Syria’s ancient Christian population could become a major casualty of an American strike against the Assad regime in retaliation for last week’s chemical-weapons attack, should any strike shift momentum in favor of the rebels.
Many Syrian Christians have held deep sympathies for Bashar al-Assad’s secular Ba’athist Party since its founding in 1947. Michel Aflaq, one of the Ba’ath Party’s co-founders, was a Christian.
The majority of Syria’s Christians struggled to remain neutral in Syria’s civil war or have backed Bashar al-Assad’s regime fearing annihilation should his secular police state be replaced by an Islamist theocracy.
“Enough with the intervention,” Patriarch Gregory III, who heads Syria’s Damascus-based Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, told the Catholic News Service (CNS). “It is fueling hatred, fueling criminality, fueling inhumanity, fueling fundamentalism, terrorism — all these things are the fruit of intervention. Enough!”
It would be better to try to help bring about reforms to the Syrian government, he said, “But not in this way, with blood,” he continued.
Syria’s Christians have found themselves under assault by the U.S. and European-backed Free Syrian Army since Syria’s civil war broke out in March 2011 and from the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra.
Christian villages have been wiped out, and the rebels have confiscated Christian land. Churches around Homs and Aleppo have been destroyed.
On May 27, the Free Syrian Army raided the Christian village of al-Duvair in Syria’s western province of Homs, massacring most of the village’s Christian population. The peril faced by Christians was highlighted this spring when the Syrian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox archbishops of Aleppo were kidnapped. Their fates remain unknown; however, rumors suggest they may have been murdered.
All of these atrocities against Syria’s Christians raise the specter of a repeat of what happened in Kosovo in the 1990s after Western troops intervened, and Albanian Islamic extremists were targeted. Christian churches and monasteries that were hundreds of years old were similarly leveled.
Russia’s concern for the welfare of Syria’s Christians has factored into its calculus for supporting Bashar Assad’s regime.
“[I]n those places where the authorities are being replaced by rebel groups, Christianity is being exterminated to the last man: Christians are expelled or physically destroyed,” Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow spokesman Metropolitan Hilarion told the U.K. –based Christian Voice.
They could face an even worse fate should Assad fall, reminiscent of Iraq’s ancient Christian population in the wake of the U.S. invasion in 2003.
“The policy that is used today in Syria, under the excuse of getting rid of the regime, is very dangerous,” Yonadam Kanna, member of the Iraqi National Assembly and secretary general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement told Christian Today in June. “If the state collapses, then the jihadists are in power. If the jihadists are in power, it’s a huge risk, not only for Christians, but also Muslims of that region — not only in Syria, but in the rest of Middle East and then Europe, too.”