OVER 60 CHURCHES AND MONASTERIES DESTROYED IN SYRIA
Moscow, November 23, 2013
Militants in Syria have destroyed over 60 Christian churches and monasteries, and more than 70 thousand Orthodox residents of Homs, and more than a half the Christians of Aleppo have left their homes, reports Interfax.
These statistics was given by the ambassador of Syria to Russia Riad Haddad at the meeting of the inter-factional deputy group in defense of Christian values, held by the State Duma in Moscow.
According to R. Haddad, in recent days the Damascus quarters of Kasaa and Bab Touma, both inhabited mainly, by Christians, have been subjected to regular bombardments by the terrorists: over 50 shells have been fired in all.
He has thanked Russia for its aid to the Syrian people, collected in dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society.
25 / 11 / 2013
SYRIA’S CHRISTIANS FLEE KIDNAPPINGS, RAPE, EXECUTIONS
SOURCE: The Daily Beast
By Jamie Dettmer
Running from assault, abduction, and assassination at the hands of jihadists and FSA rebels, Syria’s ancient Christian community fears a religious pogrom is set to erupt.
Traumatized by what they have endured inside Syria and fearful for their future, Christians fleeing the 32-month-long civil war say the persecution of Christians is worsening in rebel-held territories in the country’s north—and that the kidnapping, rape and executions of Christians aren’t just being carried out by jihadist groups, but also by other Sunni Muslim rebels, including those affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Christian refugees who have recently arrived in southeast Turkey—many of whom are retreading the steps of their forebears, who fled persecution in southern Turkey during the last century—say Christians are being seen as fair game by an assortment of jihadists and Islamist rebels, including FSA-affiliated fighters and others with the Army of Islam. Most of the targeting of Syrian Christians has been blamed on al Qaeda affiliates Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Syria and Sham (ISIS), but refugees like 45-year-old school director Rahel say the picture inside is more confused.
She says jihadists weren’t in her predominantly Christian hamlet of al-Yakubiye in Syria’s northwest province of Idlib. FSA fighters from neighboring Sunni Muslim villages were the problem.
Back in February, the news agency AFP wrote about al-Yakubiye, noting that although one of the three churches had been looted, relations between Syrian Sunni Muslims and local Christians were cordial. But in the intervening months, nearly all Christians have fled after half a dozen were executed with their heads chopped off and about 20 more were kidnapped. The evacuation of al-Yakubiye has added to a Christian exodus which is prompting fears that the civil war could spell the doom of Syrian Christianity.
“Al Nusra didn’t come to our village; the people who came were from villages close by, and they were Free Syrian Army,” Rahel says. Christians were targeted because they were seen as being pro-Assad, although she added some of the persecution was motivated also by greed, with the better-off being picked off first and their property divided by powerful local Sunni Muslim families.
Sitting on the terrace of a restored stone house in the small Turkish town of Midyat, where she lives for free along with her husband and four children thanks to a local Christian charity, Rahel says she can see no future for Christians in Syria. She says that the last few months have taught her one thing: “It is not possible for Christians to live there anymore.”
Her 53-year-old husband remained silent during the interview. According to Rahel he is suffering from shock. “He hardly sleeps and when he does he’s plagued by nightmares. Last week we heard about a relative being kidnapped.”
From the earliest days of Christianity, Christians have lived and worshipped in Syria. But the civil war has seen half-a-million flee—nearly a quarter of Syria’s Christians—with more arriving in Turkey and Lebanon each day.
Nearly 300 have sought sanctuary in the small town of Midyat and surrounding villages in the Tur Abdin region, less than 30 miles from the border. Tur Abdin is the historic heartland of the Syriac Orthodox church and the area is dotted with ancient churches and monasteries; one was founded in 397 AD.
The Christians’ biggest concern when it comes to Syria is an eventual rebel victory. They point to what happened in neighboring Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, where sectarian killings, persecution of Christians and an increasingly Islamist political culture more than half of the Iraqi Christian population to flee.
Before the civil war, Syria had an estimated Christian population of 2.5 million. The largest denomination is the Greek Orthodox Church, but there are also Catholics and Syriac Christians as well as Protestants and adherents of the Assyrian Church of the East. The Western-backed political opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, has sought to allay Christian fears, although to little avail as more Christian villages and towns are affected and massacres are reported.
