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  • Dr. Christine M. Sequenzia, MDiv.

Calling on President Biden to Impose Sanctions on Turkey Due to Invasion of NE Syria


Dear President Biden:


We are an informal group of organizations and individuals who advocate for international religious freedom. We ask that your Administration take immediate action to impose sanctions under Executive Order 13894 to stop Turkey’s threatened invasion of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and its ongoing war crimes there.

2023 1-6 Letter to President Biden Requesting Sanctions to Stop Turkey's Invasion of Syria
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AANES produced our anti-ISIS allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Without their

sacrifice of 12,000 SDF lives, the war against ISIS’s absolutistic religious ideas could not have been won. Most important to us, AANES has a unique governance structure created by its diverse population in 2014.[1] It gives religious freedom and equal civil and political rights to women and to all religious and ethnic groups—making it unique in the region.[2] It has lasted until now, despite 8 years of war with ISIS and constant attacks from Turkey.


Contrary to Turkey’s characterization of AANES as a “Kurdish terrorist” stronghold, Kurds are an ethnic minority.[3] Arabs, Christians (Syriac, Assyrian, Armenian, Chaldean), Yazidis, and Kurds live in harmony under a pluralistic and inclusive governmental structure. This is in sharp contrast to Turkey-occupied areas in AANES where minorities and women have been driven out or subjugated by harsh Islamist law.


The UN, NGOs, and our own government have documented the fact that Turkey-controlled jihadi groups commit war crimes in Turkey-occupied Syria on a daily basis.[4] Turkey has attacked AANES continually since the defeat of ISIS as a territorial caliphate, seizing Afrin in 2018 and the so called “safe zone” from Tel Abyad to Ras al Ain in 2019. The 30 km border zone Turkey now threatens to invade houses the remaining principal Christian, Yazidi, and Kurdish population centers in AANES.


Turkey attacked AANES almost 18,000 times in 2022 alone![5] In just the first five days of the latest attacks (November 20-25), Turkey unleashed at least 2,500 attacks (air, mortar, drone, artillery, etc.). The targets were overwhelmingly civilian private property (2,332), followed by public infrastructure (94), and military facilities (72). Among others, Turkey destroyed a children’s hospital, a health center, an electric power station, essential oil and gas processing facilities, critical grain silos, and a major bakery. Overall, Turkey killed at least 59 AANES civilians and wounded 263 in 2022. It has also killed SDF soldiers, including SDF commanders critical to the anti-ISIS campaign.[6]


Genocide Watch and the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention issued a joint Genocide

Warning Red Alert on December 7, 2022. They said: “These military attacks by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime are part of a wider Turkish policy of annihilation of the Kurdish and Assyrian people in northern Syria and Iraq.”[7] Multiple witnesses also testified in a Save the Persecuted Christians webinar on December 12, 2022 that the people of NE Syria pose no security threat to Turkey. Instead, Erdogan’s real motivation is finishing the job of eliminating Syrian religious and ethnic minorities that was started by ISIS.[8]


Turkey showed open contempt for the safety of US troops by taking the extraordinarily

provocative step of bombing a joint US/SDF base when US forces were present in November. It stridently asserts that US “weakness” now gives Turkey its best chance to advance its interests.[9] Turkey bombed the SDF security headquarters for the Al Hol prison camp, continuing its efforts to bring about the release of 70,000 imprisoned ISIS fighters and family members. If Turkey invades, ISIS prisoners will escape and regroup—a US national security disaster after years of effort and billions in expenditures.[10]

We respectfully ask that your Administration make clear to Turkey that it has crossed a red line by imposing the same sanctions originally imposed pursuant to the October 14, 2019 ExecutiveOrder 13894 “Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Syria” (the EO).[11] You extended the EO on October 14, 2021 and again on October 14, 2022 in recognition that Turkey’s actions threatening AANES and the SDF “pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”[12] We hope the US Congress will adopt legislation and resolutions similar to those enacted in 2019.[13] Turkey made commitments to the United States on October 17, 2019 to get the original sanctions lifted: the Joint Turkish-US Statement on Northeast Syria (the “Statement”).[14] The Statement says: “The Turkish side expressed its commitment to ensure safety and well-being of residents of all population centers in the safe zone controlled by the Turkish Forces (safe zone) and reiterated

that maximum care will be exercised in order not to cause harm to civilians and civilian

infrastructure.” Turkey has utterly failed to honor its duties under the Statement. This alone

justifies reimposing sanctions.


