According to Christian clergy, the terrible damage wrought by the Syrian crisis is not only limited to Christians. The Rev. Ibrahim Nasir, the head of the Evangelical Church in Aleppo, noted that “all components of Syrian society have been affected.” He added: “What is happening does not stem from Syrian culture, but rather from an exported culture that is nourished by actors seeking to sabotage Syria’s infrastructure.”
There are no accurate statistics about the damage caused by the current events in Syria, especially as far as Christians are concerned, but unofficial estimates indicate that more than 30 churches have been destroyed or damaged across Syria since the outbreak of the crisis in March 2011, along with 1,400 mosques, about 3,000 schools and 37 hospitals.
Christian emigration is probably the most striking consequence of the crisis. Before the start of the events, Christians accounted for about 10% of Syria’s population. Amid the continued migration of Christians, however, it remains difficult to determine the accurate and official emigration rate that resulted from the violence.
Sources closely following the issue of Christians in Aleppo say that one-third of Aleppo’s Christians are now out of Syria, one-third have fled to other areas inside Syria and one-third are still in Aleppo. The sources pointed out that “those who left Syria either opted for Lebanon or some European countries, which encourage the emigration of Christians. This was met by rejection on the part of Christian religious leaders in Syria, who strive to preserve the Christian component in Syria.”
Most of the displaced Christians fled to safe areas in Damascus, Aleppo and Wadi al-Nasara in the countryside of Homs, as well as to regions on the Syrian coast. They were fleeing the difficult humanitarian situation, just like other displaced Syrians, knowing that there are several Christian charity associations that are trying to secure their living needs.
“At the beginning of the violence in Syria, Christians remained neutral,” says a source, who's following the issue of Christians in Syria.
“Given the escalation of events and the rise of Takfiri Wahhabism in Syria, Christians fell pray to displacement, murder, theft and kidnapping. Their factories and houses have been robbed (as happened in Aleppo), they have been denied their sources of livelihood and their ancient artworks have been looted and robbed,” according to the source.
“Ancient Christian artworks have been stolen from monuments in the area of Mount Simon. According to reports from there, these artworks have been taken out of Syria via Turkey and then sold on the black market,” the source added.
For his part, head of the Monastery of St. Peter in Marmarita, Walid Escandave, who is also deputy vicar-general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Latakia and Tartus, stressed that “after 2½ years, the ongoing war in Syria proved that not only did it target humans and humanity but also destroyed history, civilization and heritage.” He further told As-Safir: “There is no doubt that the first and last beneficiary of what is happening is Israel.”
Hit by a mortar shell in early 2012, Our Lady of Saidnaya Monastery, one of the most renowned monasteries in Syria, is among the monasteries and churches that have been damaged by the events. It is once again under threat, as armed groups are getting closer to the city of Saidnaya, which has long been relatively safe. As battles intensify and become nearer, waves of displacement have been taking place in the city, which is a part of the countryside of Damascus.
While minor damages were inflicted to the Saidnaya Monastery, the oldest church in the world was destroyed. [Built about 50 A.D.] St. Mary Church of the Holy Belt was destroyed and burnt, similarly to Holy Forty Martyrs Church, one of the oldest churches in the governorate. The church of St. Elias in Qusair suffered the same fate.
In Aleppo, the Arab National Evangelical Church was also destroyed by explosives set by armed opposition groups. The same applies to St. Kevork Armenian Church, which was destroyed along with the Bethlehem School.
Nasir said that five churches had been vandalized in the old part of Aleppo, after terrorists had entered the Al-Jadida historic district. He added that gunmen had also vandalized a church in the Midan neighborhood, before the Syrian army had managed to regain control of the neighborhood. The majority of Midan’s residents are Armenian Christians, and most of them fled as gunmen burst into the district.
The neighborhoods of the old part of Damascus, inhabited by Christians, have been targeted by mortar shells, causing damage to some of the churches. Christian neighborhoods in Aleppo are sometimes targeted by mortar shells.
As Christmas and the New Year’s holiday season approaches, there are no festivities or holiday preparations in Syria. Since last year, celebrations have been limited to prayers for mercy and an end to the violence in Syria. Lately, several prayers were made for the liberation of the kidnapped, most prominently the two bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, kidnapped by radical gunmen in the countryside of Aleppo in April. Prayers have also been held for the release of the nuns from the Mar Takla Monastery in Maaloula, who were kidnapped by radical factions that burst into the historical village.
Salafist jihadist groups in Syria consider the Christian component as an “enemy” that they fight and try to displace, as well as occupy, destroy and turn its churches and monasteries into headquarters of “the Salafist jihadist call” (as happened in the Armenian Church in Raqqa recently, which is under the control of many radical groups, most notably Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham). Nevertheless, Nasir insisted that Christians are here in Syria to stay and stresses that Syrian Christians are “Syrians in the first place.” He added: “They think that the Christians are a weak part of Syria. Christians are a ring of a chain called Syria. Therefore, they cannot end the presence of Christians unless they end Syrian civilization, which they are unable to achieve.”
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