The Silent Exodus of Syria’s Christians

ICC Note: “In Syria’s rebellion, no religious or ethnic group has been spared horrific levels of loss and suffering, but its 2,000- year-old Christian minority is now facing a distinct persecution,” Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, writes for the National Review Online. “Under the cover of war and chaos, this group, which alone lacks militias of its own, is easy prey for Islamists and criminals.” When Iraq was emptied of Christians following the US-led invasion in 2003, no one believed that Syria would be next. Today, however, Syrian Christians are “fleeing massively from threats, kidnappings, rapes and murders.”

By Nina Shea

2/08/2013 Syria (NR) – In Syria’s rebellion, no religious or ethnic group has been spared horrific levels of loss and suffering, but its 2,000-year-old Christian minority is now facing a distinct persecution.

Under the cover of war and chaos, this group, which alone lacks militias of its own, is easy prey for Islamists and criminals, alike. These assaults are driving out the Christians en masse. This 2,000-year-old community, numbering around 2 million is the largest church in the Middle East after Egypt’s Copts, and it now faces extinction.

Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East, despite recent heart surgery, is now constantly on the road in Lebanon and Iraq trying to cope with the refugee crisis. He wrote to me today:

“We are witnessing another Arab country losing its Christian Assyrian minority. When it happened in Iraq nobody believed Syria’s turn would come. Christian Assyrians are fleeing massively from threats, kidnappings, rapes and murders. Behind the daily reporting about bombs there is an ethno-religious cleansing taking place, and soon Syria can be emptied of its Christians.”

The refugees were panic-stricken, pointing to some horrifying triggering event that forced them out — a kidnapping of a relative, a murder, or a robbery. They feel they are targeted for being Christian, which means that militants and criminals can assault them with impunity. Some point to a government that fails to protect them; others to Islamists rebels who want to drive them out. A refugee tells Kino: “Two men from a strong Arabic tribe decided one day to occupy our farmland, just like that. When I went to the police to report, I was told there was nothing they could do. The police chief was very clear that they would not act, as they didn’t want the tribe to turn against the regime.”

A woman from Hassake recounts how her husband and son were shot in the head by Islamists. “Our only crime is being Christians,” she answers when asked if there had been a dispute.

A father says: “We’re not poor, we didn’t run from poverty. We ran from fear. I have to think about my twelve-year-old daughter. She’s easy prey for kidnappers. Three children of our friends were kidnapped. In two cases they paid enormous ransoms to get the children back, and in one case they paid but got the child back dead.”

Another man attests: “In Syria, you don’t know who is your friend and who is your enemy. The wealthy have it the worst. Criminals wait in line to kidnap them.”

The refugees all fear the Islamists. When the jihadi rebel units show up and take over a town, like Rasel-Eyn, it loses its Christian population over night. One man from there tells Kino: “The so-called Free Syrian Army, or rebels, or whatever you choose to call them in the West, emptied the city of its Christians, and soon there won’t be a single Christian in the whole country.”

There is no complete data on the number of refugees. How many Christians have fled is not known and escapees continue to come across the border each day. We are only beginning to understand the peril they face.

Archdeacon Youkhana pleads: “The world must open their eyes to the plight.”

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