Moreover, Turkey’s goals in Syria clash with US national and regional security priorities. It has consistently supported ISIS and related jihadi organizations inside Syria. Fulfillment of its threatened invasion certainly will bring about the release of the ISIS prisoners of war and family members now guarded by the SDF and end our very effective anti-ISIS collaboration with the SDF. The US Combined Special Operations Joint Task Force-Levant recently noted that the SDF is “the Coalition’s only combat credible partner force in northeast Syria, willing and capable of continuing the fight against ISIS.”[15]


Moreover, if we fail to defend our SDF allies, we may leave them with no other option but to let the territory they control come under the authority of the unstable and despotic Assad regime. (The SDF was unable to repel Turkey in Afrin and the Invasion Zone because it has no aircraft or antiaircraft weapons to stop Turkey’s aerial assaults.) This would give Syria’s allies Russia and Iran unfettered access to territory critical to their regional ambitions. This is antithetical to US regional interests–exposing Israel to attack from Iran’s long desired “path to the Mediterranean,” among other negative outcomes.


Strategically, Turkey, Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime have a common desire to force the people of NE Syria back under the control of Assad and to eradicate their pluralistic democracy and independent military, negating their years of heroic struggle. AANES goals are antithetical to the authoritarianism practiced in Damascus, Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran. Our understandable desire to encourage Turkey to assist Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion does not negate our need to protect US security interests in this region.[16]


Sanctions are something President Erdogan understands. Please promptly reimpose the same sanctions imposed under the EO in 2019. We also highly recommend that sanctions be imposed individually against additional responsible parties, including the Turkish governors of Afrin, Ras Al Ain, and Tel Abyad, Turkish officials that fund and control the “Syrian National Army,” and others responsible for war crimes identified by the UN Special Commission on Syria and our own military and State Department. Sanctions should not be lifted until Turkey stops attacking AANES, withdraws its invasion threats, and leaves Afrin and the Occupation Zone.



We further ask that the US (1) insist that AANES has a seat at the table in any Syria-wide peace; (2) support the AANES request for a federalized Syrian government that allows for continuance of the AANES system; and (3) strive for a new Syrian constitution that gives equal rights to all citizens, regardless of race, religion, or gender. The AANES system is not a hypothetical governance approach. It has proven workable for all segments of society during a 9-year period in which its citizens also raised up an army and defeated ISIS. The AANES model could have a significant impact on moving all of post-war Syria into alignment with US national security interests. This would promote religious freedom, peace, and social stability and help make Syria a safe place for Christians, Yazidis, and other minority (and majority) refugees to return and prosper. AANES is a small area in the greater scheme of things, but it is the place where ISIS was brought

to its knees. It offers more than a fair chance of being the place where the antidote to ISIS (religious freedom and democracy) takes root and flourishes in Syria and the Middle East. But this will only happen if the United States fulfills its moral obligation to stop the ongoing atrocities by Turkey against people whose primary crime appears to have been joining with the United States in the fight against ISIS.


Respectfully,


The Undersigned Organizations and Individuals

Cc: Office of the Speaker of the House

House Majority Leader

House Minority Leader

Senate Majority Leader

Senate Minority Leader

ORGANIZATIONS

LAW AND LIBERTY TRUST

AMERICAN FRIENDS OF KURDISTAN

ASIAN CHILDREN’S EDUCATION FELLOWSHIP

ANGLICAN PERSECUTED CHURCH NETWORK

BETHNAHRIN PATRIOTIC UNION IRAQ

BETHNAHRIN WOMEN UNION

CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY NATIONAL AFFAIRS OFFICE

CHRISTIAN FREEDOM INTERNATIONAL

CSW (CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY WORLDWIDE)--UK

EUROPEAN SYRIAC UNION

FREE YAZIDI FOUNDATION

GENOCIDE WATCH

IN DEFENSE OF CHRISTIANS

INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION TO PRESERVE HUMAN RIGHTS

JUBILEE CAMPAIGN USA

KARARTISMOS GLOBAL

SALLUX (ECPM FOUNDATION)

SAVE THE PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS

SURYOYE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION

SYRIAC NATIONAL COUNCIL OF SYRIA

SYRIAC UNION PARTY SYRIA

SYRIANS FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE

THE ENDOWMENT FOR MIDDLE EAST TRUTH (EMET)

