Christians in Kurdish controlled Syria fear for their safety

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Syria, Afrin, Kurdistan, Open Doors
Afrin – Wiki image Bertramz
The city of Afrin in northern Syria is under attack by the Turkish military and its allies. A church in Afrin has issued a plea for protection from the international community. The Church of the Good Shepherd, one of the local churches in the Afrin, asked today for prayer for an end to the attacks on their city and urged the international community to stop the bombings and protect the citizens of Afrin.

Pastor Valentin Hanan of the Church of the Good Shepherd, said: “We are at this moment under heavy shelling, and Islamic groups are threatening to enter the area.”

The Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, said the aim was to establish a 30 km ‘safe zone’ deep inside Syria.

More than 200 families attend the Church of the Good Shepherd. Many families from the church have fled the city, others are in shelters. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 22 civilians have died in Turkish air and artillery strikes.

The Turkish military launched its Operation Olive Branch offensive on Saturday to oust from the region Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that it considers a terrorist group.

A spokesperson for Open Doors said: “It’s a tragedy to see more bloodshed unfolding in Syria. We will be asking our supporters and Christians around the world to unite in prayer for a peaceful outcome.”

Syria is number 15 on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List. Militant Islamic groups are a clear threat to all Christians in Syria. In areas controlled by radical Islamic groups, most historic churches are demolished or used as Islamic centres. The amount of opposition a church receives can depend on its political reputation. Church leaders, particularly, are targeted for abduction. Government authorities restrict the activities of evangelical Christians and converts to prevent instability. Christians from a Muslim background face pressure from their families to recant, as their conversion brings shame on the family.

Turkey is number 31 2018 Open Doors World Watch List. Leaving Islam is seen as a betrayal of Turkish identity. Some believers from Muslim backgrounds keep their faith a secret and are too afraid to meet with other Christians because of pressure from their families and communities. Religion is recorded on ID cards, and can be difficult to change. If believers change their religion to ‘Christian’ on their ID cards, it is easy for employers to discriminate against them. However, if they don’t, their children will automatically be registered as Muslim and expected to attend Islamic classes.