Armenian genocide and religious persecution draw U.S. attention as Syrian refugees arrive in Iraq

Salwa Hanna with her children arrive at the Bardarash refugee camp, north of Mosul, Iraq, on Oct. 17. Christians originally from Afrin, Ms. Hanna’s family has now been displaced twice by Turkish incursions. “I left my home, and I had just started a new home, and I left it all behind,” she said. “There are no emotions anymore. We live as if we are dead.” (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)Salwa Hanna with her children arrive at the Bardarash refugee camp, north of Mosul, Iraq, on Oct. 17. Christians originally from Afrin, Ms. Hanna’s family has now been displaced twice by Turkish incursions. “I left my home, and I had just started a new home, and I left it all behind,” she said. “There are no emotions anymore. We live as if we are dead.” (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

According to United Nations officials, more than 180,000 people have been displaced so far by the conflict in northeast Syria’s border zone with Turkey as a second cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia began on Oct. 29. Kurdish, Christian and Yazidi border communities have emptied as Turkish-aligned Syrian militia take control of the villages.

The terms of the cease-fire give Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, much of what he sought to achieve when he ordered the incursion to begin on Oct. 9, a few days after an already infamous phone conversation with U.S. President Trump: Kurdish fighters withdrew to a distance of 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the Turkish border, and Syrian, Russian and Turkish forces have taken positions along the border and have taken control of the zone's abandoned communities.

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So far 12,000 Syrian civilians have taken refuge across the border in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, at a recently opened camp in Bardarash. More than 800 other refugees are sheltering at the Gawilan transit site. Both sites are about 150 kilometers east of the Syria-Iraq border. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees reports that Bardarash is already at full capacity even as refugees from the latest violence in Syria continue to arrive.

This is only the latest wave of Syrian refugees and internally displaced people from Iraq to seek safety in Iraqi-Kurdistan, which already hosts 38 camps. So far 12,000 Syrian civilians have taken refuge across the border.

Officials from both U.N.H.C.R. and Doctors without Borders report that new arrivals are in extreme humanitarian need and many are suffering from trauma related to their experience escaping the Turkish incursion.

A source from Jesuit Refugee Service MENA said most of those escaping the fighting remain within Syria, fleeing villages on the Turkey-Syria border to more southern regions of northeast Syria. “The areas with the largest number of arrivals are Al-Hassakeh and Ar-Raqqa,” the J.R.S. official reported via email on Oct. 28.

“Our Syria country team have not seen a mass influx of people in the area of Aleppo where we operate,” she added, but J.R.S. in Aleppo “is preparing a contingency plan in case an emergency intervention is needed.”

“This would involve distribution of aid to meet basic needs of those who have fled to the area and who are currently staying with relatives in Aleppo and would service those who have arrived in the area in which we currently operate.”

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She added, “Our Iraq country team is working in coordination with humanitarian actors and the Kurdish Regional Government to map out the needs of arrivals and to offer services according to the area of expertise of the organizations.”

This is only the latest wave of Syrian refugees and internally displaced people from Iraq to seek safety in Iraqi-Kurdistan. Even as this latest group fled Syrian Kurdish and Assyrian Christian villages threatened by Turkey, a Kurdistan Regional Government official noted that Iraqi-Kurdistan already hosts 38 camps. Hoshang Mohammed, director general of the Joint Crisis Coordination Centre, told Kurdish media that even before this latest humanitarian crisis “there [were] 791,000 Internally Displaced Persons and 229,000 Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan] refugees” in the Kurdistan region.

Mr. Mohammed noted continuing difficulties in helping these displaced Iraqis and Syrians return to their homes in liberated areas because of a “fear of ISIS insurgent attacks” and because an “absence of essential services and stability is forcing them to stay in camps.”

Meanwhile in Washington, a congressional vote to recognize the century-old mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide passed on Oct. 29 by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin, 405-11. The nonbinding resolution was intended as a clear rebuke to NATO ally Turkey in the wake of its invasion of northern Syria and suggested Congress’ deep displeasure with the Trump administration’s unexpected withdrawal of U.S. troops and abandonment of U.S. Kurdish allies in the region.

“A slow burn genocide began in 1915 and it hasn’t ended yet,” Lord Alton said, noting contemporary Turkey’s “illegal invasion of North East Syria.”

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the slaughter, which has been described as the 20th century’s first genocide. Turkey has vigorously disputed that categorization of the bloodshed. Arguing that the Armenian death toll has been inflated, Turkish officials and historians consider those killed to be victims of a civil war.

