Some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters are decrying his decision to pull U.S. troops from the northern region of Syria ahead of an offensive by Turkish military forces. Critics of the President’s decision call it a “betrayal” and an “abandonment” of the U.S.’s long-time allies the Kurds. Some leaders fear the move to step out of the way of the Turkish forces essentially seals the bad fate of Christians and Kurds in Syria.
Kurds in Syria: Some Background
On Sunday evening, October 6, 2019, Trump announced his decision to pull U.S. military forces out of northern Syria. The decision was made even with the knowledge of Turkey’s announced plans to move troops into the area. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stated the goal of the military offensive is to establish “peace” in the region by ridding it of “terrorists.”
As many familiar with the history of the conflicts in the Middle East will tell you, Turkey views the Kurdish forces as terrorists due to their ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which launched offensives against Turkish troops in their fight for an independent Kurdish state. It’s important to note the U.S. government also views the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Kurds that don’t belong to the PKK also desire to form their own nation-state in the area (Kurdistan is a mountainous region that straddles the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia) where they have lived for centuries. However, not all Kurdish forces align with the PKK’s politics or willingness to engage in acts of war against the powers that be.
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said Turkey views the Kurds as “more of a threat to Turkey than ISIS.” Kurdish troops have fought in the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance and have served as key allies to the U.S. in various conflicts in the Middle East, including the latest attempts to corral and defeat ISIS.
Turkey invaded Syria on Wednesday morning. Trump said, “Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.”
However, reports indicate that Turkish forces are not holding to their commitment and are allegedly doing things like bombing Christian neighborhoods, killing civilians and SDF soldiers seemingly indiscriminately. According to The International Rescue Committee, 64,000 people in Syria have fled since the Turkish offensive began. Some of those fleeing are Christians. In Defense of Christians, a non-profit organization that advocates for the “protection and preservation of Christians in the Middle East,” says northern Syria is home to over 40,000 Christians. IDC says it is “deeply concerned” for both the Christian and the Yazidi communities facing the brunt of this offensive.
Evangelical Leaders Respond and Rebuke Trump
Not only have some of Trump’s staunchest supporters in Washington chided him for the decision to pull out of Syria, some of his evangelical supporters are upset with him over this issue as well.
Sen. Graham, for instance, said the withdrawal of U.S. troops “ensures the reemergence of ISIS” and that the Kurds had been “shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration.”
On his program the 700 Club, Pat Robertson said he is “absolutely appalled” by the U.S.’s “betrayal” of the Kurds. He also called Erdogan a “thug” and criticized Trump for allowing journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death to go without being met by “any repercussions whatsoever.” Robertson said Trump “is allowing the Christians and the Kurds to be massacred by the Turks.” So aggrieved is Robertson by Trump’s actions that he said he believes “the President is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen.”
Franklin Graham, who supported Trump early in the 2016 campaign and has regularly defended the President’s widely criticized decisions, has made comments on the abandonment of the Kurds. However, he did not directly criticize the President.
The Kurds are the ones who have been leading the fight against ISIS in Syria. Also pray for the Christians who the Kurds have been protecting. They could be annihilated. Would you pray w/me that Pres. @realDonaldTrump will reconsider? Thousands of lives hang in the balance. 2/2
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) October 9, 2019