Many of the Christian refugees arriving in Lebanon are traumatized, says Najla Chahda of Caritas, the Catholic relief agency. “A lot of them are sharing with us some really horrible stories that some fundamentalists approached them, forced them to pay some rent, or amount of money that they don’t have,” Chahda said. “So they are just afraid and left.”
Stories have included forced conversion to Islam and churches being desecrated in this vicious sectarian conflict. Several clergy have been abducted, including two bishops, and in villages in Homs province, large numbers of Christians have been forced from their homes and farms. One of the worst atrocities was reported earlier this month with the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Homs, Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, accusing al Qaeda-backed jihadists of killing more than 40 Christians during their occupation of the town of Sadad, north of Damascus.
“All the houses of Sadad were robbed and property looted,” Archbishop Alnemeh said in a statement. “The churches are damaged and desecrated, deprived of old books and precious furniture. Schools, government buildings, municipal buildings have been destroyed.”
Some Christian leaders in the West and in neighboring Lebanon have criticized the Middle East’s Christian patriarchs for appearing to side with Assad in the civil war, saying they are partly responsible for what is befalling their adherents.
“Unfortunately, the Christians have tied their fate not only to the regime but to Bashar al-Assad—and what I am afraid of is like what happened in Iraq,” says Basem Shabb, a Lebanese lawmaker and the only Protestant in Lebanon’s Parliament. He argues, “The Christians in Iraq were persecuted not because they were Christians but because they supported the regime.”
Heyfa, a 50-year-old mother of three girls and a boy, from a small village south of the Kurdish-controlled town of Al-Qamishli, doesn’t accept that criticism. She says that most of her neighbors weren’t Assad supporters; some were pro-rebellion, while others stayed neutral. Even so, that didn’t stop jihadists harassing Christians and preying on the women. “We left because I was afraid for the girls—I didn’t want any bad things to happen to them. I was worried the girls would be raped. I kept them inside.”
Her eldest daughter, Dima, aged 22, stayed for much of the war in Aleppo, where she tried to continue with her English studies at the university. But she says it got more dangerous there and not just because of the battles between Assad forces and the rebels over Syria’s onetime commercial hub. She left Aleppo a year ago to join her family at home after one of her friends was kidnapped, gang-raped and then killed. “We don’t know who did this or why,” says Dima. Some rapes and killings of Christians are opportunistic, she says, while others are clearly targeted by jihadist and Islamists. (She adds that Muslim girls are also at risk.)
A pretty girl with brunette hair, Dima sits curled up in an apartment in Midyat with her mother and her 16-year-old sister, Marie. Her father and two siblings are in a camp in Germany after the family got separated. The apartment is unheated and Dima seems to have the weight of the world on her shoulders—she’s the only one working as her mother is sick and her sister doesn’t understand either Kurdish or Turkish and can’t find work.
“It is hard. I am the one who works and the money I receive isn’t enough. I get 400 Turkish lira ($198) a month and 300 of that goes on rent. We can’t afford to use the heat. Many times we don’t have things to eat.”
Dima’s isn’t the only all-female household of Christian refugees in Midyat. Oarda Saliba, aged 40, has with her five daughters ranging from five years old to 20. A son and husband are also in Germany. “For Christians it is very difficult to stay in Syria and there are many bad things happening to women,” she says.“ For jihadists Christian women are seen as their right. I didn’t want to take the risk with my daughters. In the streets they would touch and harass them. I don’t know if they were al-Nusra or not, although some were Libyans and Tunisian. But either way, they were terrorists.”
20 / 11 / 2013
BELEAGUERED SYRIAN CHRISTIANS FEAR FUTURE, INCREASINGLY TARGETED BY JIHADIS
SOURCE: The Washington Post
Sami Amir is used to the deep echoing rumble of the Syrian army artillery pounding rebel positions on the outskirts of Damascus. It’s the thump of mortars launched from an Islamist-controlled neighborhood that scares him to death.
The mortars have repeatedly hit in his mainly Christian district of Damascus, al-Qassaa, reportedly killing at least 32 people and injuring dozens of others the past two weeks.