Addressing his ruling party in the aftermath of the U.S. vote on Oct. 30, Mr. Erdogan dismissed the genocide resolution as slander and said Turkey “strongly condemns” a second bill that calls for sanctions against senior Turkish officials and its army because of the incursion into Syria. That measure also passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support. It would bar most U.S. weapons sales to Turkey and would slap sanctions on non-U.S. citizens attempting to deliver military equipment to Turkey. It would also cut off high-ranking Turkish officials from assets in the United States and restrict their travel.

Applauding the U.S. Congress’s genocide declaration at a New York conference on religious persecution on Oct. 29 was David Alton of Liverpool, England, a former Liberal Party and later Liberal Democrat member of Parliament and British life peer. Lord Alton has made a personal mission of bringing attention to religious persecution around the world.

Speaking at a symposium on “new anti-Semitism and alarming trends in Christian and minority persecution,” sponsored by the Anglosphere Society, the Hudson Institute and Hungary Helps, Lord Alton offered a passionate closing address, urging the global community to wake up to the problem of often-mortal persecution based on religious belief.

“Whether it is Syria or Iraq, Egypt or Pakistan, North Korea or China, Nigeria, Eritrea or Sudan—or many other parts of the world—people of religious belief are suffering on an unimaginable scale,” he said.

He suggested a direct historical line between the persecution of Christians and Yazidi communities in northeast Syria today with the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Armenian and Assyrian Christians in 1915 in the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

“Whether it is Syria or Iraq, Egypt or Pakistan, North Korea or China, Nigeria, Eritrea or Sudan—or many other parts of the world—people of religious belief are suffering on an unimaginable scale.”

“A slow burn genocide began in 1915 and it hasn’t ended yet,” he said, noting that contemporary Turkey’s “illegal invasion of North East Syria; its use of chemical weapons against its population; its absorption of jihadist supporters of ISIS to fight alongside its army has led in the last month to the further displacement of [180,000] people—many from the religious minorities; and now the ethnic cleansing and repopulation of the areas from which the minorities have been driven.”

The latest violence is only a small part of the religious and ethnic persecution minority communities are experiencing in the region, he said. “In 1914, Christians made up a quarter of the Middle East’s population. Now they are less than 5 percent,” Lord Alton said. “Syria’s Christian population has declined from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000; in Iraq ethnic cleansing and genocide has reduced the ancient Christian population from 1.5 million in 2003 to below 120,000.”

Lord Alton repeated a recent, poignant comment from Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil: “The world should understand that on our path to extinction we will not go quietly any longer…so that if someday we are gone no one will be able to ask: How did this happen?”

Lord Alton focused at length on Christian persecution around the world, particularly in the Middle East, where Christian communities are disappearing; China, where churches are shuttered or demolished; and in Pakistan, where blasphemy laws have been used to harass and imprison politically and economically vulnerable Christian minorities.

Deploring the lack of response from media and government in the West to recent acts of oppression against Christians, Muslims and Falun Gong adherents in China, he said, “The assault on religion in China is the most systematic since the lethal Cultural Revolution, when churches were desecrated, looted and turned into storerooms and factories.

“The religious were incarcerated, tortured, some burnt alive, some sent to labor camps,” he said. “And now it is happening again. And where are our voices? Where are our protests?”

The ongoing repression of China’s Uighur people was passing with too little global outrage, he complained. “We have heard [in the U.K. Parliament] disturbing evidence about the vile incarceration of 1 million Uighur Muslims, where they are to be re-educated, brainwashed, intimidated and reprogrammed.”

Quoting St. Maximilian Kolbe, “murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz,” he said, “The deadliest poison of our times is indifference.”

He cited also the rise of anti-Semitic violence in the United States and Europe, the conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar, and even the persecution of people who sought to publicly attest to non-belief in theocratic authoritarian states like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The ongoing inattention to a global problem of religion-based persecution and violence, he said, makes a mockery of the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights’ Article 18 guarantee: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

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Alan Johnstone
2 weeks 6 days ago

The time has come to be realistic.
The inheritors of Christendom and the civilisation forged therein must accept we live on a globe which is also inhabited by mortal enemies. Mainland China implementing National Socialism and much of the world manifesting Islam are sworn and hereditary enemies of everyone who disagrees or differs from them.

We must pray for them all and at the same time oppose their belligerence with lethal arms and strong resolve.
Take a clue from Our Lady, we must pray and fast and sacrifice resolutely and persistently, those of us who are not in a position to bear arms or engage in battle.

rose-ellen caminer
2 weeks 5 days ago

Do you know any Muslims? The pious ones I know are not my enemies and are tolerant of my faith. Stop drinking such Fox distributed Kool -Aid [poison for your mind].Thou shalt not bear false witness.And; Democratic Socialism is a coming to the USA!

