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By Linda Burkle, Ph.D

On December 4, 2019 Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned those who associate the word “Islam” with terrorism. “Islam is a religion of peace” he said at the recent London event convened by the Justice and Development Party. He vowed to continue Turkey’s incursion, “Operation Peace Spring,” in northeast Syria until it is cleared of terrorists. Erdogan defined the terrorists as the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by People’s Protection Units (YPG), which had been controlling the Syrian northeastern border. His stated goal to the west is to create a “safe zone” to allow over 2 million refugees to safely return to Syria.[1]

However, on October 25, in a speech at the Camlica Mosque in Istanbul, Erdogan stated: “The Lord commands us to be violent against the unbelievers. . . But he commands us to be merciful among ourselves, and we will be violent against the unbelievers, as happened in Syria.”  What Erdogan says to his allies is clearly contrary to his ideology and actions.[2] Erdogan’s own words belie his assertion that the incursion is legitimate. Metin Rawl, Head of Foreign Affairs of the European Syriac Union and representative of Christians in Northeast Syria stated in an interview that Erodgan himself has called his jihadists “The Army of Mohammed, The Warriors of Allah, who will kill the unbelievers which includes us and anyone else who does not believe like him.”[3]

Despite what Erdogan wants to portray to the world, those who have fought for him, principally the Syrian National Army, clearly embrace jihadist ideology and actions. Also troubling is the fact that Erdogan has previously been aided ISIS terrorists by supplying them with sanctuary and supplies. He also appears to be unconcerned about securing the continued confinement of 70,000 ISIS prisoners held by the Syrian Democratic Forces whom he is fighting. Is Turkey, our NATO ally, arming, financing, and backing a new army of militant jihadists? According to Homeland Security Today.US, it would seem so.[4]

Dating back to the 2018 incursion and takeover of Afrin, Turkey has been co-opting with militant jihadists, who participated in violent war crimes and forced conversions of Yazidis and other minorities. More recently during “Operation Peace Spring” besides Yadzidis, Christians have been specifically targeted for torture, rape and other atrocities; some of which were proudly videotaped. One Turkish fighter declared on tape “We have come to behead you infidels and apostates”. The goals of ethnic cleansing and establishing a caliphate are obvious both in word and deed.[5]

It is difficult to understand how the U.S. can support an ally with such behavior. At what point do we and other NATO countries say, “enough is enough.”  The economic sanctions President Trump imposed on Turkey to stop the incursion into Northeast Syria ostensibly produced a tenuous ceasefire but reports on the ground observed that fighting, forced displacement, and war crimes continued. Christians have been specifically targeted.

In Turkey, religious freedom has been increasingly restricted in recent years and of growing concern to those monitoring the situation. “By reigniting Islamic Turkish nationalism, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has practically undone the secularization efforts of the early years of the Turkish Republic and has incited a jihad against Christianity’ wrote author and cleric Father Mario Alexis Portella in the Catholic Crisis Magazine.” While building 17,000 mosques throughout Turkey and the world, he has simultaneously seized and closed churches. Hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis and Kurds have been displaced.[6]

While Christians make up less than half of a percent of Turkey’s population, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Reconciliation Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP) depict them as a grave threat to the stability of the nation.[7] Particularly since an abortive coup in 2016, there is a concerted government-orchestrated anti-Christian propaganda campaign accompanied by increasing restrictions of religious freedom in Turkey. “The reality is that Turkey is neither a democracy nor a secular republic. There is no division between government affairs and religious affairs. There’s no doubt that the government uses the mosques to get is message across to its grassroots supporters.’’ lamented Istanbul pastor Yuce Kabakci.[8]

In the 2019 USCIRF Report, Turkey was described as a country with deteriorating conditions for religious freedom; engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations “that meet at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious’ standard for designation as a ‘country of particular concern’ under the International Religious Freedom Act. The USCIRF recommendations to the U.S. government are to “urge” Turkey to ensure that religious minorities have equal access to services, legal protection, property, education and economic opportunities.[9] However, based on Erdogan’s own words, I predict conditions will only worsen given his dream of reestablishing a regional caliphate.

It should be noted that Turkey is the only member of NATO which has been highlighted as a country restricting and violating religious freedom in the 2019 USCIRF Report. NATO should reconsider Turkey’s longstanding membership considering its recent military incursion and behavior toward religious minorities within its borders and the surrounding region.

Dr. Burkle retired from The Salvation Army in early 2019 where she oversaw an array of social services in a multi-state region. Along with the State Attorney General, Burkle Co-Chaired the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force. Dr. Burkle holds a doctoral degree in international relations. Her dissertation focused on religious persecution; specifically, regarding Iran, Iraq, Sudan, China and Burma (Myanmar). Dr. Burkle resides in Omaha, Nebraska.  She has three grown children and eight grandchildren.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates

[1] -terrorism

[2] -unbelievers-erdogan-suggests-syria-invasion-is-really-an-islamic-holy-war



[5] Ibid.