A Letter from Jubilee Campaign USA/Netherlands

This letter was written in response to the following articles:

To whom this may concern,

Our organisations have been defending Christians across the globe wherever they suffered under persecution. It is an incredibly sad development that so many Syriac-Assyrian and other Christians suffered and continue to suffer in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq. We have been on the forefront in drawing attention to that reality and raising awareness and support for these beleaguered communities. We have always taken the representatives of these communities with utmost seriousness and respect.

We share the grief over every Christian that dies due to the conflict in Syria. We are however aware that this is not only a religious conflict but also a political one. In that regard we regret that we need to note that some Assyrian interest organisations have framed a political clash as a religious one. By doing so they apply the religious dimension in such a manner that it contributes to conflict rather than solving it.

It is sad that on January 12th one Syriac Christian lost his life as a member of the Sootoro militia, also known as the Gozarto Protection Force (GPF), in a clash with the Asayish police forces (linked to the predominantly Kurdish YPG). This happened in the city of Qamishli in North-East Syria.

Various Assyrian interest organisations released a statement in which they frame this situation as a clash between Kurds and Syriac Christians. Furthermore they raise the suspicion (without presenting evidence) that the Kurdish YPG was behind the attacks at Christian restaurants in Qamishli on December 30th. Finally they imply that the Kurdish YPG is an Islamic organisation.

This position is misleading and inaccurate.  This statement fails to mention that the Sootoro are part of the Assad regime forces and that they protect regime interests and territory within Qamishli. In that city the Assad regime still controls some quarters, and there have been regularly skirmishes between regime forces and the YPG.

It is critical not to disparage the Kurdish YPG forces, who have served in a peacekeeping role with the support of many Christians in this region.  The YPG protects the areas of the Democratic Self-Administration (DSA) which now stretches across a large part of Northern Syria. To everyone’s benefit and often at great cost of their own lives, the YPG have defeated ISIS forces, who had been spread all along this area. Since 2013 the YPG co-operates with the Christian Syriac Military Council and its policing wing, the Sutoro (which should  not be confused with the Sootoro).  In other words, the YPG and the Sutoro are not in conflict with one another concerning the policing and protection of this region from ISIS.  Furthermore, they co-operate with Arab forces as well in the war against ISIS. The DSA tolerates that the Assad regime maintains some areas within DSA territory.

These facts alone show that this situation on January 12th cannot be framed as an ethno-religious clash between Kurds and Syriac Christians. These facts make it clear that this was a clash between two different political sides with a sad result. We understand that the Sootoro blocked a road that was needed for and used by both parties. This road is essential for commerce, and its loss would create an unworkable travel routing for access for general purposes.  For this reason, the YPG opposed the blockage, which resulted in the clash.  It is our hope that such differences in opinions in the future would be resolved without escalation, and we call upon all parties to more effectively communicate.

We need to inform the public that many western media who investigated the situation there confirm that the DSA is a secular, multi-ethnic and multi-religious political entity that explicitly rejects ‘Islamism’ and fully implements freedom of religion and human rights. The YPG has been largely cooperative with the DSA, and it is our understanding that in no way is the YPG pursuing an imposition of Islam to the region.  Any implication by the statement that the YPG is seeking an Islamic rule is utterly unfounded.

By purposefully ignoring the context of all of these fundamental facts this political clash is framed as a religious one. We have noted that similar statements have been spread before by these Assyrian interest and allied organisations. We are concerned that the religious dimension here is used as a political instrument under the protention of persecution of Christians.  Our Assyrian partners disagree with this narrative.

Using the serious persecution of Middle Eastern Christians and the global concern over this issue as a political instrument is a very worrying development. We are worried that through such incorrect and politicised statements the cause of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere is seriously harmed.

We ask therefore that these Assyrian interest organisations end their use of the issue of persecution of Christians in this politicised way. It is their freedom to have a different political view than the DSA but this political conflict should not be framed in religious terms. We also encourage them to consider the future of the Syriac people in that region who can only have a future in coexistence with their neighbours.

We encourage both Kurds and Syriac Christians to continue their current co-operation, and we urge Sootoro and YPG to find peaceful solutions for their differences.


Jubilee Campaign USA

Jubilee Campaign Netherlands

Cover image by Ashour Rehana on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)