INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM R O U N D T A B L E January 9, 2019

 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM R O U N D T A B L E January 9, 2019 The Honorable Donald Trump The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Re: Please Do Not Abandon Syrian Religious and Ethnic Minorities Dear President Trump: We are an informal group of organizations and individuals, including scholars, religious and secular leaders, human rights advocates, and faith-based NGO’s. We hold very different religious and theological views but are united by our commitment to international religious freedom. Many participate in the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. We greatly appreciate your Administration’s commitment to international religious freedom (IRF), including your signing the historic Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, H.R. 390, on December 11, 2018. Members of your Administration made strong promises about your Administration’s commitment to IRF at the July 2018 Ministerial on International Religious Freedom, and you backed this up by imposing strong sanctions on Turkey until it released U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson. At numerous events this fall hailing the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act, your commitment to IRF was confirmed. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ambassador at Large for IRF Sam Brownback, and your Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, among others, have assured the IRF community that this Administration would be there for the persecuted. We expected that your Administration would take action enabling Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and other minorities to remain in both Syria and Iraq with the capacity to secure their communities from attack, rebuild, and enjoy equal rights. We were therefore shocked by the announcement that you had ordered U.S. troops to leave Northeastern Syria and planned to replace them with Turkish forces. U.S. withdrawal in the face of a Turkish advance will doubtless devastate the Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and other minority communities who live in the region and whose brave men and women have borne the brunt of the fight against ISIS. The implications for minorities living in nearby Iraq and for Jews living in Israel are grave. U.S. military involvement in the fight against ISIS began in 2014 because of the public outcry when Yazidis and Christians in Iraq and Syrian Christians were helpless in the face of ISIS attacks, kidnappings, and atrocities. Our valiant Syrian allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), include Christian, Yazidi, Arab, and Kurdish units who united to defend their homeland. They could not have come close to winning the fight against ISIS without the help of the U.S.-led Global Coalition and greatly appreciate all of our assistance. But they went beyond the boundaries of their own communities to drive ISIS out of one third of Syria on behalf of the entire world. 14,000 SDF soldiers, Christians, Kurds, Arabs, and Yazidis, men and women, have died or been wounded in these battles for one reason: to defeat religion-based extremism and autocracy. Amazingly, at the same time, they created a functional, nonsectarian, pluralistic democracy with equal rights and religious freedom for all faiths, ethnicities, and women: the Democratic Self-Administration (DSA). Aramean, the language of Jesus, is an official DSA language, along with Kurdish and Arabic. This Christmas, Christians in Quamishli freely paraded through the streets singing alleluias, only a short distance from the Turkish border. Kurdish Muslim converts to Christianity are numerous and worship freely. The various ethnic and religious groups share high level government leadership, and a “social contract” guarantees equal rights to all. Turkish jihadi troops have stood at the border of the DSA for months hurling threats at its residents and promising to “fill all its ditches” with the corpses of SDF soldiers. Turkey invaded the DSA enclave of Afrin in January 2018 using the same troops, with the same grim threats, and overwhelming airpower and military equipment. Christians and Yazidis were specific targets for death (genocide), while the plan was to kill or drive out all Kurds (ethnic cleansing). Over 200,000 people fled and many died. Homes and businesses were bombed or looted; all Christian and Yazidi places of worship were destroyed; olive groves were burned on an industrial scale. Women were kidnapped, raped, and trafficked. Turkey occupies Afrin and war crimes continue to this day. Extremists from other parts of Syria now live in the homes of those intentionally driven out. No Christians are left. Yazidis who did not flee are threatened with death if they do not convert to a radical form of Islam. Women wear burkas and ISIS flags fly in what was once the only part of Syria untouched by the civil war. This is Turkey’s plan for the DSA. Turkey’s President has made this abundantly clear this week in rejecting US proposals for a transition that protects the SDF and area residents. Instead, he promises to “punish” them for alleged misdeeds. News of your decision sent shock waves through DSA minority and majority communities. Their words speak most loudly: “this is the death knell for Christianity in the Middle East;” it “opens up the gates of hell” for the people of Northern Syria. Syrian Christians settled in the DSA after