By Ruth Sax
A Syrian pastor has said he is sceptical about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s promise to help Syria’s Christians rebuild their churches “so that they will be able to return to their lands and start praying there again”.
Pastor Samuel, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, lives in north-eastern Syria and said he believes that Mr Erdogan’s words do not match Turkey’s treatment of Christians.
He told Christian charity Open Doors: “In reality, you can see the massacres that the Turks have committed against Christians at different times until today, so why would he build a church while killing Christians? Why did he enter the area and destroy the churches in the first place? Even if these promises were true, why would that benefit me when he has caused everyone to leave the area?”
President Erdogan made the promise while speaking at the White House earlier this month following his meeting with the US President Donald Trump. He said his government has “plans” in place to help Syria’s Christian communities restore their churches damaged during Tukey’s military operation in north-eastern Syria.
Pastor Samuel claimed that Syria’s Christians are made to be part of “a game of political interests” of big states. He added that based on previous experiences with Turkey, “trust is absent in this scenario”.
“Almost no Christians have remained in Tal Abyad or Ras Al-Ain on the border with Turkey. What would the churches or cathedrals do if the people have fled, were killed or became homeless after their houses were destroyed? The president’s statement comes as a drug to numb the feelings of Christians against Turkey,” said the pastor.
Dr Matthew Rees, head of advocacy at Open Doors UK and Ireland said: “The promises will be viewed with scepticism unless the Turkish president starts treating his own nation’s Christians better.
“It’s time that Turkey’s Christians were treated with respect and recognised for the part they play in wider Turkish life. The president may want to look closer to home if he is to become an advocate for the Christians in his nation and their heritage.”
The fate of Turkey’s Christian heritage is a worry for the country’s Christian community. A 4th-century Byzantine church is waiting for the Turkish government to decide whether it should be turned into a mosque. A recent court judgement has affirmed the right of the government to decide.
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