Turkish president says Christian churches in Syria will be reconstructed

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 25, 2018.Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan has said that churches in Syria will be restored so that Christians "can go back and start praying there again". 

He was questioned during a press conference with US President Donald Trump at the White House about reports of an increase in attacks on Christians in the wake of Turkey's military assault in northeastern Syria. 

He said that his government was "especially sensitive" about the situation of Christians in the region and that there were plans in place to reconstruct churches destroyed in the conflict.

"[Christians] will see their sanctuaries getting revived and their churches will be reconstructed so that they can go back and start praying there again," Erdogan said through a translator, The Washington Post reports.

"These are the plans that we are making for them. As I said before, the Christian minorities — Aramaic, Catholics, Chaldean, Yazidi — the ones who are living on our side of the border have no problems whatsoever.

"But the ones remaining on the side of the Syrian territory will see their worshiping practices restored and revived in a special manner."

Erdogan added that Christians were "receiving health care and humanitarian aid in every aspect possible."

There has been concern about the plight of Christians in the region following the pull out of US troops by Trump. 

Just this week, an Armenian Catholic priest and his father were shot dead outside a church they were visiting in Deir ez-Zor. 

The Rev Hovsep Bedoyan and his father, Abraham Bedoyan, had travelled from their home city of Qamishli following Turkish operations in the area. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for their deaths. 

Although the Turkish president has sought to allay concerns, his administration has a questionable track record on religious freedom. 

Last year, the US administration applied economic sanctions to force the country to free an American missionary, Andrew Brunson, after he spent two years in prison on trumped up terrorism and espionage charges. 

There have since been reports that Turkey has been deporting foreign pastors and Christians workers from the country without reason, while the Christian community in general has experienced an increase in hostility.