Civil war in Syria has led to increased persecution and the flight of thousands of Christians from their homeland, making the Christmas season a time of mourning rather than of celebration for many Syrian Christians. "How am I going to celebrate now that many of my relatives have fled, and we have lost our loved ones?” a Syrian Christian told Agence France-Presse.
12/23/2012 Syria (Agence France-Presse) – Festive spirit is a distant memory for Syria's Christian minority as it faces a second Christmas in the grip of fear of daily violence and the spectre of rising Islamism.
"We're in no mood to celebrate Christmas this year. Everyone around is me is so sad, and the situation is terrible," said George, a 38-year-old accountant from Damascus, who, like many in Syria after 21 months of bloodshed, asked not to give his full name.
"How am I going to celebrate now that many of my relatives have fled, and we have lost our loved ones? This Christmas doesn't look anything like a celebration."
Syria's 1.8 million Christians make up some five percent of the population.
Many have tried to remain neutral in the country's spiralling conflict. Others have taken President Bashar al-Assad's side, for fear of the Islamists in rebel ranks.
"Foreign fighters are coming to Syria to impose their religious and political views in our country," said Maryam, who lives in central Damascus.
"These armed terrorists might force me to wear the veil, stop working and stay home," she said.
It was similar fears of daily violence and hardline Islamism that prompted a huge exodus of Christians from neighbouring Iraq in the years after the US-led invasion of 2003 and Syrian church leaders have appealed to their flocks not to take the road of emigration.