Middle East and North Africa

Christians go into hiding as Turkish forces seize Afrin

Syrian soldiers, who have defected to join the Free Syrian Army, hold up their rifles as they secure a street in Saqba, in Damascus suburbs, in this January 27, 2012. Photo credit: Freedom House

Christian families in the northern Syrian town of Afrin went into hiding on Sunday (18 March), as Turkish forces and Syrian rebels seized the town.

Villages in the wider Afrin region were reportedly “cleared” of Christians and other religious minorities as Turkish armed forces and Syrian rebels (some of whom are understood to be militant jihadists) advanced to seize control of Afrin from Kurdish militia.

A Christian aid worker told journalists that militants fighting with Turkish armed forces are eliminating the presence of religious minorities: “The jihadist militants consider Yazidis ‘infidels,’ while there have been announcements made that if you kill Christians, you will go straight to paradise.”

Christian activists report “war crimes and ethnic cleansing” are taking place, while graphic videos have emerged online showing the bodies of men, women and children strewn across the street.

“This horror is reminiscent of the initial actions of ISIS in Iraq … This situation foreshadows ethnic cleansing and genocide,” said Nadia Murad, a Yazidi genocide survivor who is now a UN Goodwill Ambassador in the region.