News out of Istanbul is that Turkey wants to be helpful in resolving the 5 ½ year-old Syrian civil war, which has exacted a terrible cost on Christians and all people of that country. “The most important priority,” said Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in a press briefing, “is to ensure that the killing stops and people stop being displaced. Turkey will work to achieve that.” Why does the adage, “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” come to mind?
Turkey helped start the civil war, and is known to be funding an opposition group committed to the imposition of Sharia law in post-conflict Syria (whether they are funding more extremist groups is not known). Turkey is considered a “state of concern” by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom because of its systematic hostility to religious minorities. The government has confiscated Christian churches in the nation’s southeast. This is not a place which serves as a model of religious tolerance.
The Wall Street Journal published an important op-ed on August 10 under the title, “Turkey is No Longer a Reliable Ally.” Although some of the evidence for the authors’ argument concerned Turkey’s intransigence on the future of Syria, which seemingly has just melted away, they might have focused on Turkish president Erdogan’s response to the abortive military coup, signaling his intention to make Turkey more Islamist and less democratic.
Ending the violence in Syria and making progress in negotiations over a new constitution and government structure for Syria are the most important things the international community can do for Christians and other religious minorities in that country. SPC welcomes Turkey dropping its insistence on positions which the Assad government sees as non-starters.
But allowing Assad to remain in power during a transition period is not the same as building a Syria in which Christians and other religious minorities can live as equal, protected citizens. Perhaps Turkey has merely extended its time horizon for the achievement of a Sunni theocracy. Making Syria a place where Christians can live (literally) must be the measure of Turkey’s helpfulness.