Turkey President Tayyip Recep Erdogan told media at the White House Wednesday that Turkey will restore damaged Syrian churches as Christian communities along the border in Northeastern Syria are feeling vulnerable due to the Turkish incursion.
Erdogan met with United States President Donald Trump and a group of GOP senators on Thursday in a widely publicized meeting that was reportedly held to “clear the air” amid congressional criticism of Turkey’s military operation in Northeastern Syria.
Operation Peace Spring, launched last month after Trump announced a pullback of U.S. troops from the region in question, targets Kurdish fighters once backed by the U.S. in the battle against the Islamic State. The Turkish government accused the Turkish-led Syrian Democratic Forces of being terrorists because of links to Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the P.K.K.
Since the operation commenced, tens of thousands Syrians have been displaced from their homes and Turkish-backed Arab forces have been accused of targeting civilians.
During a press conference at the White House, Erdogan was asked specifically by a reporter if he could guarantee that Turkey will protect Christians in Northeast Syria amid this “realignment.”
In September at the United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan proposed a plan to take control of a large chunk of territory on the Syrian side of the border that runs 18 miles deep by nearly 300 miles long in hopes of resettling millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. As NBC News foreign affairs analyst Brett McGurk pointed out, the size of the “safe zone” includes “all majority Kurdish and Christian areas of Syria.”
The reporter told Erdogan that groups on the ground are reporting that attacks against Christians have increased and Christians are no longer feeling safe in the area previously protected by the S.D.F.
The reporter even mentioned the fact that an Armenian priest and his father were murdered while a deacon was wounded in an attack claimed by the Islamic State in the Northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli just this week.
Erdogan thanked the reporter for the question and assured that his government is “especially sensitive” and has “plans” in place to help Christians remaining on the Syrian side of the border who have seen their churches and sanctuaries destroyed by the violence.
“[They] will see their sanctuaries getting revived and their churches will be reconstructed so that they can go back and start praying there again,” Erdogan said, according to his translator.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith