Washington- This article has been updated to include a response from Turkey
Syrian Christian leaders expressed concern about Turkey’s escalating attacks in northeastern Syria, saying that recent military activities have driven many Christians and members of other minorities from their homes.
Military officials in the area said last week that Turkey launched an attack on the predominantly Christian town of Tel Tamer and surrounding villages.
“Turkish shelling has recently destroyed two schools, a municipal building, a bakery and an electric power line in the area,” said Matai Hanna, spokesman for the Syrian Military Council of the main Christian militia in northeastern Syria.
“This violates international law and prohibits targeting civilian infrastructure,” he told VOA.
The Syrian Military Council is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military alliance that has been the United States’ main partner in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist organization (also known as IS or ISIS).
Turkey sees the Self-Defense Forces as an extension of the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a radical organization designated as terrorists by Washington and Ankara.
Hanna said that his team is ready to defend the area against any major offensive launched by Turkey and its Syrian partners.
Since October 2019, after large-scale military operations against Self-Defense Forces fighters, the Turkish army and Syrian Allied militias have been controlling parts of northeastern Syria.
Since then, although the United States and Russia have facilitated a number of ceasefire agreements, there have been occasional conflicts between the local army and armed groups backed by Turkey.
Bassam Ishak, chairman of the Syrian National Committee, one of the largest Christian political groups in Syria, said that Turkey’s bombing of the Syrian-Turkish border has led to the displacement of a large number of residents, including many Assyrian Christians.
He told the Voice of America: “The recent Turkish bombing of Tartamel has caused instability and anxiety among the residents of the city, prompting many Assyrian Christians to flee.”
Ishak is also the Washington representative of the Syrian Democratic Committee of the Self-Defense Forces political faction. He added: “A large number of residents who fled the area bombed by the Turkish army have settled in other Assyrian villages far away from the Turkish bombing, which has also increased the uncertainty of the local residents. .”
A source in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs told VOA, “These allegations are baseless.”
“Turkey has always maintained a good record of protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria’s anti-terrorism operations. The international community should pay more attention to the atrocities, oppression and war crimes committed by the so-called’Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) led by PKK/YPG. , For all Syrians, regardless of race or religious background,” the source said, adding that “Turkey will firmly continue its anti-terrorism activities against PKK/YPG.”
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria accused Turkey-backed Syrian groups of committing war crimes against Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities in northern Syria. Rights groups also accused these groups of demographic changes by expelling indigenous people from the area.
USCIRF Chairman Nadine Maenza told VOA: “It’s shocking that Turkey continues to attack civilians in northeastern Syria, even targeting Syrian Assyria in the Habul Valley. The village forced some remaining residents who survived the ISIS genocide to flee.
“USCIRF continues to recommend that the U.S. government pressure Turkey to provide a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from northeastern Syria and stop all activities that have a negative impact on religions and ethnic minorities in the region,” she said.
Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Turkish project of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy and a former member of the Turkish parliament, stated that the Turkish government tried to justify its attack on the main Christian settlements in northeastern Syria as a target. The so-called “Islamic State” subsidiary organization’s counter-terrorism measures. PKK.
He told VOA: “The ongoing attacks by the Turkish army and Islamic agents in Ankara not only caused civilian casualties in Tel Tamer and other areas, but also displaced vulnerable ethnic minorities in the area.”
Erdemir said: “In addition to the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, the lack of voices in Turkey’s role and complicity with the Turkish government’s human rights violations in northern Syria has also exacerbated the problem.”
VOA’s Zana Omer contributed to this story in Tel Tamer, Syria.