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Displaced Assyrians, Yazidis Also Under Fire From Turkey

As Turkey continues its military offensive and air campaign in Afrin, a city under the control of Syrian Kurds, minorities in the region fear that the conflict could again make them a target of hostile militant groups still operating in the region.

"We fear that the factors that contributed to the Sinjar massacre in Iraq could combine and produce a similar atrocity in Afrin," Shekh Ali Resho, a board member of Central Council of Yezidis in Germany, told Voice of America (VOA).

In 2014, Islamic State (ISIS) attacked, slaughtered and kidnapped thousands of Ezidis in the Sinjar region of Iraq. Tens of thousands of men, women and children fled to Mount Sinjar, where they were under siege for several days.

Over 6,000 were kidnapped. ISIS massacred many hundreds of them. Thousands fled to Syria, escaping with the assistance of the People's Protection Units (YPG), who now protect Afrin.

Similar numbers of Christians in Iraq and Syria faced comparable threats and escaped to neighboring countries and the west.

Many Ezidis and Christians still live in Afrin and surrounding villages but their presence is under-reported compared to the decades-long Turkish enemy -- the Kurdish.

The fighting in Afrin has generated fears that religious minorities will again be targeted by extremist groups like ISIS, Al Qaida affiliates, and even the Turkish-backed rebels.

Resho added that the world must understand that Ezidi fears are legitimate because the Turkish offensive created a very complex situation in the region and the distraction of the offensive could make minorities a target, reported VOA.

"We cannot foresee the future and we don't know what will happen to our brothers and sisters in Afrin," Resho said.

ISIS "was chased out of Manbij, Aleppo, Raqqa and other areas, but they are still around and this operation might bring" them back, Pir Shammo, a Yazidi religious leader in Afrin, told VOA.

Shammo added that his village, Basoufane, an Ezidi village in Afrin, was shelled many times in the past few months by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an al-Qaida-affiliated group, which last year claimed it had severed ties with al-Qaida and operates in the region independently.

Similar to neighboring countries, there is no official data as to how many Ezidis live in Afrin, but Ezidi and Kurdish sources say there were an estimated 25,000 Ezidis there in 2011. In the aftermath of the Syrian war and the subsequent emergence of terror groups, because of fears of persecution, thousands of them left the region and migrated to Europe for asylum.

Afrin is very diverse and home to various ethnic and religious groups including displaced Arab families from across the region. Thousands of refugees poured into the city in 2011 from different parts of Syria, mainly from Aleppo and its countryside, as the Syrian crisis was unfolding reports VOA.

Civilian casualties

Continued Turkish shelling and airstrikes reportedly killed dozens of civilians from all backgrounds in the city since it began this month, sparking criticism and calls for international intervention.

"We are unable to protect ourselves or our families from these attacks. We are also unable to offer a shelter for the innocent people," a statement issued by the Kurdish Churches in Afrin and Kobane said to VOA.

Isa Berekat, a local Kurdish Christian in Afrin and a member of Good Shepherd Church, told VOA that Afrin is full of civilians and they are under attack.

"Christians in Afrin condemn these brutal attacks on the city. Many people were displaced. We call on human rights organizations to help us. Afrin needs aid and we pray to our Lord for protection of all innocent people in Afrin," Berekat told VOA.

"Kurds, Muslims, Ezidis and others are living in Afrin, we call all human rights organizations to help us," Berekat said.

Priest Diyar, displaced from Aleppo with 500 families 6 years ago, told ANF news that "As Christians in Afrin, we condemn the invasion attempt and we stand against it. We stand with our brothers and sisters against these attacks."

In 2012, Syrian regime forces withdrew from Afrin and the city came under the control of the YGP, the main fighting force in the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Turkey charges that its offensive in Afrin is justified because it targets the YPG, which Turkey accuses of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) designated as a "terrorist organization" by the U.S., European Union and Turkey.

However, the United Nations, Russia, China, India, Egypt and 2/3's of all countries do not consider the PKK as such.

Moreover, U.S officials maintain that Turkey's offensive in Afrin distracts the global coalition against IS from doing the more important work of eliminating the Islamic State terror group in the region.

The U.S. also reports that one of the most effective fighting forces against ISIS has been the SDF -- supported by the coalition.

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