The best response to President Erdogan’s aggression in Syria is to recognize Turkey’s century-old genocide of Christians and help the Republic of Armenia to shelter Assyrians, Syriacs, and Chaldeans who have been displaced by America’s wayward policies in the Near East.
It is true that Islamic regimes have been eroding indigenous Christian communities for over a thousand years through a political system that subjugates non-Muslims to Muslim rule. But the latest stage of Christianity’s collapse in that part of the world must be laid at the feet of the West—and at the feet of Americans most of all.
The British and the French get a lot of flak for carving up the Ottoman Empire after World War I and dividing the spoils between them. But while their failures were monumental, they did succeed in rolling back Turkish imperialism and helping to establish independent Arab states, a quasi-Christian state in Lebanon, and the world’s first Jewish state after nearly two thousand years. These countries were established despite colonial mismanagement and sometimes, only after locals waged war against imperial powers. But their independence had a chance only because of bold policies set in motion by Britain and France decades prior.
Americans make worse mistakes in the Near East because we fear the accusation of bias. Steeped in a universal creed, we stumble like simpletons into a world of endless particularity. Here our greatest strength—the commitment to equality—becomes our greatest weakness. It is precisely because we have a Christian supermajority that we feel obligated to ignore the region’s Christians.
If creed is one obstacle, strategy is another. During the Cold War, our aim was to contain and ultimately roll back the threat of global communism. Fearing the combined will of the people, we propped up all kinds of thugs and dictators who did not share our worldview. After the Cold War, we tried the opposite strategy, undermining our dictator friends, and spreading democratic culture to the world. Somehow it never occurred to us that the seed of liberal democracy, a historical product of Christendom, might not sprout in foreign soil or that other countries might seek a different path. In either case, we had no use for Near Eastern Christians because the argument for cultural bonds was too parochial for our universal grand strategy.
Our confusion culminated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Ignorant of the country’s deep-seated divisions, we imposed an off-the-rack political system and dismissed any idea of special assistance to the Christian minority. Our policy, noble until the end, favored all Iraqis equally. But Sunni and Shi’i militias understood that the US was a Christian country much better than we did, and proceeded to target Iraq’s Christians as local collaborators even as we rushed to disown them.
In Syria, Trump has once again favored geopolitics over morality. By handing over one of the region’s few stable areas to Turkey, an aggressive regional hegemon—and, let us not forget, the Near Eastern country that has killed more Christians in the last hundred years than any other—on the grounds of national interest is just one more example of America’s moral and strategic confusion abroad.
Our policy on Iraq and Syria has inadvertently helped to destroy Mesopotamian Christianity. Yet despite a pittance of aid money we have done nothing to repair the damage. Meanwhile, we put our neck on the line for all kinds of endangered people around the world. Why are Christians the one group we cannot help?
A decisive response to Turkey’s aggression would be to finally recognize its genocide of Christians between 1894 and 1924 and to help the country of Armenia—a country that still shelters the survivors of that genocide—to take in Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac Christians who want to flee Iraq and Syria. In one deft move, Trump can hit Turkey where it hurts and help at-risk minorities find safety.
Armenia is part of the historic Christian heartland that once straddled eastern Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia before the convulsions of the twentieth century. Similarities in culture and geography plus an existing Syriac presence in a country built on Eastern Christian foundations make it the best alternative. Lebanon, another option, has a stronger economy but a more fragile political system.
The US needs to send Turkey a message and to assist communities that our policies helped to undermine after 2003. Armenia can play an important role on both fronts and would welcome greater cultural, political, and economic ties with the West.
We have done a lot for the various peoples of the world, and we should do more. But the time has come to make a bold move for Near Eastern Christians, and Erdogan’s assault on Syria offers us a good place to start.