Turkey is building new refugee camps for members of two minority groups in Syria, the Christians and the Kurds, it was announced Wednesday.
A government official denied accusations of sectarianism in building the tented camps, saying they are being created to help, rather than harm, the populations with their unique cultural needs.
One of the camps, expected to house up to 2,500 Assyrian Christians and others from Christian denominations, will be built on land donated by its Assyrian owner near an Assyrian church.
Recently Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Assyrian leaders in Turkey to discuss ways to help the community in Syria. Turkey’s own Assyrian population resides primarily in Istanbul and Mardin, a province in the country’s southeastern sector.
About 10 percent of Syrians are Christians of various denominations, including Assyrian.
The second is planned with a capacity of up to 3,000 for any Syrian Kurd fleeing the savage civil war raging across the border, although it will be open to others if the need arises.
Both are to be located in the town of Midyat, in Mardin province, about fifty kilometers from the Syrian border, according to a Turkish foreign ministry source. Mardin is home to a large Kurdish population in Turkey, and borders the area of Syria where ethnic Kurds – about 10 percent of its population – also reside.
More than 250,000 Syrian refugees have registered in Turkey, with most staying in 17 camps along the 900-kilometer border, although Turkish leaders have said the total number is closer to 400,000.
Most of Syria’s 22 million citizens – about 75 percent – are Sunni Muslims, and are comprised of Arabs and Kurds. About 15 percent observe other forms of Islam, the majority of which is Alawite, an offshoot of Shi’ite, which also is seen among the population.
Syria is also home to a Druze community, and there yet remains a tiny Jewish community as well.