fleeing the 1915 Turkish genocide against Assyrians and Armenians. They know what will happen if Turkey is allowed to invade. The area’s 100,000 remaining Christians and over three million Kurds, Arabs, Yazidis, and other minorities will be forced to flee into Northern Iraq or suffer terrible war crimes and genocide. Turkey poses as serious an existential threat to the continuation of a Christian, Yazidi, and Kurdish presence in the region as ISIS. Christian and Yazidi organizations, military and political, have written numerous appeals outlining their plight, which are attached. Appeal of Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian Christians on January 3, 2019: “Without protection, Christians will be the first target of Turkeys’ jihadist groups.” European Syriac Union Press Release on December 20, 2018: “Christian communities there fear total destruction by the hands of Turkey, Iran and even ISIS as that is not full defeated yet.” Syriac Military Council Urgent Call on December 27, 2018: “There is a serious risk of the end of the presence of Christianity in this region if we do not have security in place when the U.S. leaves. Yesterday, we freely celebrated Christmas. If Turkey invades, our churches and our people will be gone.” Report of Free Yezidi Foundation on January 5, 2019: “Any premature withdrawal of the United States forces from Syria not only endangers religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, it vastly increases the likelihood of a resurgent Daesh militant power. This is an existential threat to minorities like the Yezidis.” Open Letter to you and Vice President Pence from a Kurdish Pastor on December 21, 2018: “your recent announcement about withdrawing USA troops home shocked us! Many people cried, others got heart attacks … Others, especially ISIS and their supporters, rejoiced very much. I do believe the Lord has given you Divine wisdom to lead and guide. Your roar will surely terrify the wolves and make your ally the Kurds feel safe.” Leading US supporters of religious freedom in the Middle East have echoed their concern. Franklin Graham commented on Facebook on December 26, 2018: “I’m sure that President Trump remembers that during the 2016 campaign he promised to protect Christians. Pulling our troops out of Syria too quickly has the potential to put many in danger.” Retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin and Travis Weber of the Family Research Council wrote on the same day: “President Trump’s recent announcement that he will withdraw U.S. military forces from Northern Syria aims to fulfill a campaign promise that he will defeat ISIS and bring home our troops. Yet it stands to put Syria’s Christian community — who have been a target of ISIS — in mortal danger.” We respectfully request that, at minimum, your Administration order U.S. forces to remain until alternative security arrangements are in place. The replacements should come from countries that respect the legitimate aspiration of the people of the DSA to live in peace with equal rights for all: U.S. Global Coalition allies or regional partners—not Turkey. We urge that a no fly zone be established over the DSA so Turkey cannot fulfill its long threatened plan to invade this area and crush the SDF and its residents. Instead, Turkey should be required to exit Afrin and other occupied Syrian territory where it harbors former ISIS and Al Qaeda fighters and terrorizes any remaining religious minorities. We also ask that your Administration ensure that DSA representatives have the right to participate in Syrian peace talks, promoting their democratic model, and that a peace results that gives enough autonomy to the DSA that its freedoms are preserved. We believe that the U.S. should also assist in rebuilding the DSA areas destroyed by the Global Coalition’s fight against ISIS so that its democracy can flourish. It controls 30% of Syrian territory with ample natural resources, including oil, to fund this effort. If substitute security measures are not put in place, the DSA’s only alternative to annihilation is to accept control by the Assad regime and its allies and allow the SDF to become part of the regime’s army. This will give Assad’s ally Iran its long desired path to the Mediterranean and the ability to set up military bases right at the Israel/Syria border threatening the Jewish state and its citizens. Iran will have increased power in Iraq as well. It is already threatening efforts to enable Christians and Yazidis to remain in Sinjar and the Nineveh Plains through ethnic change. The hopes of the diverse residents of these regions for equal rights and religious freedom will be dashed. Today, the DSA is the only part of Syria without a significant Iranian presence. These potential adverse outcomes severely undercut the significance of the Genocide Relief and Accountability Act and your Administration’s stated commitment to Christians, Jews, and other minorities in the Middle East. The best way to deter the revival of ISIS and similar groups is to ensure that pluralistic societies that honor religious freedom and the dignity of all men are protected. The DSA is a small area in the greater scheme of things, but it is the place where ISIS was brought to its knees. It offers more than a fair chance of being the place where the antidote to ISIS (religious freedom and democracy) takes root in Syria and the Middle East. This is the only realistic foundation for a lasting peace and protection of US national security interests. 
