On October 9, as Turkish war planes began striking Kurdish targets in northeast Syria, Washington D.C. turned frenetic with policymakers, think tanks and many others struggling to assess the impact of what could be a major shift in the balance of power in the Middle East. For Open Doors, our concern lay with the Christian community in Syria, a community that has at times over the past hundred years been subjected to tremendous pressure and persecution.
There are as many as 50,000 Christians believed to be living in parts of northeast Syria that could be affected by the Turkish invasion. Militia units backed by Turkish forces include extremist groups, and reports quickly began to emerge that ISIS fighters were escaping imprisonment during the conflict.
In Washington, many quickly understood that Christians and others could be deliberately targeted by these forces and that mass atrocities could soon follow. Yet the fog of war and a general lack of clear information made it difficult to determine exactly where Christians and other vulnerable communities were located and how the invasion was affecting them. This is where Open Doors advocacy came in.
Utilizing the networks of Open Doors partners in the area, we compiled the best information we had available on what Christian communities were facing. We then updated key offices in Congress, as well as at the State Department and the White House, so they could use this information ahead of important negotiations with the Turkish government and in conversation with key players on the ground. We also provided a quick assessment of what aid was needed most, helping to make sure that efforts by a number of organizations to bring in relief were operating on the best available information.
Thankfully, there are many in Washington, both inside and outside of government, who care deeply about the fate of the most vulnerable and are working hard to stop unnecessary suffering and violence. We’re in touch with these individuals and groups on a daily basis, and Syria is only one part of the work that our advocacy focuses on here. In recent weeks, we’ve also helped to bring serious international attention to bear on the Algerian government, which has been closing down churches at an alarming rate. For a number of groups, we’ve provided insight into the reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an important federal government agency that could cease to exist in a few weeks if not reauthorized by Congress.
In all these things, support and prayers from those who follow our work are essential. Time and again, we see unexpected opportunities arise in advocacy that simply wouldn’t be possible if not for the prayers and the giving of Open Doors supporters. In the weeks and months ahead, we don’t know exactly what will happen to Christians in northeast Syria, but we’ll continue to do our best here in Washington to lift the fog of war, if only a little. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to bring a measure of healing and peace into an otherwise devastating situation.
Isaac Six serves as director of advocacy for Open Doors USA and is based in Washington, D.C. He has worked on religious freedom issues and Christian persecution in Washington for over eight years, including inside and outside of government; and has traveled extensively to meet with victims of religious freedom violations around the globe.