“You don’t know when and you don’t know where they hit,” says Amir, a 55-year-old Christian merchant. “Life here is often too difficult.”
Rebel shelling into the capital has increasingly hit several majority-Christian districts, particularly al-Qassaa, with its wide avenues, middle class apartment blocks, leafy parks, popular restaurants and shopping streets busy with pedestrians.
The shelling and recent rebel assaults on predominantly Christian towns have fueled fears among Syria’s religious minorities about the growing role of Islamic extremists and foreign fighters among the rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad’s rule. Christians believe they are being targeted — in part because of the anti-Christian sentiment among extremists and in part as punishment for what is seen as their support for Assad.
Though some Christians oppose Assad’s brutal crackdown on the opposition and the community has tried to stay on the sidelines in the civil war, the rebellion’s increasingly outspoken Islamist rhetoric and the prominent role of Islamic extremist fighters have pushed them toward support of the government. Christians make up about 10 percent of Syria’s 23 million people.
“When you bring a Christian and make him choose between Assad and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the answer is clear,” said Hilal Khashan, a political scientist professor at the American University of Beirut, referring to the al-Qaida branch fighting alongside the rebels. “It doesn’t need much thinking.”
The rebels have targeted other Syrian minorities, particularly Alawites, the Shiite offshoot sect to which Assad belongs and which is his main support base. Altogether, ethnic and religious minorities — also including Kurds and Druze — make up a quarter of Syria’s population. The majority, and most rebels, are Sunni Muslim.
But Christian areas have recently been the focus of fighting.
A week ago, rebels from the al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the Christian town of Sadad, north of Damascus, seizing control until they were driven out Monday after fierce fighting with government forces. The rebels appear to have targeted the town because of its strategic location near the main highway north of Damascus, rather than because it is Christian.
Still, SANA reported Monday that the rebels in Sadad vandalized the town’s Saint Theodore Church, along with much of Sadad’s infrastructure.
Similarly, thousands fled the ancient Christian-majority town of Maaloula when rebels took control of it last month, holding it for several days until government forces retook it. With rebels in the hills around the town, those who fled are still too afraid to return.
Two bishops were abducted in rebel-held areas in April, and an Italian Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, went missing in July after traveling to meet al-Qaida militants in the rebel-held northeastern city of Raqqa. None has been heard from since.
In August, rebel gunmen killed 11 people in a drive-by shooting in central Syria as Christians celebrated a feast day. Activists said at the time that many of those killed were pro-government militiamen manning checkpoints.
Al-Qaida-linked fighters have damaged and desecrated churches in areas they have seized. In Raqqa, militants set fires in two churches and knocked the crosses off them, replacing them with the group’s black Islamic banner. Jihadis also torched an Armenian church in the northern town of Tel Abyad on Sunday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group that tracks the war through a network of activists on the ground.
The apparent deliberate campaign against Christians and other minorities have stoked worries in Washington and many European capitals over providing advanced weaponry to the mainstream opposition Free Syria Army, amid fears the arms will end up in the hands of extremists.
Christians in Damascus are convinced that extremists are deliberately targeting their neighborhoods as rebels battle government forces trying to uproot them from the towns they control outside the capital. Al-Qassaa is close to besieged rebel-held suburbs where Muslim residents have pleaded for international help to save them from starvation and constant government bombardment.
“Recently I noticed that every Sunday, they launch more than 15 mortars a day,” Amir said. “They are targeting specifically Christian areas.”
The most recent shells in al-Qassaa hit Thursday on the doorstep of a fashion clothing shop and next to a wall of a local hospital, killing three young men and damaging a church and several cars, which were left riddled by shrapnel.
Hundreds of Christians have fled al-Qassaa to other areas of the capital or into neighboring Lebanon. Nationwide, some 450,000 Christians have fled their homes, part of an exodus of some 7 million during the 2 ½-year civil war, according to Church officials.
Almost all the 50,000 Christians in the mixed city of Homs have fled, and another 200,000 have fled the northern city of Aleppo, both battleground cities. When insurgents occupied the strategic central town of Qusair in 2012, about 7,000 Catholics were forced out and their homes were looted.
