The General Secretary of the National Evangelical [Presbyterian] Synod of Syria and Lebanon, the Rev. Joseph Kassab, has provided the following update on the situation in northeast Syria.
The latest invasion by Turkey to the Syrian territories at the Northeast opened a new phase of the war in Syria. The U.S administration decided to leave the fate Kurds in the hand of Turkey after they used them in the last four years in fighting ISIS. 60,000 fighter, mostly Kurds, were recruited by the US and armed under the title of “Democratic Syrian Forces”. Today, the Trump administration strikes a deal with Turkey to create a 30 Km “safe zone” alongside the Syrian-Turkish borders. The claimed target of this operation is to push the anti-Turkey Kurdish militias away from disturbing the national security of Turkey. The second is to move about 2 million Syrian refugees from Turkey into the safe zone.
As you might know, The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) has three congregations in the Northeast of Syria, namely, in Kamishly, Hassakeh, and Malkieh. During the war, those areas enjoyed some relative peace, apart from some severe ISIS explosions and suicide bombers, who attacked Kamishly and its Churches and Christian sector of the city. The airport, which stayed all those years functioning under the control of the Syrian government, is closed today due to the present situation in the region.
In the last three days, I was in constant contact with our pastors in Kamishly, Hassakeh, and Malkieh. They conveyed to me the fears and worries of the 40,000 – 50,000 Christians in the area. Like all Christians in Syria, the Christians of the Northeast are not armed and have no political ambition other than their longing for peaceful, united Syria for all its citizens.
Today, Christians in the Northeast are stuck between two fighting parties. Turkey wants to expand its power in the region as the guardian of the Sunnis and to crush any nationalistic Kurdish ambition in gaining self-determination in the Northeast. On the other hand, the Kurds are ready to allies with any superpower to realize their dream of creating their territory after the paradigm of (Kurdistan-Iraq).
The present situation of Northeast is the following:
- The source of water in Ras El Ain was bombed. Hassakeh is suffering from a lack of water coming to the homes.
- The outskirts of the cities and towns are being bombed by the Turks. Only some shelling came into the inner of Kamishly.
- Schools stopped in Kamishly, but the schools in Hassakeh are still functioning.
- Kamishly is suffering from the lack of bread, where Hassakeh still has access to bakeries.
- Prices of daily needs are rocketing high. For example, meat, which was 4000 S.P for each Kg, became in the last few days 6000 SP = 10 USD almost. The average salary of a Syrian is equal to 80 USD a month.
- Winter is at the door, and people need fuel to warm up.
- People in Malkieh is afraid that the Turks can reach them since they are very close to the border.
- The Kurds are forcing people (45 yrs and less), including Christians, to fight with them against the Turks.
- Many Christians who have their shops located in Kurdish areas, stopped going to their works.
As we are attentive to the situation, we ask you to pray with us to the Almighty for peace. Our protestant community in the area are reluctant to leave their homes unless they are forced to that. Let us lift them before the Prince of Peace so that he can give them peace of mind and soul in this continuous agony.
In this challenging time, we cling to words of Jesus “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
UPDATE from NESSL (Oct. 17):
“For in the day of trouble, he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” Psalms 27: 5
It is eight days passed since Turkey decided to invade the Northeast of Syria to defeat the Kurdish militias. Since then, 300,000 people were displaced, around 218 civilians were killed (among them 18 children), and 653 were injured (among them 38 Children).
The Kurds, who allied with the Americans to rule that area against the will of the Syrian government, decided lately to hand in their checkpoints to the Syrian Army. The latest move by the Kurds happened in coordination with the Russians.
The Syrian government, along with the international community, condemned the Turkish invasion. The Syrian Army, whose presence in Hassakeh was limited to a small security square, expanded its existence to a larger area in the city. The presence of the government was received by people with celebrations. However, Turkey seems not satisfied with Kurdish move, and reiterate their will to go deep into the Syrian territories up to 30-35 Km.
In Kamishly and other towns and villages, the fears are still overwhelming the people. The Syrian Army did not show up yet, and Turkey declared that if the Syrian Army decided to hinder its operation, the Turkish forces are ready to clash with it. Car explosions are coming back in two incidents to the city, although nobody claimed responsibility, as ISIS used to do a few years ago.
In a call with our pastor in Kamishly, Rev. Firas Farah says that Schools are still closed in the City. Although the school offices are open, parents are reluctant to send their children. Firas added that the prices of daily goods in the city were doubled, adding to the suffering of the people. Nevertheless, our two pastors in the area, Rev. Firas Farah and Pr. Matild Sabbagh they continue to visit with the congregation and comfort them with prayers and encouragement.
We appeal to you to continue praying for all the people in the Northeast and lift our congregations and their pastors to the Almighty, so they experience the peace that Jesus gives in such troubled times.
The United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) continue to offer support for the work of many partners in the region to provide humanitarian response to the needs of Syrian refugees. Please consider supporting the work of Global Ministries' partners' relief efforts in and around Syria. You can do that through One Great Hour of Sharing (UCC), the Week of Compassion (Disciples), or through Global Ministries directly.