Kirk's Middle East Secretary speaks on Christians in Syria

As news came of renewed violence in Syria the Moderator Rt Rev Colin Sinclair has asked us all to pray for all who suffer in the conflict. We spoke to the Church's Middle East Secretary Kenny Roger to find out why this is happening and how it is affecting Christians in the region.

Why has the fighting in Syria got worse in the last week?

Map of Syria and region

Kenny Roger: The Civil War has been raging in Syria for over seven years. In the north of the country, there has long been a presence of Kurdish people who have been supported by the United States during the war. As allies to the Western forces the Kurds have been the main fighting force on the ground against ISIS since they proclaimed their caliphate. A huge number of ISIS members were captured by Kurdish forces and are imprisoned in this region.

In the last few days, the United States suddenly withdrew its troops from Syria and immediately Turkey began an invasion to drive out the Kurdish people from the area with the aim of creating a ‘safe zone’ between Turkey and Syria to allow the 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey a place to return to.

Kurdish people are in the majority across parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq and historically a long-running separatist movement has sought to establish an independent Kurdish state. Turkey opposes this movement and regards many of the Kurds as terrorists.

One consequence of Turkish forces driving out Kurds from Northeast Syria is that it is highly likely those members of ISIS who were imprisoned in the region will escape.

How many Christians are in the area?

Kenny Roger: Between 40,000 to 50,000 Christians live in Northeast Syria. The Church of Scotland is partnered with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, which has three congregations there: Kamishly, Hassakeh, and Malkieh.

What has life been like for Syrian Christians during the war?

Kenny Roger: During the war, northeast Syria enjoyed relative peace as the focus of the fighting was in other parts of the country. However some areas were bombed by ISIS and suicide bombers attacked Kamishly, targeting its Churches and the Christian sector of the city.

Our partners say that Christians in Northeast Syria are not armed and have no political ambition other than their longing for a peaceful, united Syria for all its citizens.

What is happening on the ground now?

Kenny Roger: Christians in the Northeast are stuck between two fighting parties.

Turkey wants to expand its power in the region and to support Sunni Muslims as well as to oppose Kurdish attempts to establish an independent Kurdistan. On the other hand, the Kurds are willing to ally with anyone who will help them attain their dream of an independent Kurdish state.

More immediately the airport, which stayed open under the Syrian government even during the war, is closed today.

What kinds of problems are people facing in Northeast Syria due to the fighting?

Kenny Roger:

  • A source of water in Ras El Ain was bombed, so some people have lost running water.
  • The outskirts of the cities and towns are being bombed by the Turks with the city of Kamishly sustaining some shell attacks.
  • Schools are closed in some areas.
  • Bread is not available in the city of Kamishly.
  • Prices are skyrocketing for food and are becoming unaffordable for the average person.
  • As winter approaches people fear they won't be able to buy fuel.
  • People who are close to the border are afraid the conflict will destroy their area.
  • The Kurds are forcing people to join their forces and fight against the Turks.
  • Christians are afraid to leave their homes.

What can we do to help?

Kenny Roger: Our partner churches in Syria are asking us to pray with them for peace.

The Moderator has a written a special prayer for church members to support this call. We can also pay attention to what's going on and urge our government to do what it can to stop the conflict. Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society council has issued a statement for the Church.