Alan Johnstone
2 weeks 4 days ago

Your arrogance is only a little less than your ignorance.
Not only have I worked in Indonesia and Bangladesh but also have trained and worked in the UK with Muslim professionals and am currently making arrangements for a young Muslim woman doctor to begin working in our medical practice.

I do not live in USA, do not imbibe media from there but if I did, it would not in any way explain my clear and informed knowledge that Islam is the mortal enemy of all creeds which are not theirs and has been demonstrated to be unchanged by recent Ottoman Empire, Egyptian alliance with Hitler and current activity of ISIS.

Tim O'Leary
2 weeks 6 days ago

Interesting that Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn did not vote for the resolution. She voted present. Was this because she is muslim?
https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/296/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%22armenian+genocide%22%7D&r=3&s=1

JR Cosgrove
2 weeks 5 days ago

This is another Trump hit piece. Somehow removing a hundred US prison guards is the cause of the current turmoil in Syria. Not a peep about Obama’s foreign policies which led to the turmoil in Syria. If one wants to point to Bush and the War in Iraq as the start of this then I can point to video of Biden bragging about how he and Obama won the war in Iraq.

rose-ellen caminer
2 weeks 5 days ago

Obama's foreign policy did not create the turmoil in Syria. The people themselves rose up peacefully to oppose a brutal regime.The regime started killing protesters. The world did nothing as the massacres of peaceful protesters increased even as we have military bases all over the ME, and have been meddling there destabilizing the status quo, and had sanction on Syria for decades labeling that Assad regime part of an axis of evil. Obama made some ultimatum which he had no intention of ever enacting for he, as the rest of the people, whether left and Right said; Muslims killing Muslims let Allah sort it out. Mc Cain was the exception.God bless him.Till ISIS took took advantage of the worlds malicious indifference to the slaughter of Sunni Arabs, and set up their thing. It was not until ISIS started committing atrocities on westerners that anyone cared.

Had the west toppled Assad , I do believe the result would have been successful for democracy and all the Syrians including the Kurds and Christians. Neither Syria or Iraq have fundamentalist populations;they are both quite secularized and educated,I think. Unlike Iraq; where the people had not yet risen up, where, after we invaded and occupied, we set up a government that excluded the Sunni of Iraq [we ethnically cleansed Baghdad of its Sunnis; we murdered them all] it did not work out because we allowed for the discrimination and persecution of one group by two others. The Iraq government we installed was Kurd/Shia with a green light to persecute the Sunni Iraqis which led to, first Alquada in Iraq [resistance to our unjust governance there] and then to ISIS. In Syria, had we toppled Assad and then not committed the crime of excluding one group in the new government [ which goes against what we profess to believe in; equal rights for all, and opposing tribalism] it could have worked and it would have been right.[imo]

Nick Heckman
2 weeks 5 days ago

If you actually believe US military intervention that has failed countless times in the last 40 years would magically work in this conflict I have a bridge to sell you.

rose-ellen caminer
2 weeks 5 days ago

The Turks are not going into Syria to kill Kurds or Christians. They are going there to establish a safe zone for the 2 million Syrian refugees in their country who fled Assad/Putin's bombs. The rest of the world does not want these Sunni Syrian Arab refugees. The EU will not longer help Turkey financially in caring for them. There are Kurdish fighters, on their border who are or were, a direct threat to the security of Turks. Terrorist attacks have occurred in Turkey by Kurdish militias. Perhaps not the ones working with the Americans to fight ISIS, but allied with them; the Turkish based PKK. There is nothing unreasonable or anti Kurd in what the Turks are dong as far as I can see. The Turks have not told the Kurds or Christians to leave; they have told the Kurds they can't be attacking their military or they will respond militarily.It is a false narrative ,I think the way the US media reporting is calling what the Turks are doing ethnic cleansing when it is the Kurds who do not want Sunni Syrian Arabs in the land they "controlled" .They want that land for Kurds only?What does it even mean to control, the area? They have had militias , keeping all Sunni Arabs who were occupied by ISIS or related to ISIS ,in camps. Liberate those camps Turkey! Collective guilt and collective punishment is itself a war crime. Only those prisoners who actually committed atrocities, should be held and tried, preferably at the Hague or in the country if they are not Syrian.The rest were an occupied people; between a rock and a hard place; Assad/'Putin's bombs and torture prisons, or submitting to ISIS control, if they did not flee as refugees. They had no choice but to comply or be tortured and killed including their families themselves, by ISIS. ISIS at the time offered them protection from Assad Putin's bombs. When the US gave air cover and protection to the Kurds of Iraq, and Syria none was given to these Sunni Arabs who Assad/ Putin was murdering en masse. There's your ethnic cleansing [Allowite regime against Sunni ].

