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Syrian Christians caught between two sides

ICC Note:

“[Christians] fear that, if the uprising against the dictator Bashar al-Assad is successful, they will find themselves on the losing side regardless of whom they support,” Deutsche Welle reports.

By Youcef Boufidjeline

8/6/2012 Syria (Deutsche Welle) – Reports suggest that Syrian Christians are increasingly being targeted for attack by radical Islamists. They're suspected of loyalty to the Assad regime - yet many are actively involved in the uprising.

As fighting between the Syrian regime and the forces of the opposition has intensified, so has the suffering of the civilian population. Hundreds of thousands of citizens of different political and religious backgrounds have been displaced. Some are still in the country, while others have fled to the border regions in neighboring countries. Among them are many Syrian Christians, who constitute around 10 percent of the population. They fear that, if the uprising against the dictator Bashar al-Assad is successful, they will find themselves on the losing side regardless of whom they support.

Christian refugees from the Syrian city of Kusair recently told a correspondent for Spiegel Online that many of their relatives had been murdered by radical Islamists who had joined the fight against the Assad regime. The refugees spoke of a concerted campaign against the Christian minority. "We are constantly accused of working for the regime," said a Christian woman whom the magazine spoke to in Lebanon. Initially, she said, they got along well with the rebels, but later on Islamists - most of whom come to Syria from other countries - incited the rebels to turn on the Christians.

'People are very afraid'

The official explains that for many years Christians enjoyed a far better status, and above all greater security, under the Assad regime than their fellow believers did in other Arab countries. "Many of them are now very afraid that a form of political Islam will come to power that regards Christians as just a minority, as dhimmi [non-Muslim subjects] who do not enjoy the same rights and obligations as other citizens." There is also a growing fear of anti-Christian terror commandos like those that are active in Iraq.

The Syrian sociologist Ishaq Kanaou makes similar observations. "The Christians in Syria are very afraid that Islamic forces will come to power, and that they themselves will become second-class citizens as a result," Kanaou told DW. "This fear is based, of course, on the experiences of Christians in Egypt, and above all in Iraq, where they have been increasingly marginalized." Nonetheless, he says that "the majority of Syrian Christians are now on the side of the opposition," though he adds that they are acting very cautiously as they don't want to make themselves vulnerable to either side. "Just like other Syrian citizens, the Christians fear the brutality of the regime. But they're also afraid of radical and extremist groups."

It's a dilemma that George Stevo, the spokesman of the organization Christian Syrians for Democracy, also recognizes. He told DW that very few Christians are actually on the side of the regime. "Most of them belong to the silent majority," he says, "and there's even a strong Christian presence on the opposition Syrian National Council." Around 10 percent of the Council's representatives are Christians.

[Full Story]

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