The new, if internationally unrecognized, government in northern Syria is restoring churches destroyed by ISIS and welcoming Christians who fled to come back to their homes, ALL ARAB NEWS has learned.

Nadine Maenza, a commissioner with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), visited Raqqa, Syria — once the capital of the Islamic State’s caliphate — last week where she said she witnessed a “stunning transformation.”

Maenza also serves on the Advisory Board of ALL ARAB NEWS.

Maenza said the new Autonomous Administration for North and East Syria has the best religious freedom conditions and gender equality of Arab countries in the Middle East.

“It’s really interesting that this used to be such a horrible place and now its being transformed into this refuge for religious minorities,” she said.

The regional government is restoring churches that were destroyed during the civil war and occupation by ISIS forces over the last decade.

One restored church is even being used as a refuge for religious minorities.

At another site, the government raised a church’s steeple above the shell of the destroyed building in a symbolic gesture that Christians are welcome. They also preserved the land where four other churches were destroyed, Maenza reported.

Challenges remain that prevent Christians from returning to the land, Maenza explained.

First, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria is still unrecognized internationally.

Second, Turkey is causing instability in the region.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened last week to launch another military operation in the area to combat armed Kurdish groups along its border. Turkey launched an offensive into northeast Syria last year after the United States withdrew troops from the region.

Until these issues are resolved, some Christians will be hesitant to return.

The area is comprised largely of Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians with smaller communities of Turkmen, Armenians and Circassians.

In addition to her role as All Arab News advisory board member, Maenza is the founding executive director of Patriot Voices, an organization that advocates or working families and religious freedoms.

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