Syrian Christians fear Muslim extremism after the fall of President Assad.
By Luiza Oleszczuk
3/9/2012 Syria (Christian Post) – Will Christians in Syria – which has thus far been a relatively safe haven for religious minorities amid recent turmoil in the Middle East – be persecuted by Muslim extremists and forced to migrate after the fall of President Bashar Assad, as was the case with Iraqi Christians after the fall of Saddam Hussein? Yes, according to experts, and that prospect has Syria’s Christians already making plans to flee.
A senior Syrian bishop who spoke with a Christian advocacy group, Aide to the Church in Need (ACN), recently said that as a Christian leader, he fears the danger of a mass exodus of the faithful, similar to the one that happened in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the fall of Hussein.
Both countries traditionally had a significant population of Assyrian Christians. In addition, thousands of Iraqi Christians sought sanctuary in Syria, which today has an estimated 2.5 million faithful who have traditionally prospered in that country, which used to be one of the most liberal and tolerant countries in the Middle East, even if ruled by a despotic leader.
Christians in Syria have thus far been mostly in support of Assad’s regime, fearing that the rule of a new, post-revolutionary government might bring persecution, as also Egyptian Copts experienced during Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. Although a bloody dictator, Assad has been preventing religious groups, especially Muslim extremists, from targeting religious minorities, including Syrian Christians, who constitute the largest cluster of Christians in the Middle East.
The bishop, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said that the Christian community is fearful that the fall of Assad’s regime will bring sectarian violence like it did in Iraq, where over 300,000 or more Christians were forced to leave the country after the U.S.-led invasion.
“We Christians want to stay in Syria and live peacefully and with everybody and continue our presence serving our country and our people,” he told ACN. But the insecurity and violence encourages them to leave. Christians have also been known to be caught in the crossfire between the rebels and the government forces, like all Syrian citizens in areas where the fighting takes place.