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Why we can’t abandon the Syrian Christians

Marcharmenians

Donald Trump may not have given enough thought to his historic decision of October 6. On that day, after talking on the phone with the President of Turkey, he decided to withdraw from northern Syria the American troops that were supporting the FDS (Syrian Democratic Forces), composed mainly of Kurdish units but also Arab units, half of which are Syrian Christians. Trump also gave Erdogan a blank cheque to set up a “security zone” thirty kilometres deep in Syrian territory.

Neither the abrupt abandonment of a regional partner that had allowed him to dismantle the Islamic state, nor the failure to warn his French and British allies (who had sent special forces to American bases in Syrian Kurdistan) embarrassed the US President. For him, things were simple: America had to stop being the Middle East’s policeman, a complicated region – a tribal region in his eyes – where the US had already spent far too much blood and money trying to solve the problems of the various Muslim societies.

But while he pleased the neo-Ottoman sultan reigning in Ankara, Trump did not realise that he was deviating from the absolute priority of his foreign policy – engineering his own re-election. The former New York real estate tycoon is a man who has always strategically focused his actions on a single objective. Today, domestic, economic and foreign policies are oriented towards only one goal: to ensure victory in the 2020 election.

To do this, Trump needs to keep the evangelical electorate, which had voted for him by more than 80 per cent in 2016, mobilised in his favour. However, as early as October 7, the very powerful tele-evangelist Reverend Pat Robertson, speaking on his Christian Broadcasting Network television channel, said:  “The President, who has already allowed Khashoggi (Saudi columnist for the Washington Post) to be cut to pieces without any consequences, now allows Christians and Kurds to be massacred by the Turks”. 

The United States remembers that, in parallel with the Armenian genocide, the Ottomans also committed, from 1915 to 1918, a genocide of Syriac Christians.  Some 300,000 innocent people were killed. In Syriac, a language very close to the Aramaic spoken by Christ, this genocide bears a name: Seyfo (sabre).

Speaking in Washington, Elizabeth Gawyria, whose family narrowly escaped Seyfo a century ago, claimed: “The Turks want to drive us from our home again!”

The cry had a profound impact on the conservative Christian lobby. Tony Perkins, one of its main spokespersons, recalled on his broadcast on the Christian radio American Family Radio that in northern Syria, “Christian communities have always existed that were among the oldest in the history of Christianity. It is important that they stay there!”

For the time being, Syriac families in northern Syria are being terrorised by the Arab Islamist militias that the Turkish army is dragging behind it. It was these militias to whom the DGSE recklessly delivered heavy weapons in 2013, on the orders of President Hollande. It is these militiamen who have been generously funded by the Qataris and Saudis, armed by the Turkish secret services and treated in the Turkish hospitals of Gaziantep.

Despite all the assurances given by President Erdogan to US Vice-President Pence on 17 October in Ankara, it is clear that the Turkish plan is to seize these lands from Christians and Kurds – who lived there in good faith – to create a huge open-air camp for former Syrian refugee rebels. This would quickly become a kind of more Islamist Gaza Strip. Pat Robertson told his president: “You are losing God’s mandate!” Can Trump afford to ignore such a warning? 

Westerners must not leave the responsibility of protecting the Christians in Syria to Russia alone. They must also play their part. First, out of self-respect and to honour their history – something that applies first and foremost to the French.

Then, to earn the respect of the different Muslim communities in the Middle East. Muslims make no distinction between the West and Christianity, which is historically understandable. For them, the Enlightenment and secularism remain Christian inventions.

In the Middle East, people always despise him who leaves his friends behind. If they persist in abandoning Syrian Christians, Westerners will only reap contempt. 

This article was first published in Le Figaro. 

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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