THE INSTITUTE FOR FAITH-BASED DIPLOMACY

THE SHAI FUND

UNIVERSAL SYRIAC UNION PARTY LEBANON

VIETNAM FORB ROUNDTABLE

WIDOWS AND ORPHANS


INDIVIDUALS (with title for identification purposes only)

Diliman Abdulkader, President, American Friends of Kurdistan

Bassam Alamad, Executive Director, Syrians for Truth and Justice

Ibrahim Anli, Executive Director, Rumi Forum

Dr. Russell Blacker, Founder, The Caucus for the Persecuted Church (UK)

Karmella Borashan, Director & Board Member, Assyrian Aid Society of America

Nadia Cavner, Activist and Philanthropist

Brian Cox, President, The Institute for Faith-Based Diplomacy

Johannes de Jong, Director, Sallux (ECPM Foundation)

Dr. William Devlin, Volunteer CEO, Widows and Orphans

Tugba Tanyeri Erdemir, Non-Resident Scholar, Middle East Institute

Richard Ghazal, Executive Director, In Defense of Christians

Hamid Gharagozloo, President, International Organisation to Preserve Human Rights

Lela Gilbert, Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom and Coalitions Coordinator,

Family Research Council; Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute

Charmaine Hedding, President, Shai Fund

Lauren Homer, President, Law and Liberty Trust; Co-Chair IRF Roundtable Middle East Working

Group; Owner, Homer International Law PLLC

Bassam Said Ishak, President, Syriac National Council of Syria, Co-head AANES Representative

Office in Washington, DC

Dede Laugesen, Executive Director, Save the Persecuted Christians

Nadine Maenza, Executive Director, IRF Secretariat

Faith Hooper McDonnell, Director of Advocacy, Katartismos Global

Scott Morgan, President, Red Eagle Enterprises

Bryan Nerren, President, Asian Children's Education Fellowship

Patrice Pederson, President, First Freedom Foundation

Dr. Christine M. Sequenzia, MDiv. Founder, Oliva International, LLC

Nina Shea, Director, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute

Gregory Stanton, Founding President, Genocide Watch

Sarah N. Stern, Founder and President, The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)

Rev. Susan Taylor, Church of Scientology National Affairs Office

Tugba Tanyeri Erdemir, Non-Resident Scholar, Middle East Institute

Liz Yore, Founder, Yore Children

John Zmirak, Senior Editor, The Stream

[1] Detailed information on AANES is found here: https://recognizemeproject.org/what-is-aanes/; Social Contract of

the Democratic Self-Administration of Northern Syria, January 29, 2014, as amended December 29, 2016

https://vvanwilgenburg.blogspot.com/2017/03/social-contract-of-democratic.html; Beyond the Frontlines: the

building of the democratic system in North and East Syria, Rojava Information Center, June 30, 2020,

https://rojavainformationcenter.com/2019/12/report-beyond-the-frontlines/

[2] Can America Stop Turkey’s Assault on Northern Syria?12/4/2022

https://nationalinterest.org/feature/can-america-stop-turkey’s-assault-northern-syria-205975. Minorities hold more

government administrative posts than their share of the AANES population. Women hold half these posts by law.

Syriac (the language of Jesus) and Kurdish are legal languages. New religious organizations and conversion to

another faith is freely permitted, unheard of in most Muslim majority countries.

[3] Map and statistics in After ISIS: Ensuring a Future for Christians and Other Minorities in North and East Syria,

Rojava Information Center (September 8, 2020).

https://rojavainformationcenter.com/2020/09/after-isis-ensuring-a-future-for-christians-and-other-minorities-innorth-

and-east-syria/

[4] The UN, the US Inspector General for Inherent Resolve, the Rojava Information Center, Human Rights Watch,

and numerous other organizations have extensively documented the ongoing suppression and expulsion of religious

minorities, pillage, plunder, killings, rapes, and other war crimes happening in Afrin and other areas under Turkish

control. Id.; Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, UNHRC,

August 14, 2020, https://undocs.org/A/HRC/45/31; Report of the Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve

to the US Congress https://media.defense.gov/2020/Aug/04/2002470215/-1/-

1/1/LEAD%20INSPECTOR%20GENERAL%20FOR%20OPERATION%20INHERENT%20RESOLVE%20APRI

L%201,%202020%20-%20JUNE%2030,%202020.PDF.

