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Syrian Christians told: ‘You are an integral part of society’

31 August 2012


Water-carrier: a 12-year-old Syrian girl, Regab Al-Hajji, takes water to her family, who have taken refuge at the Bab Al-Salam border crossing, near Azaz

Water-carrier: a 12-year-old Syrian girl, Regab Al-Hajji, takes water to her family, who have taken refuge at the Bab Al-Salam border crossing, near...

ONE of the leading groups that opposes the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Syrian National Council, has sought to assure the country's Christians that they will have a secure future when a change of regime occurs.

Samir Nashar, a member of the Council's General Secretariat, last weekend called on the minority Alawite and Christian communities "to stand alongside the Syrian people as a whole". He promised that the "new Syria will be a free country for all the Syrians, regardless of their sectarian affiliations."

Turkey, which is a strong supporter of the Syrian opposition, has also urged Christians in Syria not to be fearful. Dr Ibrahim Kalin, a policy adviser to the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told readers of the daily newspaper Zaman that the Ba'athist regime of President Assad had "used all possible means to depict the Syrian revolution as a war between Syrian minorities, comprising Alawites, Christians, and Kurds on the one hand, and Islamist Sunni Arabs on the other. This has worked in some circles, but it must be rejected as mere propaganda."

These communities, he said, "should have no misgivings about a post-Assad Syria. Instead, they should see themselves as an integral part of Syrian society, which they are, and the primary architects of the new Syria, which they will be."

But thousands of Syrian Christians find themselves either caught up in the fighting, or having to flee to safety in neighbouring states. The scale and randomness of the dangers that they face were demonstrated on Tuesday, when a car bomb was detonated during a funeral procession in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana. At least 12 people were killed, and dozens were injured. The neighbourhood is frequented largely by Christians and Druze, and the funeral was for two supporters of the Assad regime.

Some of the Christians who have left Syria report having been threatened and taunted by elements within the armed opposition, who accused them of being backers of the Assad regime. Many Syrians still believe that the better of two bad options would be for the current regime to stay in power rather than be replaced by Islamist rule.

The Los Angeles Times quoted the Mother Superior of a Melkite Catholic monastery in Homs province, Mother Agnes Mariam, as saying that "the nightmare for Christians is when the revolution took an Islamic face. It is not the moderate Islam we know in Syria. We are talking about a kind of aggressive and impulsive Islam."

Most Syrian Christians who leave their country have tried to reach Lebanon, where there is a sizeable Christian community. The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, said earlier this week that about 22,000 Syrians were taking shelter in northern Lebanon alone.

The agency said that Sunni-Alawite clashes in and around the city of Tripoli, and sectarian kidnappings in the country as a whole, were hindering the efforts of aid workers to help the refugees.

A Roman Catholic news agency, Fides, based in Rome, reports that the Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, the Most Revd Jean-Clement Jeanbart, and a number of priests are among those who have fled from Syria.


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