Syriac Christians see Turkey’s safe zone plans an existential threat

Syriac Christians, a religious group in Syria, reject the creation of a safe zone Turkey plans to establish in northern Syria due to Ottoman atrocities in the past, sociologist Amy Austin Holmes said in the U.S.-based magazine National Interest on Thursday.

The community which includes Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldean, and Armenian Christians, describe themselves as “descendants of survivors” of a 1915 massacre of the Ottoman Empire, which historian Joseph Yacoub refers to as a “hidden genocide.”

Turkey promises to bring security in the region by a safe zone to be established along the Turkish border, which will prioritise clearing off the area from Kurdish militia, which Ankara sees as a national security threat.

But the possibility of a Turkish controlled safe zone, which will encompass all of the hometowns of Syriac Christians, disturbs the community, who has not forgotten the persecution they suffered at the hands of the Ottomans a century ago, according to Austin Holmes.

"Instead of inducing a sense of safety, the idea of deploying Turkish troops in their homeland rekindles memories of the trauma their community has suffered before,” she said.

Ankara and Washington have been negotiating Turkey’s safe zone plan in Syria since December, after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw American troops in Syria. The United States later decided to leave half of the 2,000 troops.

“Instead of continuing to indulge Erdoğan’s neo-Ottoman plans to further annex parts of northern Syria, U.S. officials could simply tell Ankara that there will be no further deployment of Turkish troops in Syria,” Austin Holmes said.

Dr. Sanharib Barsoom, co-president of the Syriac Union Party, told the political sociologist that in case of a Turkish attack, the Christians in the region might not survive. “Most of our people live near the border area, so if Turkey creates a safe zone it would be here where the Christians live,” Barsoom said.

Elizabeth Gawyria, a Syriac Christian who is one of the vice presidents of the Self Administration of North and East Syria, said that the community saw Turkey’s plans as an existential threat. “They want to take us from our homeland so we don’t have any rights as people,” she said.