the invaders by pulling U.S. troops from the region. He abandoned local forces, which were defending the region against the jihadists of the Islamic State. Now lands inhabited by Christians for 2,000 years are being religiously cleansed so two million Sunni Muslim refugees, who had fled to Turkey from Syria, can have a new home.

It’s an appalling situation that should outrage decent people, yet, as the patriarch said when people began to flee, “the world around them, especially the powerful, does not think of them.” 

“Our Christian people find no solution other than to leave their land and that of their fathers and grandfathers.” 

In barely 15 years the Christian population of Syria and Iraq has plunged from about 2.5 million to less than 500,000. Some two million Christians have been displaced  and many thousands more killed amid a disheartening international silence.

For generations, Christians, Kurds and Yazidis symbolized religious tolerance in an intolerant part of the world. Now they are fleeing for their lives, refugees, their homes bombed and their towns cleared to create what Turkey gallingly calls a “safe zone” for displaced Muslim refugees.

This so-called “safe zone” is more like a death trap, according to aid workers. The latest violence demonstrates why optimism for the survival of Christianity in the Middle East is fading.

On one side are powerful interests determined to cleanse the region of Christians. On the other is an international community that has perfected sympathy but never finds the outrage required to get involved.

The methodical cleansing of the region’s once-robust Christian population and other religious minorities is a textbook case of genocide. The world should be crying out for justice. 

Instead, to its shame, it is mostly silent.

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