Christian evacuees mourn Idlib

Idlib’s Christians have been the target of mounting attacks as Jabhat al-Nusra eyes their cities for its Islamic emirate, killing and expelling minorities to realize its goals.

al-monitor An Armenian church lies deserted in Yaqubiyeh, in the northwestern Idlib province, May 27, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman.

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syrian conflict, syrian civil war, syrian christians, jabhat al-nusra, idlib, christians

Apr 17, 2015

A survivor from Idlib implored the heavens to help the Syrian army liberate the city from armed groups and save his house, where he left his misery along with his family memories. He received reports from Idlib that Jabhat al-Nusra wrote “Christian” on the front of his house. This means that if the owners do not return within 10 days to pay a fee, the house is to be confiscated by the group.

Idlib’s Christians never thought the battles would lead to the fall of their city. Some of them did not opt to leave during the displacement wave that followed the battles, and woke up to find that armed groups had occupied their city.

A woman told As-Safir, “I saw them on Saturday morning from my veranda. They demolished the cross of our church and then entered the church and smashed the things in it. They kidnapped Father Ibrahim Farah along with a young pharmacist. We had no choice but to light candles and pray to the Virgin Mary as we hugged our children in our homes.”

She confirmed that icons of historical and spiritual importance were taken from the church, and that what happened there hurt the townspeople.

Some Christian families remained in the Jabhat al-Nusra-controlled city for days. Survivors told As-Safir that the two people who were killed from the al-Khal family were shot 40 times, and their bodies showed bruises from being beaten. No prayers were allowed to be held for them in church, and they were buried in the garden of their house after the remaining Christian men and women buried them. Their three-story house became the headquarters of the gunmen while its contents were looted.

As soon as insurgents entered the city, they used the remaining families in Idlib as media pawns. They forced a woman to appear in a video and praise the insurgents’ treatment of Christians in Idlib. The families decided to stealthily flee, coordinating with some Muslims in the city to escape and reach the province of Hama.

After Idlib’s Christians had been safe for decades, the women suddenly found themselves wearing head coverings and cloaks. “Some of us saw this day coming and bought clothes that were somehow appropriate. As we fled, they told us that we did not look Muslim, but the heavens somehow blinded their eyes,” said one woman.

The neighborhood that has been home to Christian families for decades has been purged of its Christianity by gunmen. A few meters from the church, Jabhat al-Nusra raised its flag over a house that it used for its Sharia court, which approved the detention of Farah, the priest of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary, and his kidnapping is to be added to Jabhat al-Nusra’s record of Christian kidnappings, including those of nuns.

Idlib was home to about 179 Christian families. According to anonymous sources, 85% of these families escaped the city and their fate is known, while that of the rest of the families remains a mystery.

According to sources from Idlib, dozens of bodies lay scattered across the streets, some beheaded, others with gunshot wounds. The Red Crescent in Idlib buried about 300 bodies in a mass grave April 9, and the blood of Muslims and Christians has been mixed in this cemetery, which also contains bodies of families Jabhat al-Nusra had called thugs and then slaughtered. 

The financial losses incurred by the Christians in Idlib are estimated in the hundreds of millions. However, Christians believe that they can be compensated for and that what is most important is the restoration of their city, to which they are very attached and which they refused to leave despite the great risks.

“We have great confidence that we will return to our neighborhood and that our church bells will ring again,” the brother of a Christian fighter with the army in Idlib said.

It is noteworthy that the Syrian army is working to establish a cordon around the city in preparation to enter it. According to reports, the attack on Idlib is drawing near.

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