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Christians in northeast Syria living in fear as Turkish forces, IS group active in region

Christian women in the small church in the village of Tall Tamr in northeastern Syria. Some of them were kidnapped by the Islamic State group for a year in 2015. They are too poor to leave Syria.
Christian women in the small church in the village of Tall Tamr in northeastern Syria. Some of them were kidnapped by the Islamic State group for a year in 2015. They are too poor to leave Syria. © Chris Huby, Le Pictorium

In northeastern Syria, the Christian community is more threatened than ever. Last October, it found itself caught in the middle of the battle between Turkish and Kurdish forces. Meanwhile, Islamic State group sleeper cells are active in the region and the Christian minority is one of their targets. Our reporters Chris Huby and Matthieu Delmas went to meet a community living in fear of kidnappings and attacks.

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In northeastern Syria, the Christian minority is caught in the crossfire. When Turkey launched Operation "Peace Spring" against Kurdish YPG fighters on the Turkish-Syrian border last October 9, Christians found themselves surrounded by fighting. Turkish forces and their allies took control of a handful of predominantly Christian villages in the Khabur Valley.

Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS) group sleeper cells have been reactivated, targeting the Christian minority – whose members they consider heretics – and forcing US troops to take up positions in the villages in late January 2020.

The consequences have been disastrous. While international observers had hoped for the return of Christians to the region, the exact opposite occurred. In a new exodus of the Christian minority, many have fled to Europe, the United States or Australia, even if that meant leaving all their possessions behind.

Among those who have chosen to stay in Syria despite the danger and the economic crisis, some have taken up arms to ensure their own security. More than 2,000 Christians have organised themselves into militias. They fully intend to defend themselves against the enemy, whether it’s Turkish or jihadist.

Click on the player to watch the full programme.

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