The Fate Of Syria’s Christians Should Concern Us All
The world is witnessing the destruction of Syria, a country with a rich history going back millennia. But there is one significant minority that faces total annihilation if the radical factions prevail: Syria’s Christian community.
Syria has played a crucial role in Christianity right from its very start. Paul is said to have been converted on the road to Damascus. There are important Christian landmarks there, some built by pious saints and daring knights over centuries. Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, can still be heard in some parts of the country.
Most importantly, there are 1.8 million people – 10% of the population – of various Christian denominations who now live in constant fear. That community has played a leading role in Syrian society and economy, which is why their (limited) civil rights had always been protected by the ruling dictators.
That is all changing now. In areas taken over by the Islamic State and other hardliners, Christian men have been murdered or abducted with their wives and children held hostage. What is left of their communities must convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face execution. The same has happened to other unfortunate Christians in Iraq, so the outcome is highly predictable.
Even “moderate” rebel groups are rumored to have committed similar atrocities. Not much of this is reported by the Western media, as after all these are “our” guys. But an insightful episode reported by the New York Times last year should force us to reflect upon the wisdom of the West’s strategy here:
“On his eighth trip to fight with the rebels in Syria, in August, Abu Khattab saw something that troubled him: two dead children (…). He knew right away that his fellow rebels had killed them. Abu Khattab, a 43-year-old Saudi hospital administrator who was pursuing jihad on his holiday breaks, went to demand answers from his local commander, a notoriously brutal man named Abu Ayman al-Iraqi. The commander brushed him off, saying his men had killed the children “because they were not Muslims,” Abu Khattab recalled recently during an interview here.”
As a result of this persecution, since 2012 Syrian Christians have started to take a more active role in the war, forming militias which are now fighting alongside government and Kurdish forces. They have no other option. And this puts them in the firing line of Western-backed militants and their key ally in the region – Turkey.