Thousands who fled Maaloula have found refuge in the al-Qassaa and other Christian districts of Damascus. Maaloula was a major tourist attraction before the civil war, home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria. Some of the residents still speak a version of Aramaic, the language of biblical times believed to have been used by Jesus.
Youssef Naame and his wife Norma, an elderly Christian couple from Maaloula, described how bearded extremist Islamists stormed the northeastern village early last month chanting “God is Great!”
“The jihadis shouted: Convert to Islam, or you will be crucified like Jesus,” Youssef said with a shaky voice in his daughter’s al-Qassaa apartment.
He said they were trapped with other Christians for three days in a small house next to the town church, without food or electricity.
“There were snipers shooting everywhere, we were not able to move,” he recalled. “We were so scared. I lost my speech.”
Syrian Church leaders fear that Assad’s fall would lead to an Islamist state that would spell the end to the centuries-old existence of Christians on Syrian soil.
“We are not taking any sides in the conflict,” Bishop Luka, deputy leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church, said at his headquarters in the historic Damascus Old Town.
“We are standing alongside the country, because this country is ours,” he said. “If the country is gone, we have nothing left. Nothing will remain of us. “
05 / 11 / 2013
CHRISTIANS HOLD DEMO IN DAMASCUS
Damascus, October 27, 2013
Christians in Damascus have held a demonstration to call for the release of relatives from the ‘hands of the armed groups.’
The demonstration was held outside a cathedral in the Syrian capital on Saturday.
Protesters held placards reading, “Free our relatives from the hands of the armed groups,” making reference to the foreign-backed militants operating inside Syria.
Bishop Matta Khouri of St. George Cathedral said in an address to the demonstrators that Christians “demand the urgent intervention” of the international community “to set free all the kidnapped in all besieged cities, to set free all the civil prisoners detained by the power of terrorism.”
One of the protesters said, “We are celebrating this mass and this sit-in for our families to be set free, our detained families who are being used as human shields, to be set free in peace.”
The Syrian army continues battling Takfiris in the Christian town of Sadad, north of Damascus.
The kidnapped Christians are reportedly from Sadad and the town of Hafar.
In September, members of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front terrorist group briefly took over the Christian town of Ma’loula, which is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria.
Syrian troops have managed to recapture most areas of the town.
Father Gabriel Dawood, the priest of Syrian Orthodox Cathedral, told the demonstrators on Saturday, “We light candles for Sadad and Hafar, the two villages that join Ma’loula to be destroyed by the darkness lovers and death lovers, they destroyed the peace and tranquility of those two villages.”
Nearly three years of turmoil in Syria has claimed the lives of many people including large numbers of Syrian security forces. Statistics compiled by the United Nations show that over 100,000 people have died and millions displaced due to the crisis.
28 / 10 / 2013
JOINT ORTHODOX-CATHOLIC STATEMENT ON VIOLENCE AGAINST CHRISTIANS IN MIDDLE EAST
November 05, 2013
The North American Orthodox Catholic Theological Consultation has issued a joint statement entitled “The Plight of Churches in the Middle East – Revisited.”
“The situation of many of the Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine has become catastrophic,” the statement noted. “We repudiate all violence and demand action by responsible authorities to end the kidnapping, torture, and killing of Christians and all civilians. We also appeal for the release of Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, Syria.”
07 / 11 / 2013
‘EXTREMISTS ARE EXTERMINATING CHRISTIANS’ IN THE MIDDLE EAST, SAYS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
November 5, 2013
The Russian Orthodox Church announced it intends to participate in the second International Meeting of the Clergy on the Settlement of the Syrian Crisis.
The meeting will be organized by the World Council of Churches before the Geneva 2 conference in late November.
Metropolitan Hilarion, the Russian Church’s spokesperson, said extremists in the Middle East are exterminating Christians in the region in order to erase Christianity’s presence there.
He urged world powers to confront extremism and protect Christians in the Middle East.
According to RIA Novosti on Friday, Metropolitan Hilarion said, “I think we will participate in this meeting if the balance of powers is taken into account appropriately.”
“It is important for the Russian Church to help launch negotiations between the parties in the Syrian conflict,” he added.
The metropolitan added that the Orthodox Church believes there is no other solution to the Syrian crisis and strongly opposes any foreign interference in the situation in Syria.
“We opposed the U.S. strikes on Syria, and the joint efforts of clerics and politicians contributed to repealing this plan,” he noted.
He added the situation in Syria is still far from a solution and expressed his hope that the organization’s influencing the efforts would help resolve the Syrian crisis and take part in the new Geneva clergy meeting.
“The World Council of Churches is making every effort to turn the situation in Syria to the course of peace,” the Russian metropolitan said.
The Russian Church spokesperson also called on Muslim clerics to activate their efforts to counter extremism in order to avoid the outbreak of religious conflicts.
07 / 11 / 2013
SYRIAN EXTREMIST IDEOLOGIST SMASHES STATUE OF THE VIRGIN MARY IN FRONT OF A CAMERA
Idlib, October 30, 2013
On October 23, user Abdulkarim Abdullah uploaded to his videoblog a Youtube video of a Wahhabi “Sheikh”, ideologist of one “opposition” armed group, Umar Garba to his supporters, reports the Salam1 portal.
According to the description attached to the clip, this speech was filmed in the village of Al-Yakubiya al-Muharrara near the Syrian town of Idlib, after seizure of a certain “palace, where criminals of the regime dwelt and where crimes against Islam and Muslims were committed”.
The video fixed the moment when Umar Garba, holding a statue of the Mother of God, said: “By the will of Allah the almighty may no one be worshipped on the Syrian land but Allah; and may no judgment exist in this country except the judgment of Allah! And neither an idol nor profanity will ever be glorified here after these days, by the will of Allah!” After that the “Sheikh” smashed the statue of the Virgin Mary, commanding all those present to say, “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Great”.
Earlier this year, the Christian village of Al-Yakubiya al-Muharrara had already been attacked by militants; three churches of this settlement had been fired upon in January.
02 / 11 / 2013
HORRIFIC VIOLENCE AGAINST CHRISTIANS IN EGYPT AND SYRIA CAUGHT ON VIDEO
November 5, 2013
Antti Korkeakivi, the head of the department of indigenous people and minorities at the United Nations has said that “serious violations against Christians in Egypt and Syria” have been recorded.
“The challenge before us is a great one, especially if we look at the data relating to those violations, which date back to 2011,” Korkeakivi told Mideast Christian News.
He pointed out the need to discuss the plight of religious minorities and the need to have security forces monitor the situation more closely.
Korkeakivi called upon Copts and civil organizations to file complaints to the U.N. in order to act in accordance with the international treaties ratified by Egypt in this regard.
“The international organization asked the Egyptian government to allow its special rapporteur on the affairs of minorities and indigenous people to visit Cairo, to witness the suffering of Copts. Yet, the government didn’t respond,” U.N. Official, Dolores Infante, told Mideast Christian News.
There has also been talk that any monetary help going to the Middle East and North Africa should be in exchange for the guarantee of the safety of Christians.
According to Moscow News, Boris Balashov, of the Russian Orthodox Church, stated, “It’s important to take realistic measures to face the persecution of Christians, which continues to spread across the Middle East.”
“In 2011, the European Parliament had decided that any aid to countries where Christians’ rights are violated, whether monetary or humanitarian aid, should be made in exchange for guarantees of the safety of its Christian citizens,” Balashov added.
He stated that Christians suffer various forms of harassment and violations across the Middle East and North Africa, pointing out, “International media is ignoring the matter.”
07 / 11 / 2013
SAUDI ARABIA FINANCING ARMY OF ISLAM IN SYRIA
Moscow, November 11, 2013
Saudi Arabia is ready to spend millions of dollars to arm and train the new (many thousands-strong) anti-regime Syrian unit, reports Interfax with the reference to Nezavisimaya Gazeta (“Independent Newspaper”).
“Such policy, in the interpretation of Riyadh, is to pursue a dual object: on the one hand, to unite the enemies of Bashar Al-Assad, and on the other hand, to create a counterbalance to the supporters of al-Qaeda, whose influence is permanently increasing,” says the article.
The formation that interests Riyadh is the “Army of Islam”, created late in September on the basis of 43 Syrian groups. According to some assessments, it will number from 5,000 to 50,000 soldiers. It is expected that they will be provided with the best weapons including Portable Anti-Aircraft Rocket Systems and antitank guided missiles.
In the view of the president of the Russian Institute of Religion and Politics Alexander Ignatenko, the Syrian crisis from the very beginning has been conditioned by persistent intervention of two Arabian monarchies—Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
With their active participation, such anti-regime sub-units as the Free Syrian Army were formed, on which Doha and Riyadh spent no less than 15 billion dollars, as well as Jabhat Al-Nusra and The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both being subdivisions of al-Qaeda.
14 / 11 / 2013
MASS GRAVE FOUND IN FREED CHRISTIAN VILLAGE IN SYRIA
Sadad, October 30, 2013
After the operation that liberated the Christian village of Sadad from the Giish and Jabhat al-Nusra militants, local residents discovered two mass graves that contained about 30 bodies of men, women and children, killed at the hands of the extremists around October 26–28 this year, reports Salam1.
According to eyewitnesses’ evidence, the common graves of these Christian martyrs were not found at once. In the vicinity of the neighboring village of Zeidal the first burial site, a grave for ten people, was discovered. In the view of criminalists, five men killed last Saturday became the oppositionists’ first victims. All the other bodies were buried in the same grave on the following day. Together with the remains of the residents of Sadad who fled from their native village, the corpse of a well-known engineer, Colonel Sarkis Koriakos Sarkis, brother of the Syrian hero Matanius Sarkis (searched for by the militants), was found in Zeidal.
The second common grave, similar to the first one, was situated on the territory of Sadad, and contained about 20 bodies of men, women, children, and elderly victims, killed by the militants on the night of Monday, October 28.
The Biblical village of Sadad had been freed the day before, after a week-long siege by the Syrian army and volunteers from the Syrian National party.
The village of Sadad is a monument of world culture of exclusive importance—its history goes back as far as the second millennium B.C. The settlement is more than once mentioned in the Bible (Num. 34:8, Ezekiel 47:15).
03 / 11 / 2013
MILITANTS BURN DOWN CHURCH IN A FRONTIER TOWN TEL ABYAD IN SYRIA
Tel Abyad, October 28, 2013
Newspersons of the electronic edition Salam1 report that militants of the “opposition” terrorist group, “The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” (Giish) have burned down a Church in the frontier town of Tel Abyad, situated to the west of Rakka. The arson of the church was preceded by an act of vandalism: the extremist had stolen precious vessels, while crosses and icons had been cut into pieces and broken down.
The incident took place against the background of an increasing number of disturbances in the region. Thus, in the city of Rakka (district 17) numerous conflicts between the “opposition” and the Syrian army have been registered. Similar incidents are happening in the city of Deir ez-Zor, where the government forces repulsed an attack by the unit of Giish and Jabhat Al-Nusra in the Al-Roushdiya neighborhood, and as a result around 12 militants were killed. At the present time a battle for the city airport is taking place, during which the unit commander of Az-Zahra of the “Free Syrian army” Adnan al-Assaf was killed.
The sources report that armed conflicts are taking place in Homs suburbs as well, between the villages of Sikra and Ar-Rayyan.
02 / 11 / 2013
SYRIA CHRISTIANS TARGETED FOR SUPPORTING ASSAD
SOURCE: Press TV
By Tahmineh Bakhtiari
While Syria has turned into the scene of deep and spiteful aggression by the United States and its allies, Christians in this country are facing very difficult conditions.
The Christian-populated city of Sadad, located north of Damascus, has been under siege by militants for several days. The city of Ma’loula, which is considered the cradle of Christianity in Syria, has also been traded between the Syrian army and the militants from time to time.
There are also many Christians among the abducted civilians in Syria and even in April, two bishops were kidnapped in northern Syria in the areas controlled by armed opposition forces fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Bishops Paul Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted by Takfiri militants while they were travelling to Aleppo from the Turkish border Zones.
In September, Bishop Ibrahim told Reuters that hundreds of Christian families residing in Aleppo had fled the city due to the clashes between government troops and armed opposition forces.
