Christians are an important component of the minorities puzzle in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. However they are unfortunately split along religious and geopolitical dividing lines. This aspect risks to undermine the huge efforts undertaken by the Syriac-Orthodox minority of al-Jazireh to grant a voice and a political representation to the Christian communities the ‘day after’, when ISIS will disappear from the geographical map of the area and new powerful actors will push towards the division of the country, new boundaries as a result of (probably) new conflicts or (hopefully) new political settlements and agreements.
The most active Christian group in Syria, with important extensions in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Europe is represented by the Orthodox-Syriac community of Syria, which is mainly part of the Democratic Self Administration of al-Jazireh (DSA), a local government that includes all local minorities in North-Western Syria.
The DSA, which aims at being the seed of a new autonomous government in the territories liberated from ISIS, has its main political support in the Syrian branch of the Kurdish PKK. The Kurds represent the majority of the population in the area comprises between al-Hasakeh and Kobane, up to the Northern quarters of Aleppo westwards and up to the borders of ar-Raqqah ‘muhafathah’ southwards.
The backbone of the DSA are the Quwwat Surya ad-Demokratiyyah (Syrian Democratic Forces), a military alliance of all local minorities.
Approximately 1500 Christians under the banners of the Syriac Military Council are part the Quwwat and fight in coordination with the ‘Ghurfah al-Amaliyyah’ controlled by the Kurdish High Command in al-Jazireh, with direct link to the Pentagon. The SMF includes women units and have their own training camp in the cross-border area of al-Malikyah (Derik). Their spokesperson, Kino Gabrill, has direct contacts with the allied forces who protect and support the military strength of the Quwwat.
In al-Qamashli and other cities there are also Christian units of the civil police, called Sutoro, and aimed at granting public order and securities to the Christian quarters. Their consistency is limited, also because of the strong engagement of the Christian youth on the frontline after the advance towards Saad Tishreen.
In al-Qamashly one part of the Syriac community established a parallel organization, also called Sutoro, but fully independent from the historical Sutoro police units and supported by the local forces of the Syrian Governments who are concentrated in the area of the airport, to protect the Russian installations there.
The Russians and Iranians are also playing the Christian card on different front, as well as the Western Alliance: firstly from a military perspective, mainly through the support granted to the Catholic, Armenian and Chaldean minorities in different provinces of Syria and through the establishment of a Christian Brigade trained and controlled by the Imam Aly Brigade (Shiite and Iranians) active in Iraq. These units should be part of the re-conquest of Mosul, in the plans of the Iraqi-Iranian Governments.
But Russians are also active on the diplomatic front, by supporting well-known Christian personalities as part of the Geneva Dialogue, from which the DSA is excluded so far.
Also the Guardians of the Khabur Valley, another historical Christian area in Syria, took an independent stance from the SMF after the killing of David Jendro by a Kurdish splinter group, who were then investigated, arrested, and convicted by the security agency of the DSA. The Christian population of the Khabur valley was victim of a dramatic kidnapping campaign by ISIS militiamen during the occupation of their villages in 2015 and they negotiated the liberation of their members through the local Orthodox church, who allegedly paid a substantial ransom for their liberation.
THE FUTURE OF THE CHRISTIAN MINORITIES IN THE REGION IS DARK.
Firstly, because the Quwwat represent a clear threat for both Turkey and the KRG. From one hand, the Turkish army declared war against the Kurdish minorities in their Southern regions. In Syria Erdogan is trying to prevent the re-unification of the East and West territories of al-Jazireh with the province of Aleppo, to block the establishment of a Kurdish State that could jeopardize the Turkish unity. On the other hand, the Kurdish Regional Government of Mas’ud Barzani, in Northern Iraq, who supports Erdogan’s policy towards Syria and Iraq, is threatened by the emergence of minorities asking for more freedom and powers within the KRG borders. Barzani is experiencing serious financial and political difficulties at home and is scared of the emergence of Goran (Taghir), a party that supports the PKK approach both at home and at International level. Also for this reason the Peshmerga prevented any attempt of the Christians from Nineveh to organize a military set-up in the region and refused to provide weapons and real training in their camp in Duhok.
Paradoxically Turkey and Barzani, as well as the Quwwat and the DSA are all the ‘best allies’ of the Western Forces in the region. This precarious balance of powers can only stand to the extent that a common foe exists. But as soon as Daysh disappears from the map, the conflicting interests will reemerge and all contradictions will explode. The region has a strategic military, logistic and economic relevance and the weak minorities are at risk of being squeezed out as soon as the larger powers start to clash on a new playing field.
The continued instability and lack of security between Syria and Iraq has, as a consequence, created an unprecedented flow of refugees towards Europe, that threatens the whole Schengen area and the stability of the economically weaker Southern and Eastern countries. As a matter of fact, the lack of a clear political vision puts the European future at risk. Europe, like the Christian minorities, seems to be pressed between two fronts and incapable of articulating an independent and unified position.