Pastor dismisses Turkish president's promise to rebuild churches in Syria

Published 02 December 2019  |  
Reuters/Murad Sezer
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al Ain, as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 16, 2019.

A pastor in Syria has dismissed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's pledge to rebuild churches in the country as nothing more than "a drug to numb the feelings of Christians".

The Turkish president made the promise earlier this month in the wake of its military incursions in the Kurdish-controlled north-eastern region, where many Christians had sought refuge from ISIS.

"[Christians] will see their sanctuaries getting revived and their churches will be reconstructed so that they can go back and start praying there again," Erdogan said through a translator during a visit to the White House to meet Donald Trump.

However, the pastor, who cannot be named for security reasons, told Open Doors he was doubtful about the Turkish president's intentions and said he did not believe that his promises matched Turkey's treatment of Christians.

"In reality, you can see the massacres that the Turks have committed against Christians at different times until today, so why would he build a church while killing Christians?" he said.

"Why did he enter the area and destroy the churches in the first place? Even if these promises were true, why would that benefit me when he has caused everyone to leave the area?"

The pastor, who is supported by Open Doors through a local partner, said that Christians in Syria were caught up in a "game of political interests" between big states.

Reflecting on the Turkish president's promises towards Christians in Syria, he said "truth is absent in this scenario".

"Almost no Christians have remained in Tal Abyad or Ras Al-Ain on the border with Turkey," he said.

"What would the churches or cathedrals do if the people have fled, were killed or became homeless after their houses were destroyed? The president's statement comes as a drug to numb the feelings of Christians against Turkey."

Dr Matthew Rees, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK and Ireland, suggested the problem of intolerance towards Christians within Turkey was fuelling the scepticism.

"The promises will be viewed with scepticism unless the Turkish president starts treating his own nation's Christians better," he said.

"It's time that Turkey's Christians were treated with respect and recognised for the part they play in wider Turkish life.

"The president may want to look closer to home if he is to become an advocate for the Christians in his nation and their heritage."

The criticism comes in the same week as reports emerged that a South Korean pastor was stabbed to death in Turkey.

Pastor Jinwook Kim was murdered in the city of Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey, having lived in the country for the last five years. He had moved to Diyarbakir for the past year, where he pastored a small church.

He was killed on November 19, just days before his heavily pregnant wife gave birth to their second child. He also leaves behind a four-year-old son.

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