In Ma’loula, there are significant Christian worship centers and historical sites, which date back to the 10th century BC. The Christian and Muslim residents of the city speak Aramaic (Syriac), the language spoken by Jesus Christ, along with Arabic, and Ma’loula is the only region in Syria with a mainly Christian population.
According to figures, Christians make up around 8 percent of the Syrian population. All Christians in Syria do not belong to a single sect. Syrian Christians have different sects including the Roman Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Latin and Protestant, Maronite, Chaldean, Assyrian, Catholic Syriac and Armenian Christians.
In Aleppo alone, there are 10 centers under church supervision while the Syrian capital, Damascus, is also the central headquarters for some Christian sects and is home to three global churches.
Although the Christians in Syria politically support the government, some famous figures such as writer and thinker Michel kilo, are not on the government’s side and has spent many years behind bars during the rule of the Assad family. However, they never supported a militarized approach to reach political reforms.
The Christians had concluded that despite living in an Islamic and Arab country, they never face any limitations in performing their religious rituals and social conduct, an issue which was albeit criticized by some Salafi groups in Syria who had asked President Assad before the outbreak of unrest to impose limitations on the Christians so that they are forced to leave the country.
When the Christians escaped the civil war in Iraq during the US-led invasion of the country, they decided to settle in Damascus because the Christians in Syria were living in peace.
Since half a century ago until the outbreak of unrest in Syria, sectarian conflict was not visible in the country and all religious and ethnic groups were living together in peace. Even a civil war was ignited in neighboring Lebanon due to sectarian differences while such conflicts were never witnessed in the history of Syria.
At the beginning of the turmoil, Christians in Syria backed the opposition but they gradually joined Assad supporters as the true nature of the armed opposition came to light.
A bishop in the Orthodox Church voiced full support for Assad and said, “Yes, we agreed to an uprising against Assad at the beginning, but we wanted a peaceful protest. However, things suddenly changed and danger knocked on our doors; therefore, we should stand by the government, particularly President Assad, in order to prevent Takfiris from gaining control over this country.”
In fact, attacking the Ma’loula village was a strategic mistake on the part of foreign-sponsored armed terrorist groups, which exposed their true nature. In reality, assaulting a Christian-populated village proved two fundamental points; On the one hand, the attack on Ma’loula proved to both the Syrian nation and the regional countries that these assailants are not Syrians as the residents of this village had been living in peace with Muslims for over 10 centuries and they were not even once harassed by Muslims.
On the other hand, it became clear that if these terrorist groups ascend to power in Syria, they will target everyone but the Wahhabis and they will finally set the stage for the occupation of this country by the Israeli regime and the United States.
Such conditions have prompted some Christians to take up arms and fight against the Takfiris along with the Syrian army. Most of the Christian volunteer soldiers are battling in ranks known as “National Defense Committees”, which were created by the Syrian army. One of these units, dubbed “Lions of the Valley,” is predominantly Christian and is led by a Christian commander. This group is operating in Wadi al-Nasara or Valley of the Christians near Homs.
It is not only the Christians that are targeted by Takfiri groups but other ethnic and religious minorities in Syria, which are mainly the supporters of President Assad, are also assaulted by militants.
According to principles of the al-Qaeda, which is the follower of Wahhabism, all Muslims, except Salafis, have exited the religion of Islam and the Christians are also infidel and should be eliminated.
This is while Western states, which always claim to fight terrorism, violence and extremism and are mostly Christians themselves, have forgotten that they have dispatched their weapons to militants in Syria and the terrorists open fire on their fellow Christians with these very weapons.
According to reports, Christian communities in Syria have called on Western countries not to leave them alone by adopting illogical policies and standing by al-Qaeda-affiliated foreign militant groups. They have also urged the Western governments to order Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which fund al-Qaeda militants, to withdraw from the battle in Syria.
It could be said in general that the Westerners, particularly the United States, which held al-Qaeda responsible for the terrorist incidents on September 11, 2001, and formed an alliance to invade Iraq under this pretext, are now supporting al-Qaeda which will target Christians if it comes to power in Syria.
05 / 11 / 2013