Christianity in Syria: a policy of persecution or deliberate attempts to eliminate it once and for all (part 4)

By Milad Korkis Syriac journalist

Syrian Christians have participated both publicly and secretly in the Syrian protests that took place in various regions in 2011. Whether through political parties or as prominent Christian figures in Syrian society, their participation was through peaceful means and protests.

The participation of Syrian Christians in the demonstrations was a public outcry to change the dire economic situation and reform the political reality. The New York Times reported that part of the Christian community was seriously concerned about the incoming authority in case Bashar Al-Assad, who provided protection and social rights to Christians, might fall.

Mother Agnes Mary of the Cross, an outspoken pro-government mother superior of the Syriac Melkite Catholic Church in Homs and a spokesperson for the Catholic Media Center, declared that 164 Christians were killed in Homs alone. According to Mother Agnes Mary the premeditated goal of these killings was to provoke sectarian discord and violence, amid exchange of accusations on the identity of the perpetrators and gangs, and stopping Syrian Christians from participating in peaceful protests. Nevertheless, the name of many official religious figures appeared in the open during the period of public protests, such as Fr Basilius Nassar. Churches were opened for protesters and Free Syrian Army fighters, especially in Homs province.

There were, however, also reports from Syrian Orthodox sources who accused the Free Syrian Army of displacing Christians from the region. And the official Christian religious establishment rejected the popular movement fearing a similar fate as Iraqi and Egyptian Christians had suffered. Instead, it called for “an opportunity for reform”.

The Syrian civil war led to mass emigration of the Syrian Christians. One report even indicated that the violence in Syria has led to the emigration of 80% of Christians.

A large part of the Christians fear what happened in the various other Arab Spring countries where Islamist political movements won the government, Christians under the umbrella of Arab Spring governments have been dealt with less tolerant and got their rights less recognized. They also fear that they will be subjected to the same persecution, ethnic cleansing and sectarian discrimination, as happened to Syriacs-Assyrians, Iraqi Christians and Coptic Christians in Egypt, if their current governments fell.

Throughout the Syrian crisis most of the protests used to occur after Friday Muslims prayers during which Islamic or racist slogans were chanted. This lead to the gradual decrease of the Christian protesters, despite the support of many of them for the uprising.

The Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo told the Lebanese Daily Star: “Honestly, everyone here is worried. We do not want to repeat in Syria what happened in Iraq. We neither want the country to be divided, nor the Christians to leave Syria.”

According to international Christian foundations, in mid-2011, Christians have been attacked by anti-government protesters for not joining the protests.

The Christians participated in the first protests in Homs province. After a while, the form of the protests turned Islamic with Islamic Salafi slogans. Although some Christians participated in the protests, the various Christian communities did not respond to the war in the same way.

On 13 January 2014, ISIS had completely taken control over the city of Raqqa. ISIS started executing Alawites and suspected Bashar Al-Assad supporters in the city. ISIS destroyed Shia mosques and Christian churches such as the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs, which was later turned into an ISIS police station and an Islamic center for recruiting new extremist fighters. After ISIS took control of Raqqa most of the Christian population fled. They were estimated at 10 % of the total population before the start of the Syrian civil war.

In 2015, the ISIS attacked a number of Syriac-Assyrian villages on the banks of Khabur River, Ras al-Ayn and kidnapped 232 Christian Syriac Assyrians. The ransom for their release was estimated at about $ 100,000. Several churches were destroyed and burned by ISIS.

To be continued…

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3