News / Middle East

    Syrian Christians in Limbo, Fearing Repeat of Iraq

    Clerics and other people attend the funeral of three men at Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria, on September 10, 2013.
    Clerics and other people attend the funeral of three men at Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria, on September 10, 2013.
    Syria’s Christians dread the upsurge of radical Islamic fundamentalism among rebels battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad, concerned that the Syrian civil war could spell the doom of Christianity in their country.

    But some critics say Christian leaders made a fatal error in siding against the rebellion.

    From the earliest days of Christianity, Christians have lived and worshipped in Syria. But the two-and-a-half year civil war has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, and Christians worry there will be an even greater exodus.

    Their biggest concern is an eventual rebel victory. They point to what happened in neighboring Iraq where sectarian killings, persecution of Christians and an increasingly Islamist political culture, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, forced more than half of the Iraqi Christian population to flee.

    Jihadists and hardline Islamists among the rebels have targeted Christians in rebel-held areas. Many of the Christian refugees arriving in Lebanon are traumatized, said Najla Chahda of 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 Christians have been forced from their homes and farms.

    The attacks and kidnappings have increased Christian dread of what would happen if the rebels win.  This fear is helping the Assad regime, made up mostly of Alawites, followers of an offshoot of Shia Islam, to retain the support of many Christians.  Most of the rebels are Sunni Muslims.
     
    Syrian Christians feel they have had no choice but to back President al-Assad, she said.
     
    “These are the majority who are siding with the regime because they are just afraid from the others. They have no alternative,” she added.

    More than 450,000 Syrian Christians have fled their homes already, some remain displaced inside Syria.   An estimated 25,000 have sought refuge in Lebanon.

    Before the civil war, Syria had an estimated Christian population of two-and-a-half 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 main political opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, has sought to allay Christian fears, although increasingly to no avail.

    But some believe Syria’s Christian leaders are partly responsible for what is befalling their followers.

    Christians made a strategic mistake by siding with Assad, said Basem Shabb, a Lebanese lawmaker and the only Protestant in Lebanon’s Parliament.

    “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," Shabb said. "The Christians in Iraq were persecuted in Iraq not because they were Christians but because they supported the regime.”

    Shabb believes Christians should have made common cause with more moderate Islamic elements in the rebellion and says they could still do so.

    “I do not think it is too late, but this current line that the three main Patriarchs are following I think is detrimental to the long-term presence of Christians in Syria," he said. "In particular, the Catholic Patriarch has been so much pro-regime, pro-Bashar.”

    The support of Assad by the patriarchs of Eastern Christianity has caused tensions with church leaders of Western Christianity, who have urged a more critical stance.

    Right now, the ultimate fate of Christians in Syria is, to many, uncertainty.

    You May Like

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    From fast-food restaurants to pizza delivery, the history of take-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    October 02, 2013 12:45 PM
    The Syrian Christians did themselves a great favor by standing at a distance to watch situation. What we have on ground now proves them right. But the problem is that neither regime nor rebel group has proved good enough for the country and the Christian cause. Though regime of Assad initially was like the sleeping dog, but it was not allowed to lie; it would have had a semblance of manageable alternative. The NSA which is a collection of many groups different as their agenda is different, essentially constitutes more of nuisance than present a front of multilateral democracy in a country starved of liberty, an islamist regime was in the making through the choice of the opposition, and the Christians should be congratulating themselves for discerning the error of touching it with the longest pole. The dilemma is that right now neither regime nor opposition will allow business as usual, as Assad is bound to toe the hardline of the slamist regime in Tehran, while the opposition has not minced word in demanding for an islamic republic of Syria. The call for help should see a regime change. But who is to bail the cat? Not USA who is war-weary. It can only be Russia if it desires to put Assad in the cooler to maintain existing relations with its ally in the Middle East - only as a last resort - under pressure of surrendering chemical weapons. There is simply no solution in sight. But when nobody is there to help, that is when God shows that HE is God, for HE helps those who cannot help themselves. That is hope that does not fail.

    by: benson from: nigeria
    October 02, 2013 8:56 AM
    Assad goverment is still the best for them,even if they allign with the rebels,the rebels would still turn around and destroy them,to them a non muslim is sub human.Look at pakistan recently a chuch was bombedeven though christians facillitated independence from india.

    by: Patrick from: Ireland
    September 18, 2013 5:23 PM
    I consider this remark as just ludicrous "But some critics say Christian leaders made a fatal error in siding against the rebellion." what choice did they have, were they expected to convert to the false petro dollar Islam of the rebels? And please do not pretend that this was peaceful at the outset, the Gulf backed Syrian Muslim Brotherhood were involved from the very start, seeding sectarianism and violence among the population.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora