The Armenian genocide anniversary and the Syrian civil war

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 24th of April, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s episode of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard. 

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Today is the anniversary of the start of a holocaust not very many people talk about or even know about: The Armenian genocide. It goes back to 1915. Ottoman Turks in Eastern Turkey killed a million and a half Armenian and Assyrian Christians. It took place over the course of about a decade. It’s something to this day Turkey refuses to come fully to terms with.

Here now with me to talk about it is WORLD senior editor Mindy Belz. She sees this as a sort of appropriate backdrop to what’s going on today in the Syrian civil war and the resulting refugee crisis, as well as United States policy in the region.

Mindy, good morning.

MINDY BELZ, SENIOR EDITOR: Good morning, Nick.

EICHER: Well, Mindy, why do you think that the Armenian genocide is an appropriate backdrop to talk about these things — about Syria, the refugee crisis, and about American policy. Why do you think that?

BELZ: I think that because local crimes don’t stay local. Given the history that you just recited and then moving forward, we remember that Hitler used the Armenian genocide. He used it as a justification for the Jewish Holocaust and we got ourselves into World War II as a result. No one wants to repeat that. And here we have a perfect parallel in the way the Assad regime is gassing its own people, and now we the watching world are allowing Turkey to intervene, others to intervene, continuing to allow Islamic jihadists and remnant ISIS fighters to intervene with some of the worst atrocities I thought I would never see in my lifetime.

EICHER: Speaking of atrocities, Mindy, the last time you and I talked, we discussed those gas attacks by the Assad regime, and since then the United States response was multiple airstrikes on three targets in Syria.

And you mention Turkey’s invasion of Syria to join the fighting too, but against us.

Can you explain how that can be? Turkey is a NATO member state, yet it’s fighting our allies in Syria. So, again, how can it be and what is the United States doing about it?

BELZ: Well, I’ll give it a try. The Turkey invasion in Northern Syria came at Afrin before the latest gas attacks. It’s ironic because the United States pretty much ignored it and yet we have our own forces, several thousand of them, who are based on the ground within 100 miles of Afrin. Only about 70 miles away. Turkey at one point actually even threatened them. And, as you say, this is a NATO ally. And so the Turkish forces attacked our own allies, the people that we have been supporting in this Syrian war. And these are forces that include Kurds, Arabs, and Christians. These are the kinds of groups that throughout this war we’ve been trying to stand up as legitimate players in the future of Syria. And yet here they were being attacked by Turkey and this just after they actually fought with our coalition in liberating cities from ISIS. The battle for Raqqa, if you remember, and places like that. So in Afrin our allies, you know, asked for cover. They asked for anti-aircraft weapons. They asked for a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone to prevent Turkey from bombing them from the air. And the United States gave them nothing in the way of air cover or any other kinds of protection or weaponry. And at the same time, along with the Turkish army coming into Afrin, they deployed 25,000 free Syrian army fighters. These are battle-hardened Islamists with ties to groups like ISIS.

Turkey, while maintaining the largest army outside of the United States in the NATO alliance, has actually sided with ISIS, given corridors for foreign fighters entering Syria to come through Turkey, providing cover for them as they retreat, providing care for them when they’re wounded. And we, the United States, we’re doing nothing about it.


EICHER: I’d like for you to tell me about the urgency that you witnessed among those helping to care for the refugees. You had a recent reporting trip to the area. Describe what you saw, Mindy.

BELZ: You know, it’s the kids that give urgency to it. This is a generation that’s being lost when you think about a war going on for 7 years with these kinds of casualty numbers that we’re talking about. What I saw on the upside was that there were a number of groups, including some very dynamic Christian groups who are working mostly with Muslim refugees and also the Christian and Kurdish and other refugees coming out. And they see this generation being lost and so they’ve recognized that by providing simple, basic things like schools, they establish routines for not only children but for families and for whole communities of refugees. It’s for survival of these groups, but it’s also a powerful way that Christians are making inroads into Muslim communities for good with gospel care and gospel teaching. But I don’t think we should kid ourselves that these small efforts are enough. Assad in Syria and Erdogan in Turkey are ethnically and religiously cleansing areas of Turkey and Syria with their ethnic populations – their Armenian, their Kurdish, their Christian populations and these are areas that have vast historic and religious significance to all of us and also areas that, obviously, where millions of people’s lives are at stake. This is a crime. And the United States is turning the other way.

EICHER: That’s hard to hear. WORLD senior editor Mindy Belz. She has a major story coming out the end of this week in WORLD Magazine. You’ll want to check when the new magazine goes online Friday. Mindy, thanks for the difficult work you do.

BELZ: Thank you, Nick.

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Policemen and civilians stand in front of damaged buildings in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 16, 2018.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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