[5] MedyaNews Web TV, https://youtu.be/4G2YDEY53fY; https://medyanews,net/turkey-kills-dozens-of-civiliansin-

north-and-east-syria-in-2022.

[6] https://sdf-press.com/en/2022/12/the-annual-report-of-the-violations-outcome-of-the-turkish-occupation-and-isismercenaries-

against-north-and-eastern-syria/; https://rojavainformationcenter.com/2022/12/turkeys-attacks-in-northand-

east-syria-al-hol-camp-and-the-battle-against-isis/ Turkey’s pretext for the attacks is the November 13, 2022

bomb explosion in Istanbul. SDF strenuously denies any AANES role in the attack, and evidence actually points to

Syrian areas Turkey controls as the source of the attack. In November, Turkey also launched widespread bombing of

Northern Iraq, driving out and destabilizing Assyrian and Yazidi minorities as well as Kurdish civilians. This

jeopardizes US and Iraqi efforts to combat ISIS in Iraq.

[7] https://www.genocidewatch.com/single-post/genocide-emergency-turkey-s-aggression-in-syria-and-iraq;

https://www.lemkininstitute.com. A copy of the Genocide Warning Red Alert issued by Genocide Watch and the

Lemkin Institute is attached.

[8] Webinar: Is it Genocide? Turkey Targets Syria’s Christians, Yazidis & Kurds, 12/12/2022;

https://savethepersecutedchristians.org/webinar-is-it-genocide-turkey-targets-christians-yazidis-and-kurds-in-syria/;

Turkey’s Latest Genocidal Campaign on Christians and Other Minorities, 12/29/2022, https://stream.org/turkeyslatest-

genocidal-campaign-on-christians-and-other-minorities/. In this article, Raymond Ibrahim noted that Turkey

like ISIS is a “Muslim force with caliphal aspirations.”

[9] https://www.voanews.com/a/turkish-minister-says-deadly-gun-attack-was-america-based/6771667.html;

https://twitter.com/abdbozkurt/status/1600392508496039936?s=20&t=nL9uKtusW-8mGBSbAqxuyg (clip of

Turkish Interior Minister saying this is a key time to take advantage of Western “weakness”).

[10] ISIS still ranks Syria as its third highest target with 297 attacks and 887 causalities during 2022.

https://twitter.com/1MedyaNews/status/1611402211547877376?s=20&t=5RVqWFR9j2lPRkQe7osIbg.

[11] Blocking Property & Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Syria, October 14,

2019, 84 FR 55851, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/10/17/2019-22849/blocking-property-andsuspending-

entry-of-certain-persons-contributing-to-the-situation-in-syria Initial targets included Turkey’s Ministry

of Energy and Natural Resources and Ministry of National Defense and its Minister of National Defense, Minister of

Energy and Natural Resources, and Minister of the Interior. All were added to the list of Specially designated

Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List). The US halted trade negotiations with Turkey, raised steel tariffs by

50%, and filed charges against a Turkish state-owned bank.

[12]https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/10/12/notice-on-the-continuation-of-thenational-

emergency-with-respect-to-the-situation-in-and-in-relation-to-syria-2/ Your letter to then Speaker Pelosi

announcing the continuation of the national emergency said Turkey was endangering the fight against ISIS.

https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2021/10/08/US-President-Biden-singles-out-Turkey-forundermining-

fight-against-ISIS-in-Syria.

[13] Congress on US Policy Toward Syria and Turkey: An Overview of Recent Hearings, October 29, 2019,

https://www.lawfareblog.com/congress-us-policy-toward-syria-and-turkey-overview-recent-hearings. The Senate

introduced legislation to sanction Turkey; the House overwhelmingly approved a resolution on the AANES

invasion.

[14] The United States and Turkey Agree to Ceasefire in Northeast Syria, 10/17/2019,

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/united-states-turkey-agree-ceasefire-northeast-syria/ Because of

the agreement reflected in the Statement, sanctions under EO 13894 were lifted on October 23, 2022. A copy of the

agreement is attached.

[15] https://twitter.com/lawandliberty1/status/1609644308449165313?s=20&t=rtcC7zq67wiz7ir7_hYO0Q

[16] Remember ISIS? It’s why Biden must stop a Turkish invasion of Kurdish Syria,

https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/3753563-remember-isis-its-why-biden-must-stop-a-turkish-invasion-ofkurdish-

syria/


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