An Ancient Grave Reopened

By Claire Evans

01/05/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)An old tape recorder clicked as its tape ran out.

The story it told was almost beyond belief. It had been a century since Turkey’s Christian community faced near-extinction from their own Muslim government.

But as Turkey recently launched an October invasion, ancestral trauma blurred with cur­rent events.

For Ashur, a Christian living in Iraq, Turkey’s military invasion of Syria prompted a wave of painful flashbacks for his family. He had found a recording of his grandmother speaking of the genocide experienced at the hands of Turkey a century ago.

“I was listening to a recording from my late grandmother,” reminisced Ashur. “She explained how [Turkish and Kurdish] troops attacked them, and how Christians had fled [from] the attacks.”

1915 was a turbulent year for Ottoman -era Turkey. The Islamic empire was failing. Although Christians had lived in Turkey for centuries, they were blamed for the Empire’s fall and tragically were almost wiped out for it.

Turkey’s genocide left 2 million Christians dead. Ashur’s family escaped by fleeing into Iraq; other Christians went to Syria.

“My [great great] grandfather was a priest-about 100 years old,” recalled Ashur. “He was killed by a Turk when he was trying to avoid the genocide by making a deal with the Turk. They killed him. My [great] grandfather was killed defending people who fled from Turks and Kurds.”

Turkey’s invasion into Syria and military activities in Iraq cause many to worry that Turkey intends to finish an uncompleted task—this time, allowed by the United States. American troops promised to serve as a buffer against a Turkish incursion in Syria, but a sur­prise counter-order led to a hasty withdrawal. Local Christians felt betrayed.

“Don’t let Christianity be driven out of north­east Syria,” pleaded a joint statement published by five Syrian Christian groups. “American troops act as [a] barrier… we remind the inter­national community and public opinion of the Turkish Genocide of our people in 1915, which decimated the Syriac Christian population.”

Even within Turkey, Christians were wor­ried about the consequences. “Because of Syria, our church is shaking,” said a Turkish pastor serving near the Syrian border. The burden of his country’s actions weighs heavily on his shoulders. One of his congregants was quick to elaborate:

“I am an Armenian. What I see reminds me of my grandmother’s tears. We are afraid.”

Another Turkish pastor wished for an end to the military operation. “We cannot pray that people will kill people, and our brothers and sisters from other nations,” he said. “Let us pray for the end of the current war. Let’s pray the guns to be shut up. Let us pray that our country will be dominated by love, peace.”

Just 200 miles away in Iraq, Christians expressed the same fears following the invasion.

“Still, we suffer because of the Turkish attack,” said Ashur. “Now [we] are afraid of Turkish forces because they bring with them Muslim radical fighters. These militias are so radical and their ideology, it is the same as ISIS.”

Turkey’s actions have serious consequenc­es across the Middle East. But for Christians, it means revisiting deep wounds from a traumatic past.

At a time when they desperately need peace, Christians in Syria and Iraq find them­selves caught up in a clash between nations and peoples.

With no end to the conflict in sight, they are left wondering if they have a place in the world.

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