  Respectfully, LAW AND LIBERTY TRUST Lauren Homer, President JUBILEE CAMPAIGN Ann Buwalda, President Organizations: GENOCIDE WATCH CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY, NATIONAL AFFAIRS OFFICE SALLUX (ECPM FOUNDATION) SHAI FUND Individuals (With Title and Organization for Identification Purposes Only): Gregory Stanton, Founding President Genocide Watch Johannes de Jong, Director SALLUX (ECPM FOUNDATION) Charmaine Hedding, President Shai Fund [Other signatures] INFORMATIVE RECENT ARTICLES IMPACT OF U.S. SYRIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL ON CHRISTIANS, KURDS, & YAZIDIS 2018 1-24 Christians in Afrin Prayed for US & Allies Deliverance from Turkish Attacks—which never came. https://stream.org/exclusive-video-kurdish-christian-converts-pray-fordeliverance-from-turkey-and-al-qaeda/ 2018 12-14: https://stream.org/will-president-trump-sacrifice-israels-safety-and-thousands-ofchristians-in-syria-just-to-appease-the-turks/ 2018 12-21: Kurds and Christians face choice between death at Turkey’s hands or capitulation to the Assad regime, endangering Israel: https://stream.org/this-decision-will-live-in-infamybetraying-syrias-kurds-and-christians/ 2018 12-21 Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. Boykin, Executive VP, and Travis Weber, VP for Policy, at Family Research Council: “Will We Abandon Syria’s Christians?” https://www.frc.org/get.cfm? i=PV19A02 2018 12-21 Appeal from Kurdish Christian Pastor: https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/israel/ 2018/december/god-still-loves-the-kurds-a-plea-from-a-kurdish-pastor-to-president-trumpabout-the-us-pullout-from-syria 2018 12-26 Statement by Franklin Graham on December 26, 2018, https:// www.facebook.com/FranklinGraham/posts/22626606204567732018 12-27 Contains Appeal By Head of Syriac Union Party Sanharib Barsoum. https:// www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/cwn/2018/december/the-coming-turkish-jihadist-invasion-againstchristians-a-christmas-plea-from-syrians-to-us-christians2018 2018 12-27 Open Letter from Syrian Christian’s Military Leader. https:// www.christianpost.com/voice/open-letter-from-syria-christians-to-us-christians-do-not-allowturkey-to-destroy-us.html 2018 12-31 General Jerry Boykin of Family Research Council speaks out. http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/cwn/2018/december/trump-orders-slowdown-in-syria-troop-pulloutbut-christians-still-alarmed-by-deadly-dangers 2018 12-31: http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/israel/2018/december/a-new-year-rsquo-s-dayshowdown-nbsp-will-thousands-of-christians-and-kurds-be-caught-in-the-crossfire-of-turkeyiran-and-russia-nbsp 2019 1-4 Christian Refugees from Afrin Fear Another Manhunt by Turks. http://www1.cbn.com/ cbnnews/israel/2019/january/door-to-door-searches-to-hunt-christians-these-syrians-say-uspullout-means-it-will-happen-again 2018 12-29 Kurds react to historic betrayal by an ally in the midst of war. https:// theregion.org/article/13320-the-civilians-northern-syria-blame-us-of-historic-betrayal 2019 1-3 Free Yezidi Organization Report on existential threat posed by Turks and ISIS. https://www.freeyezidi.org/wp-content/uploads/FYF-Report-US-Troop-Withdrawal-fromSyria.pdf No-fly zone Over North East Syria Stop the Ottoman Turkish invading North East Syria Don’t let Christianity be driven out of North East Syria We appeal to world leaders and to Christians throughout the world to support us, as ChaldeanSyriac-Assyrian Christians living in Syria’s North East region: as indigenous people of the Middle East. We urgently need protection from Turkey’s threats to invade and “cleanse” our territory from Christianity, religious freedom, and democracy. US President Donald Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw US troops, leaves us powerless and open to be destroyed by either Turkey, or other regimes scrambling to see our demise in the vacuum this will create. Turkey is threatening us daily in the local media to invade, and kill us.They are calling us “infidels.” When Turkey was allowed to enter Afrin by the West, Turkey committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing against the religious minorities. All the Christians had to flee the area as Turkey’s jihadi troops conducted door to door searches to hunt the Christians down, to kill them and destroyed all of Afrin’s churches. They had to flee with nothing, and take refuge in the area that Turkey is now threatening to invade; north and east Syria. When President Trump gave Turkey’s Recep Erdogan the permission to replace the US forces this means Turkey will crush the multi-religious democracy that is happening in north and east Syria. It alone is an island of religious freedom, decentralized and representative government, and is the only hope for our long term survival as Middle Eastern Christians. As Christians, we know what it means to live under the Ottoman Empire’s Caliphate. We carry a collective memory of the Ottoman’s “special treatment” of Christians: demeaning laws as second class citizens, extortion taxes for being Christian (jizia), oppression, persecution, ethnic cleansing and genocide. We do not want to live again as second-class citizens under Turkish rule should Turkey occupy our land in Syria. The memory of the genocide of 1915 still lives vividly in our daily lives. It was our great grandparents that fled Turkey due to the 1915 genocide to Syria’s North East region. We, the descendents of the survivors are at risk of reliving a genocide of the proportions our ancestors told us about, and by the same oppressor: Turkey. From the beginning of the civil war in Syria until now, we Christians have worked actively as a bridge between the communities in north and east Syria working for pluralism and democratic values in the alliances we have promoted, both politically and to defend all people of north and east Syria. We Christians have played a significant role in local government and have freedoms that we haven’t experienced for centuries in Syria: like the right to use our native language, Aramaic, the language of Jesus. We took a leading role in creating the Syrian Democratic Forces. Our people have fought and died side by side with our allies: Kurds, Arabs, and the US-led Global Coalition in the war against the Islamic State (I.S). We had hoped we, who have given everything for the same freedoms of the west would be supported to secure our democratic institutions in post-war negotiations. 

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