“For years I have been saying that the Kurds are trying to eliminate the Christian presence in this part of Syria,” the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnam Hindo of Al Hasakah-Nisibi, which is located in the northeastern part of Syria, explained.
In an interview reported by Aid to the Church in Need, he confirmed the closure of several Christian schools through the Democratic Federation of North Syria, a de facto autonomous region located in northern and northeastern Syria. The region is not officially recognized by the Syrian government and is governed by a coalition in which the “Democratic Union”, a Kurdish political party, holds the majority.
“Since the beginning of the year, the local government has already taken possession of about one hundred state-run schools and introduced their own curriculum and textbooks. The Kurdish officials had assured us that they would not even look at the private schools, but they not only looked at them, they closed them.” The official reason given for the closure of several Christian schools in the cities of Qamishli, Al-Darbasiyah and Al-Malikiyah was that these institutions had refused to conform to the curriculum introduced by the local authorities.
“They do not want us to instruct pupils in the liturgical language, Syriac, and they do not want us to teach history because they prefer to drum their own history into the heads of pupils.” Archbishop Hindo did not withhold his concerns about the likely closure of further Christian schools – there are six more in Al Hasakah alone – as well as about the extensive damage that the “Kurdish” curriculum, which differs from the official Syrian curriculum, might do to pupils. “I told a Kurdish official that this was penalizing an entire generation because they will not have any access to higher levels of education. He answered me that they were even prepared to sacrifice six or seven generations to disseminate their ideology.”
What has happened is evidence of the planned “Kurdification” of the region. According to Archbishop Hino, this also includes the elimination of the local Christian presence. “We have been warning against this danger since at least 2015. They want to oust us Christians to strengthen their own presence. To date, Kurds make up only 20 percent of the population, but, thanks to Western support, are disproportionately represented in the local government.”
Through Aid to the Church in Need, the archbishop has directed an appeal to the international community and particularly to European states. “The closure of our schools is painful to us. The church has been in charge of these institutions since 1932 and we never thought that they would ever be closed. The West cannot keep silent. If you are truly Christian, you are obligated to bring everything that is happening out into the open and prevent further violations of our rights and further threats to our presence in this region.”