THE growing intensity of the conflict in Syria, and the
increasing signs of the rebels' success, are leaving the country's
Christian minority in a doubly dangerous position. Like all
civilians, they are caught in the crossfire; and they are also at
risk from the way in which the rebels are being boosted by Islamic
It is impossible to say how many Christians are among the 17,000
people who have been killed, or the 120,000 who have been forced to
flee their homes, but there are indications that many thousands are
being affected by the conflict.
The Barnabas Fund, which supports Christians where they are in a
minority and suffer discrimination, says that "tens of thousands of
Christians have been driven from their cities by threats and
violence. Almost the entire Christian populations of Homs and
Qusayr have fled to surrounding villages or further afield. . .
They are in urgent need of food and other essentials."
There is also danger facing Christians from the rebel movement's
being aided by Islamic extremist soldiers from Syria and
surround-ing countries. As the Barnabas Fund says: "The opposition
forces and the militant groups that support them are largely
hostile to Christians, believing them to be supporters of the
government. An Islamist takeover is likely to generate further
violence against Christians."
Most Christians who have decided to leave Syria are trying to
reach Jordan and Lebanon. The Barnabas Fund is one of several
international groups that are attempting to help displaced
Christian families in Syria and other countries in the Middle East
with food and other essentials. It is appealing to Christians
around the world to sponsor a family for £18 a month.
Christian Aid is also working with its partners in Lebanon and
elsewhere to help meet the needs of the tens of thousands fleeing
Syria. The Roman Catholic aid organisation Caritas Internationalis,
which has been active in the past in helping Iraqis fleeing to
Syria, says that it is now offering help to the thousands displaced
by the conflict there.
The head of Caritas Lebanon, Fr Simon Faddoul, said last week
that "people are fleeing the war and coming to Lebanon, Jordan, and
Turkey. Here in Lebanon, it's been like a human flood over the
border from Damascus. In 24 hours, we had, at one time last week,
over 15,000 people enter at one legal border-crossing. If you count
all the rest who come in other ways, it's far more."
In the mean time, a group of Syriac, Chaldean, and Assyrian
intellectuals living in Europe and the United States has called for
the creation of a separate region in Syria for its Christian
community. "We have to look after and protect ourselves in an
autonomous region; the need for a federal structure is deeply
felt," the Syriac political analyst Adnan Challma, based in
The group recently issued a declaration accusing the Baathist
regime of President Bashar al-Assad of depriving the Syriac,
Chaldean, and Assyrian communities of their legal rights. It said:
"The opposition to the Baath dictatorship in Syria, which was
democratic at the beginning, has acquired an Islamist tendency with
The declaration said that a "government formed by the Muslim
Brotherhood, Islamists, pro-al-Qaeda figures, and Salafists would
be a disaster for our people in Syria and all the Christians in the
The chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and
Wales, the Bishop of Clifton, the Rt Revd Declan Lang, has also
expressed concerns about the increasingly sectarian aspect of the
violence. In a statement on Tuesday, Bishop Lang said that his
thoughts were with all Syrians: "I pray today that they will
succeed in building up a society of equal citizens in which all
Syrians of all backgrounds will enjoy a future marked with
reconciliation and plurality and where they will rid themselves
from all forms of sectarianism."
The intensity and scope of the fighting in Syria are causing
some to question whether Pope Benedict XVI might be forced to
cancel his trip to Lebanon, planned for Septem- ber, because of
violence spilling over the border.
The secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, Michel Roy,
said he feared that "if the war develops, which is the case right
now, and I don't think it will stop very easily", fighting already
having broken out in northern Lebanon, then the Pope would have to
cancel the trip. It would have been a landmark visit for the
different Churches in the region, as well as for the RC Church's
relations with the Arab world, he said.