This anti Turk narrative is skewed and makes no sense really.Which is why why the resolution condemning Turkeys past genocide against Armenians is going on now.And that is why Rep. Omar did not go along with it at this time. It's piling on to further obfuscates what is happening in Syria. How it is the Sunni Arab Syrians who are the victims here, of either Assad/Putin, or ISIS's the psychopathic thuggish cults' horrific occupation, and then the Kurdish "militias" who had been 'controlling them, by placing them in camps in deplorable conditions; men,women children, babies. Their plight has been lost in this narrative.

The Turks in spite of their past evil deeds, have the moral high ground on this military incursion to establish a safe zone for 2 million refugees under their charge so that they can return to their country. They are NOT forcing any Kurds or Christians to leave, as far as I can see.If the Kurds want their own country in a vast area comprising parts of Turkey, Syria , and Iraq, then this should be done at the UN; not by seizing and controlling land, rounding the inhabitants there, calling them all; men ,women children, babies ;terrorists, and keeping them in camps in deplorable conditions and saying this land is now OURS. There's your ethnic cleansing.

Alan Johnstone
2 weeks 4 days ago

All the current territorial boundaries in the middle east are unnatural.
The victorious allies of WW2 drew them without consulting the people after the carnage and destruction of years of war.

It is barbarian against barbarian left to settle territorial boundaries and ownership of natural resources and no group occupies any moral high ground at all except the Israelis who have returned to the land given to them by God.

The rest of us have read the history and are not ignoring it so as not to be caught repeating it.

There were real people doing real things before you were born, before USA was established and very long before that. I should remind you as well, all the Socialist countries that called themselves Socialist after a election did not have another democratic free election ever again. Ask the PLO, Hamas, Cuba, Cambodia ... the list is very long.

rose-ellen caminer
2 weeks 2 days ago

The treatment of the Palestinian Arabs by Israel state, is also barbarous. The Palestinian Arabs are indigenous to the Levant.What is now called Israel
was called Greater Syria/ Palestine until the creation of the modern nation state of Israel.The Palestinian Arabs are a mixture of all the tribes, people who have been in that land, who have gone through that land going back to biblical times.The Zionist founders from Europe, America, Russia were settlers and colonizers who got their own state thanks to the UN/league of nations back when that was a white mans club [i.e. ,westerners carved up the world , for western en interests. .Zionist settlers were westerner]. Palestinian Arabs there today are themselves descended or mixed with people who 2000 years ago or less[ Arab conquest] were Christians and or Jews. And The Zionist Jews of Europe, America, Russia are mixed with the Jews of biblical times but are not inherently more indigenous then the Palestinian Arabs of the Levant. [ who have ancestors who were Jews].That God gave that land to the Jews, is, not historically relevant. The bible is a revelation of spiritual truths applicable to all humanity.That salvation history got revealed first to the Jews, of Israel, is a historical fact but confers no political or moral right to land inhabited by people no longer subscribing to the religion of Judaism. And those Palestinians can trace their ancestors to that land every bit as much as Zionist westerners can.
Though today I support an Israeli state that allows all the displaced Palestinian Arabs in that area to be full citizens, OR that Israel return all land annexed unlawfully in the 67 war. I stand with the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel!

Western civilization is ripe with barbarism.Still. Sending an attack dog after Baghdadi who was desperate , cornered with a suicide vest, and had his children in tow, was pretty barbaric. He, like the psychopathic ISIS cult[ many westerners subscribed to it] was depraved and barbaric but two wrongs don't make a right. As was blowing up that compound as .ISIS controls no territory and no battles were going on against them.Killing how many people?It was pure murder for vengeance's sake. No just war scenario there.[IMO].

Democratic Social is coming to the USA. Had we been the country that had universal health care, free higher education, guaranteed income or job; the right to a home been enshrined in our Constitution, and had other democracies not ,but idolized capitalism; i.e. had the t tables been reversed, we in the US would be proclaiming our democratic socialism as a hallmark of US exceptionalism. Because we were hyper capitalist, we smeared socialism,and said it was anti democratic, anti freedom, our favorite mantra. . That may be changing.. These memes are not working so good any more, thanks to the young , many immigrants, who have never had a problem with the idea that the role of government IS to provide for its citizens well being from cradle to grave!

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