Fierce fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces in northern Syria has forced hundreds of Christians to flee their homes, according to a leading priest in the region.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Nidal Thomas, a senior priest of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Hassake, warned the exodus is threatening to grow.
He said: “At least 300 Christians have been forced to leave the towns of Ras al-Ain, Derbasiyah, Tall Tamr and one area of al-Malikiyah.
“We are afraid that if the fighting continues, there could be a still greater exodus which might even include the town of Qamishli, where there are 2,300 Christians families living at present.”
Father Thomas told ACN that the uncertainty of the situation fuels the problem, as well as the actions of Turkish forces.
He said: “We don’t know what is actually happening. Every hour we hear reports from the Kurds, the Turks, the Americans, and the Russians, of victims and people fleeing.
“But we don’t know the real truth. The only thing we know for certain is that the bombings and, above all, the massacres committed by Turks against our community are forcing more and more Christians to flee.”
According to Father Thomas, Christians’ desire for peace has weakened their position, making their suffering more pronounced – and Western nations haven’t helped.
He said: “We need help. We Christians are the ones who have suffered most as a result of this interminable conflict.
“We are the weakest link because we want to live in peace and reject war. Two-thirds of the Christians have left the country and the remaining third risks being unable to survive.
“And meanwhile, the Western countries are fighting among themselves to divide up Syria, which has been brought to its knees also by the international sanctions.
“There were thousands of Christian families in our country. No one attempted to defend us.”
Father Thomas described how many Daesh (ISIS) fighters have joined the Turkey-backed Syrian National Armies which seized Ras-al-Ain, and that the threat of a jihadist revival is ever-present.
He said: “Unfortunately this an eventuality we have to take into account.”
His warning echoed the findings of ACN’s 2019 Persecuted and Forgotten? report which said a resurgence of a group like Daesh could eradicate Christianity in nearby Iraq.
The report said: “Were there to be another Daesh-style assault on the faithful, it could result in the Church’s disappearance.”