Washington must stand against Turkish atrocities in Syria - U.S. religious freedom watchdog officials

The United States and the international community must take action against Turkey’s violation of religious freedoms targeting Yazidis, Christians and Kurds in Syria, said Anurima Bhargava and Nadine Maenza of the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Yazidis and other vulnerable minorities in the war-torn country are faced with violence against civilians at the hands of the Turkish military and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA), following their invasion and occupation of large swath of northern Syria in 2018, the pair wrote in Newsweek Magazine on Saturday.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel proxies are accused of grave violations against Syria’s minorities following their capture of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in 2018. 

The Yazidis, members of a religious community that has inhabited the region since pre-Islamic times, were slaughtered and enslaved in a genocide carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS) starting in 2014.

The group’s current fate at the hands of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army ‘s (TFSA), which earlier this year razed their Sheikh Ali shrine to the ground, brings about flashbacks of recent history, the pair wrote.

Human rights organizations, the United Nations and civilians on the ground have documented the abuses and traumatisation of the Yazidi, Christian and Kurdish minorities, the article said, with reports of TFSA allies killing, raping and kidnapping members of the group.

"Since the incursion began, Turkey and the factions it supports have indiscriminately shelled civilian areas, carried out at least seven summary killings, unlawfully occupied private civilian homes and shops and looted the owners' property, and have not accounted for aid workers who may have been forcibly disappeared while working in their zones," the article quoted Sara Kayyali of Human Rights Watch as saying.

Washington must clearly recognise and reflect on the effects of Turkey’s cross-border operations, the pair wrote, which are aimed at Kurdish forces but pose  a clear and present danger to religious freedom in northeast Syria.

The United States should pressure Ankara on a timeline for its withdrawal from the country, they said, in light of what Turkey’s continued presence in the region could pave the way for - the disappearance and religious and ethnic cleansing of Yazidis, Christians and other minorities.