VATICAN CITY — As Turkish-led forces began the fifth day of their move against Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria Sunday, Pope Francis appealed for dialogue, especially as families in the region are forced to flee from warfare.
“My thoughts go once again to the Middle East — in particular, to the beloved and tormented Syria, from which dramatic news arrives again about the fate of the people of the country’s northeast, who are forced to abandon their houses because of military actions,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 13.
“To all the actors involved and to the international community, I renew the appeal to commit sincerely on the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis expressed his concern for the many Christian families among the affected populations in Syria.
Before the Syrian crisis and the violence inflicted by the Islamic State, there were an estimated 130,000 Christians in northeastern Syria. There are now only 40,000 Christians in that area, according to In Defense of Christians, a human-rights group with expertise in the region.
Kurdistan is a disputed area with territory in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Armenia and Iran. Kurdish nationalists in Turkey have been the focus of sustained government oppression, and some Kurdish militias are considered terrorist groups by the Turkish government.
The U.S., by contrast, has allied with Kurdish militias in its protracted campaigns against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
On Oct. 6, the White House announced that Turkish forces would take over some security responsibilities in northern Syria and that the U.S. would no longer maintain its military forces in the region. The announcement has caused widespread concern among Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq, and some human-rights advocates have accused President Donald Trump of abandoning Kurdish allies while implicitly sanctioning a Turkish military offensive.
After the U.S. announcement, Turkish military forces moved into Syria, with the stated aims of repelling Kurdish forces in Syria perceived to be a threat to Turkish security and creating a space within Syria in which to house two million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has claimed that nine civilians, including a female politician, were killed by Turkish-backed militias on a road in northern Syria Oct. 12. Some reports say that as many as 50 civilians have died on both sides of the border.
Following nearly a week of the Turkish offensive, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has said that they will no longer be able to prioritize guarding the prisons that hold thousands of Islamic State fighters. 950 IS supporters escaped from the Ain Issa camp Oct. 13, SDF said, along with other detainees.
Pope Francis prayed for the people of Syria in his Angelus address following the canonization Mass of St. John Henry Newman and four other saints.