The deadly 16 month conflict in Syria continues to rage between supporters of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces. With government forces showing little concern for civilians in their efforts to quell the rebels and the rebels holding strong Muslim beliefs, the majority of Christians in Syria are caught between the two sides - victims of war and violence - with few options other than to flee their homes and land for safety elsewhere.
Christians in Syria, account for approximately 10% of the country’s population. Most Christians have tried to remain neutral in the conflict; however, some have stood in support of and even actively defended the al-Assad regime. For Syrian Christians the al-Assad regime offered at least a minimal level of religious freedom and protection as a more “secular” or “non-religious” government. When compared with the Islamic based government option that the rebel forces are fighting for, and the already long-standing persecution and violence against Christians in Syria by some factions within the rebel forces, many Christians are convinced there is no other option.
Tensions have been high between the conflicting sides since the “Arab Spring”, but a more recent focused targeting of Christians (seen by a strong faction within the rebels as “infidels”, western sympathizers and regime supporters) has sounded an alarm to Christians country-wide.
This past June, a group of armed rebels ruthlessly killed more than 200 Christians in the city of Homs, killing entire families with young children. More than 138,000 Christians have fled the city of Homs, where Christians have been tortured, terrorized, expelled and murdered.
In Qusayr, a rebel commander of the Sunni Islamic rebel forces delivered an ultimatum by loudspeaker throughout the city’s mosques, demanding that Christians leave the city and their homes. Nearly 10,000 Christians fled following the threat.
In mid-July, two top regime officials, both Christians, were assassinated in Damascus; solidifying the fear of many Christian believers that they are targets in the rebels’ attack, which is growing in momentum.
At the same time, a swelling tide of rebel forces - reinforced and fueled by incoming foreign supporters, some from North Africa and the Gulf regions - continues to grow in numbers. They are young and eager to join the uprising and fight alongside their ‘brothers’. They come armed with weapons, funds and, it is feared, radical Islamist ideology.
For another group of Christians in Syria, fleeing their homes is something they have done once before. Thousands of Christian Iraqis who have fled their own country over the last decade for the ‘safety’ of Syria are being called by their government to return to Iraq because of the escalating violence in Syria. With conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis still occurring in Iraq, these Christians wonder if anywhere is safe for them.
There is growing concern that Christians across the Middle East are in fact already the victims of a ‘religious-cide’. This theory is advanced by those who have followed the exodus of half of the Christian population from Iraq following the US-led invasion in 2003, and the more than 93,000 Christians who have fled Egypt since the uprising there and recent election of president and parliament from Islam-based political parties. We may have only begun to see what kind of religious ‘cleansing’ could take place for the Christians of Syria.
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Prayer Alert from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Religious Liberty Commission.