Abandoned by the U.S., Syrian Christians and Kurds Seek Help from Pro-Iran Militias

By John Zmirak Published on February 22, 2018

For weeks, the world has watched, mostly with indifference, as Islamist Turkish autocrat Tayyip Erdogan waged a vicious war against U.S. allies. Turkey funded ISIS for years by buying its oil. Now it is shelling and bombing the Syrian Democratic Forces in Afrin, Syria. The SDF is the Kurdish/Christian/ Arab alliance that defeated ISIS on the ground, so U.S. troops wouldn’t have to.

The region of Syria controlled by the SDF is one of the only places in the Middle East with religious freedom for Christians. Where women take part in government, and even in the army. Where Muslims are free to convert to Christianity if they wish to. And thousands have. The Stream featured an anguished video of Kurdish evangelicals praying for deliverance from this conflict.

Kurdish Christian Praying for Deliverance from The Stream on Vimeo.

Turkey Wants to Strangle Kurdish Autonomy in the Cradle

But Turkey fears that any rise of Kurdish autonomy anywhere is a threat to its national unity. So Erdogan unleashed his NATO-equipped army, and thousands of al Qaeda jihadists. It invaded Afrin a month ago. The Stream has been reporting on the attack. We chronicled the mounting civilian casualties, as Turkish forces indiscriminately attack residential areas.

For weeks, our Kurdish allies have hoped that the U.S. would call a halt to this attack. We could have done that straightforwardly, by shifting U.S. forces a few miles to the northwest. But the U.S. didn’t act. So now the Kurds felt forced to make an unsavory deal. The Assad regime’s harsh dictatorship helped spark this civil war. But it doesn’t want to lose territory to Turkey. And it has thousands of militiamen at the ready. Most are Shiite Muslims, aligned with Iran.

By international law, the Syrian government ought to be protecting the borders of the country it claims to govern from outside attacks like this one. The SDF emerged in an act of rebellion against that regime. However, its first job is to protect the lives of the civilians in its region. Since no one else would help, it turned to its old oppressor.

Now Pro-Iran Militias Will Protect Syrian Christians

After tortured negotiations, the Assad regime agreed. As The Independent reports:

Pro-Syrian government forces have entered the contested canton of Afrin to help Kurdish forces defend against a Turkish offensive – a further escalation in Syria’s already complex civil war.

Footage broadcast by Hezbollah and Syrian regime-allied outlets showed convoys of tanks carrying Syrian flags and soldiers brandishing weapons entering the northwestern part of the country from Aleppo on Tuesday. Syrian state media reported they had been targeted by Turkish shellfire.

The new forces are mostly believed to be made up of the Shia Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU).

America Left a Vacuum, and Our Enemies Marched In

No sane person can blame the Kurds. They turned to the legal government of their country for help against a foreign invasion. However unsavory that government is.

The Stream’s Syria expert, Johannes de Jong, commented on this development:

The agreement is limited to a military defense against the Turkish invaders. This situation is clearly limited to Afrin only and does not include any agreement on civilian governance. The reason for the regime to have this simple agreement is that the regime fears (rightly) that Turkey would take Aleppo after taking Afrin.

The increasing escalation Turkish aggression leading to killing of ever more civilians in the last week made this agreement necessary as no NATO member was prepared to help the people of Afrin.

But the entry of soldiers allied with Iran into this conflict makes things uglier and more complicated for America. These Shiite soldiers helped save Assad’s regime from conquest by al-Qaeda backed jihadists. But these Shiites are themselves allied with Iran. That government is no better than Assad’s. We saw that in Iran’s crackdown on protesters for reform in January. Even worse, Iran’s regime seeks the destruction of Israel. It launched drones from Syria to attack Israel proper early this month.

Will America or Russia Get Involved?

So now the U.S. neglect of Afrin has pushed a firm, moderate ally — the SDF — partly into the arms of an outright enemy, Iran. If Israel, with U.S. backing, attacks Iran, what will happen to Syrian Christians? Will U.S. Christians choose sides in such a conflict?

So now the U.S. neglect of Afrin has pushed a firm, moderate ally — the SDF — partly into the arms of an outright enemy, Iran. If Israel, with U.S. backing, attacks Iran, what will happen to Syrian Christians?

Russia backs the Assad regime. Turkey is playing every side against the other. Its goal? To crush the Kurds and keep Erdogan in power. Meanwhile, Turkey blackmails the European Union, demanding membership privileges or else it will dump another million or so migrants over the EU border.

Even worse, Turkey’s threatening war against its fellow NATO member Greece. As the Gatestone Institute reports:

In an incident that took place less than two weeks after the Greek Defense Ministry announced that Turkey had violated Greek airspace 138 times in a single day, a Turkish coast guard patrol boat on February 13 rammed a Greek coast guard vessel off the shore of Imia, one of many Greek islands over which Turkey claims sovereignty.

Most of the areas within modern Greece’s current borders were under the occupation of the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century until the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and the establishment of the modern Greek state in 1832. The islands, however, like the rest of Greece, are legally and historically Greek, as their names indicate.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, and even much of the opposition seem intent on, if not obsessed with, invading and conquering these Greek islands, on the grounds that they are actually Turkish territory.

Does the Trump administration really want to put America first? Then it ought to stop leaving our allies, like the SDF, at the mercy of al Qaeda and Turkey. Now the Greeks, for instance, have every reason to worry what the U.S. will do if Turkish aggression assaults its shores. At what point will we confront the Erdogan regime, which endangers the lives and freedom of Christians from Syria to Greece, to the streets of immigrant-inundated European democracies?

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