At first glance, Christian evangelicals wouldn’t seem to have a direct stake in the issue. The Kurds, an ethnic group in a region that encompasses parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey, are primarily Muslim. There is a considerable Christian population in the affected area of northeast Syria — estimated at around 40,000 by Peter Burns of the Washington-based In Defense of Christians, including members of the Syriac Orthodox church, the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East — but not much evangelical presence either in established congregations or as missionaries.
But there are larger geopolitical issues in play. Turkey’s fraught relationship with the Kurds has long been a source of tension with the U.S. There are around 35 million Kurds spread across the Middle East, a third of them in Turkey. Their long struggle to establish a national state would threaten Turkish sovereignty over a considerable swath of territory, and Turkey considers their formidable guerrilla army terrorists.
Meanwhile the Kurds have earned, and cultivated, an image in the West as loyal American allies against ISIS. They have good relations with Israel, a country which evangelicals fervently support. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose main interest is in countering Iranian influence on his country’s borders, issued a strong condemnation of the Turkish invasion and a warning “against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies.”
“Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people,” he added.