By Syrian Democratic Times

A bipartisan office of the US government, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), has once again condemned Turkey for its religious persecution in the Turkish-occupied areas of Syria.

Speaking at virtual hearing on religious freedom and North and East Syria this week hosted by USCIRF, experts discussed Turkish human rights abuses and the prospects for religious freedom in Syria and the Middle East.

“Turkey is now threatening the crucial population centers of Kobane and Qamishli,” said Nadine Maenza, Vice Chair of the USCIRF. “This situation directly endangers precious ethnic and religious diversity that has long marked the northeast, and it threatens the viability and stability of the autonomous administration.”

“We have seen religious freedom take root” in North and East Syria, said USCIRF Vice Chair Gail Manchin.

“They have been killed, disappeared, kidnapped, raped, detained, subjected to forced religious conversion and held for ransom until their families pay exorbitant sums of money to secure their release,” said Amy Austin Holmes, an expert at Harvard University and the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC. “Their places of worship have been destroyed, defaced, and looted. Even their cemeteries have been demolished and vandalized.”

The Commission has recommended in their annual report, published in April 2020, that Turkey submit a timeline for withdrawal from Syria, and that Turkey be put on a special watch list for countries that may engage in religious persecution.

The Commission has called upon the US State Department many times in the past few years to classify Syria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom. If this re-classification went forward, additional capabilities would be available to the US government in its policy towards Syria.

The USCIRF hosted its “Hearing on Safeguarding Religious Freedom In Northeast Syria” virtually on June 10, 2020.