Nadine Maenza in an interview with SOHR:Syria instability threatens religious freedoms and minorities
Syria instability threatens religious freedoms and minorities
“Many studies have confirmed the governments that support tolerance and religious freedoms can a resource for freedoms that produces regional stability, which contributes to creating economic growth,” said Nadine Maenza in an interview with the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.
Maenza said “the instability in Syria and Iraq, for example, has created a major crisis for religious and ethnic minorities.”
Nadine Maenza is a noted speaker, writer, and policy expert with more than two decades of experience as an advocate for working families and a champion for international religious freedom.
Presiding the Patriot Voices, she provides her expertise to shape the organization’s special weight on public policies.
Question: Intolerance, at the religious level, in particular, is one of the main reasons for underdevelopment that prevented our societies from moving towards real progress. How can religious intolerance impose constraints and oppressions?
Maenza: Many studies have proved that governments that support tolerance and religious freedom tend to be more stable and have better prospects for economic growth. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) conditions are positive when compared to areas under HTS, the Regime, and the Turkish occupation.
While the AANES has had to deal with COVID-19 with little international support and limited humanitarian supplies due to the border crossings shut, and weaponization of water by Turkey, they continue to offer positive conditions for religious freedom and gender equality.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has made recommendations to the U.S. institutions that would give AANES the opportunity to grow their economy while preserving their policies of working as a heaven for religious freedom.
Question: If we focus on some areas of the Middle East as examples, especially Syria and Iraq, couldn’t you agree that the absence of a strong country has led to an outbreak of aggression and persecution against religious minorities there?
Maenza: There is no doubt that civil war in Syria and instability in Iraq have posed difficult conditions for religious and ethnic minorities.
Question: If the peoples of the region, with their ethnic and sectarian components, have coexisted in harmony over hundreds of years, how harmony could be fostered between the Muslim and Christian communities, for example, in Syria and Iraq? Don’t you think that foreign intervention has fed these conflicts, especially playing on the element of sectarian hostilities, likewise the ongoing confrontations between Sunni and Shia in the region?
Maenza: The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the following actions have contributed to further sectarian divisions in the country with immense consequences. The war left over 1.5 million Christians in Iraq in 2003, compared to only 700,000 by ISIS in 2014. Sectarianism led to the persecution of Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities forcing many to flee the country. Currently, there are only about 200,000 Christians in the country.
the AANES suffers the presence of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious government. Many in the west continue to call it the “Kurdish-led government” without any understanding of what this project represents. The previous US Policies have continued to reinforce ethnic divisions rather than adopting other approaches that encourage religious tolerance.
Question: You have recently issued a report on the practices of certain parties against minorities in northeastern Syria, and the report has met with an outcry and it was accused by the Free Army of siding with terrorist groups. What is do you think about that?
Maenza: The USCIRF recently released our 2021 Annual Report that devotes a chapter to Syria. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2021-04/2021%20Annual%20Report.pdf
The USCIRF report shows crimes of raping, kidnapping, and other atrocities that faced the religious minorities in the areas controlled by Turkey in northern Syria. In Afrin, a Yazidi woman named Ghazala Manna Salmo faced severe torture. Christians such as Radwan Muhammad have been arrested for apostasy. Turkey’s continuous shelling of civilian areas constitutes a direct threat to religious and ethnic minorities The attacks targeted the expansion of their territory in a violation of the ceasefire negotiated by the U.S. in 2019, with a pretext that the targeted people were all affiliated with the PKK, which was not true. Turkey and its Islamists militias accuse civilians in northeast Syria of being “terrorists,” were the real terrorists.
Question: A report was filed by USCIRF to the U.S. side on North Eastern Syria, Why the U.S. has not given political recognition to AANES?
Maenza-The USCIRF report shows that areas governed by the AANES were different when compared to those occupied by Turkey and other parts of Syria.
AANES continues to allow Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and others to practice their religion openly and even change their religion. They have created these remarkable conditions – including gender equality – while facing significant threats from Turkey, the regime, and ISIS.
In our 2020 and our current 2021 report, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. Government give political recognition to AANES as a local, legitimate government. We also recommend that the U.S. lift sanctions on that area and demand its inclusion in all concerned activities to U.N. Resolution 2254 and Geneva-based talks.
It appears that the U.S. government has responded to the USCIRF in the past two reports with more engagement in the AANES’s issues. While Biden Administration reviews the policy toward Syria, we do hope they will follow USCIRF’s other recommendations as well.