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US Commissioner Nadine Maenza in an interview with VDC : Syria instability threatens the religious freedoms and minorities besides Turkey’s role in enhancing this instability

By : jiger hussain

Nadine Maenza in an interview with VDCNSY :Syria instability threatens religious freedoms and 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 : After your last visit to North east Syria ,What do you think of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria !!

I became supportive of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) because of the remarkable conditions for religious freedom, gender equality, and respect for human rights. It is especially admirable that this governance was built in the middle of a civil war and while fighting ISIS.

While I have been in all the regions (except Afrin), I was able to do a deep dive of the governance in three of the regions: Manbij, Euphrates, and Raqqa. It was especially encouraging to see how the government structure supports multi-ethnic, multi-religious participation and gives everyone the opportunity to have a say in their own governance. I was stunned by how half of the leaders are women, in both the Kurdish and Arab majority areas. While I know this government is not perfect and is operating under difficult conditions, what it has accomplished so far is extraordinary.

Syrian opposition and Turkey, always say that the Question : utonomous administration and or Kurds are separatists and have a dividing project, also call they them Terrorists! And consider them a threat to Turkish a national security ?!
May y explain that kind of conversation or comments please
I mean ; Did you feel or see that kind of project during your last visit to N/E/ Syria ?

Just recently, an expert testified before the U.S. Congress about Syria mistakenly suggested that the AANES was seeking independence. Supporters of Turkey and the Regime often repeat this false narrative as well. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that the U.S. Government give AANES recognition as a legitimate, local government, which is what AANES has been seeking. USCIRF also recommends that the U.S. demand the inclusion of AANES in all activities regarding UN Resolution 2254, including Geneva based talks to resolve the Syrian conflict. Basically, AANES should be a local government in a future Syria, whatever that final government will look like. In addition, AANES should be at the table helping to make that decision. It is ridiculous that the only successful government in Syria covering one-third of the country is excluded in any talks for a final political solution.

Question: back to Afrin: Was there any response by President Joe Biden’s administration after your call on Turkey to withdraw their forces from Syria and finding a timetable for it ?!

While the U.S. government has not yet followed USCIRF’s recommendation to “exert pressure on and engage with Turkey to provide a timeline for its withdrawal from all territory that is occupies as a result of cross-border operations into north and easy Syria,” we are pleased that the U.S. government has expanded engagement with AANES, another one of our recommendations.

USCIRF also recommends that the U.S. Government lift sanctions on just the area governed by AANES. It is clear the people of northeast Syria are suffering because of sanctions meant for the Assad Regime. As the Biden Administration assesses the current Syria policy (or lack of a Syria policy), we do hope they will consider all the important recommendations USCIRF has made that benefit the United States and the people in northeast Syria, allowing this government to continue to be a place where all people can practice their faith freely.

Our new USCIRF 2021 Annual Report with all of our recommendations can be found here: https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2021-04/2021%20Annual%20Report.pdf. Within a few weeks, the Syria Chapter will also be on the USCIRF website in Kurdish, Arabic, and Turkish.

Question: Some activists have mentioned that they have concrete evidence , that there are many leaders who have been fighting for ISIS while others have links to Al-Qaeda terrorists in Afrin, which is under the control of Turkey?
The question here is what is the reaction of the US government regarding this matter?!

There is troubling evidence – I have seen the photo myself – that former ISIS fighters are currently in Afrin and other areas controlled by Turkey and its Islamist allies working for the Turkish-Backed Free Syria Army (TFSA) and other Islamist militias. One of USCIRF’s new recommendations is that the U.S. Government should impose sanctions on the leadership of the TFSA, those leading the HTS, and others who are involved in severe violations of religious freedom.

USCIRF held a Congressional Hearing in June of 2020 called “Safeguarding Religious Freedom in Northeast Syria” that documented many of the crimes being committed against religious and ethnic minorities In Afrin and other areas occupied by Turkey. Religious and ethnic minorities “have been killed, disappeared, kidnapped, raped, detained, subjected to forced religious conversion, and held for ransom.” These crimes are what you would expect from a terrorist organization, not in an area under the control of a NATO ally. You can see our hearing here: https://www.uscirf.gov/events/uscirf-virtual-hearing-safeguarding-religious-freedom-northeast-syria or read our hearing summary here: https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2020%20NE%20Syria%20Hearing%20Summary.pdf

Question: Afrin, as you have heard, is a mixture of religions, including Yazidis, Christianity as well as Muslim, and all places of worship have been closed or converted into mosques and everyone was forced to follow the Islamic religion, including Yazidis and Christians..!
Afrin’s Activists on ground ,have confirmed, A radical Islamic preachers teaching children violence, jihad, killing , and hate if Kurds ,yazidis or Christians, just as we used to see in Raqqa when ISIS took over it last few years.
The question is; What is the reaction of US department regarding the matter?

Between the USCIRF hearing in June of 2020, and our new Annual Report just released in April, USCIRF has raised alarms about the horrific atrocities being committed in Afrin and other areas occupied by Turkey and its Islamist allies. Last December during a U.S. Congressional Hearing on Syria, House Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Rep. Mike McCaul asked previous Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn what the U.S. does when it hears of atrocities being committed in these areas and Rayburn replied that they simply dialogue with Turkey. We do hope the new Administration will be more resolute in how it approaches Turkey when it comes to the atrocities they are committing against religious minorities in Syria. We also encourage them to look closely at USCIRF’s recommendation to push Turkey to withdraw and in the meantime pressure them to cease all activities negatively impacting these communities. The U.S. government can use diplomacy, sanctions, and other means to impact this situation.

Question: Back to al-Shahba camps where thousands of people from Afrin have displaced,
And suffer from severe shortages in all aspects of basic needs in life, whether medical or food !
On the other side,we hear large amount aid are getting provided to the Idlib regions ?!

, will it be discussed or or can be raised to the relevant authorities concerned with the matter ?!

It is disheartening that the people who fled Afrin are still being targeted by the Regime and Turkey. Earlier this year, Turkey conducted airstrikes in this region traumatizing the Yazidi community that fled Afrin. It is clear they are no threat to either Turkey or Assad, yet they are still being persecuted. The blocking of aid to all areas under the AANES, including al-Shahba, is distressing and something the U.S. and international community should correct immediately.

While most in Washington are aware of the Syrian Democratic Forces and how heroic they have been as the main partner in Syria to the U.S. led Coalition to Defeat Daesh, many have just recently learned how the people of northeast Syria have built a government with these exceptional conditions. We are hopeful that more people in the Biden Administration and Congress will come to understand that supporting this government is how we stop finally stop a “forever war” in Syria. By supporting AANES, we can hold this ground that the SDF already liberated and avoid having to fight this battle against. In addition, we save this as a refuge for Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities and as a long-term ally to the United States.