Turkey (MNN) – A deal hammered out by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recip Tayyip Erdogan saw Turkish troops halting their advance into the Kurdish-run area of northern Syria.
The deal calls for Russian and Turkish troops to fill a military vacuum created by the United States withdrawal from northern Syria this month. It allows the Syrian government, now backed by Moscow, to re-establish dominance over the Kurdish-controlled area.
Under the terms of the deal, Kurdish fighters have a week to retreat from the Turkish border. Syria will allow Turkish troops more than six miles inside its perimeter. The purpose: to conduct joint patrols with Russian forces along the length of the border region. Turkey also maintains oversight of some of the land it seized inside Syria.
Turkey’s assault threatens Christians
The hope is that this accord is enough to stop the fighting, but concern for Syria’s Christians remains. Based on anecdotal social media reports from the region, forces targeted Christians frequently, leaving them in fear of a grim future in the shadow of Turkey’s invasion.
A spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs USA, Todd Nettleton, says, “I know that Christians are targeted by the different groups. We know the government of Turkey led by President Erdogan is not a friend to Christians. We know the militant Islamist groups that have been active in northern Syria are certainly not a friend to Christians. It’s not surprising at all that Christians would be targeted.”
Who are the Christians in this no-man’s land?
Nettleton says there are two types of Christians in the region. “One is the traditional Christian communities: people whose parents and grandparents were also part of that Christian community.”
The other is the Muslim Background Believer (MBB) who was born into a Muslim family but made a decision to leave Islam and follow Christ. Under strict Muslim interpretation, that’s apostasy, Nettleton says. “If one of those Islamic militias were to encounter a person born in a Muslim family who is now a follower of Jesus Christ, that person would likely be given a chance to renounce Christ and return to Islam, or face the possibility of being executed almost immediately.”
However, there’s one thing Nettleton witnessed firsthand that gave him hope for the future of believers in the region. He recently sat down with Christians from that wartorn region and saw something that transcends geopolitical politics. “Turks and Kurds and Arabs don’t like each other, but the Gospel bridges that gap and brings people together. While we are very aware, and while we pray about the situation that is happening, we also need to understand that the Gospel is the thing that can heal these divisions and bring an end to the warfare.”
A call to action
Before Erdogan’s invasion, roughly 100,000 Christians lived in northeast Syria. It’s unclear how many remain now. He says there are two things the body of Christ can do: “The first thing and the most important thing we can do is to pray. And you know, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is coming up.”
The November event is a great reminder of the power of prayer, Nettleton reminds us. “In the situations that seem far away– the situations where we don’t really have a lot of influence–we can pray.” He urges us to “Make our country’s leaders aware that we care about the Christian minority in the Middle East. We care about what happens to our brothers and sisters there and encourage our government leaders also to care, to pay attention, and where possible, to help and assist and protect Christians in that part of the world.”
Header photo courtesy Trending Topics 2019/Flickr/CC