On the Run From ISIS, Assyrian Christians Face a New Threat: Turkish Air Strikes

The Assyrian Christian community has already suffered greatly at the hands of ISIS, driven from their homes in the Nineveh Plain to find shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan. Human rights groups have already expressed concern about the dangerous conditions in these refugee camps, including brutal temperature extremes and supply shortages. Now the Assyrians face a new menace: Turkish bombs.

Turkey is carrying out a vigorous bombing campaign against Kurdish separatists of the PKK militia, which operates close to other Kurdish militia groups that have been protecting and sheltering the Assyrian Christians. The bishop of Duhok, Mgr. Rabban al-Qas, said Turkish airstrikes “are starting to cause fear,” not to mention “deaths, injuries, and destruction,” as reported by the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).

“At night, from the village of Komane, we can see Turkish planes bomb the Kurdish mountains, where PKK fighters are hiding. Villagers and Christian refugees are scared,” said the bishop, who called for “direct international pressure on Ankara” to halt the Turkish air campaign. He also became the latest in a long series of regional observers to note that Turkey seems considerably more enthusiastic about blowing up Kurds than they are about keeping Islamic State forces from crossing their borders.

AINA notes that the president of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, Masoud Barzani, has also called upon the Turks to halt the bombing and respect Iraq’s borders. Barzani further told the PKK to move its forces out of the region, saying “if they want war, they can do it on the other side of the border.”

On the bright side, al-Qas said the Assyrians were successfully moving into new homes and finding work, having accepted they will not be able to return to homes in Nineveh or Mosul any time soon. He credited Catholic groups for “providing material support and technical assistance, knowledge, and experience.”

The bishop expressed some displeasure with groups that encourage Assyrian Christians to flee the region entirely and move overseas, accusing such groups of making money by exploiting the fears of refugees. However, AINA also carried an op-ed on Friday urging Assyrians to consider permanently relocating out of the Middle East en masse.

“Interviews with the displaced Assyrians reveal while some want to return to their homes and villages, the majority want to emigrate to Europe, the United States and Australia, where there are large Assyrian communities,” writes Peter BetBasoo. In fact, by his count, nearly half of the worldwide Assyrian population already lives in the West.

“Suffering centuries of persecution by Muslims (Arabs, Turks, Kurds and Iranians), the events of the past year have caused a fundamental psychological transformation of most of the Assyrian population,” BetBasoo asserts. “The low grade genocide since 2004 and the wanton destruction by ISIS in the last year in Iraq and Syria have caused most Assyrians to see the writing on the wall, and to acknowledge, consciously and subconsciously, that it is time to leave their birth land.”

“By all indications, the Middle East is a tinderbox ready to ignite, and Assyrians will suffer death and destruction in conflagrations in which they have no national interest or stake. Worse, they will be forced to fight on both sides and to kill each other for a cause that is not theirs,” he warns.  “The safety of the Assyrian people requires a paradigm shift.”


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