Aleppo’s Christians See Regime as Last Hope

ICC Note: For Christians still inside Syria, the rise of Islamic extremists among the rebel groups has made the prospects of an opposition group taking over Syria and a place for Christians very hard to imagine. Many are looking to the Assad regime as the only entity protecting them as minorities inside Syria.

03/23/2015 Syria (Al-Monitor) The conflict in Syria entered its fifth year this month, and many parts of the country and their inhabitants are hardly recognizable. This is true of the war-torn city of Aleppo, my hometown, with its mosaic of religious, social and ethnic groups who have all had to deal with the harsh realities and horrors of war on a daily basis.

To gauge the sentiment of one such community, I paid a visit to a quaint part of town. Siryan Adeemeh, or Old Siryan, is an elevated area in the regime-controlled west of Aleppo. A working-class neighborhood home to Christian Arabs of several denominations, Siryan Adeemeh is also inhabited by a sizable Muslim and Kurdish population. It’s one of the few areas of Aleppo where churches outnumber mosques, and communal relations had always been jovial and friendly, as could be seen while strolling its maze-like narrow streets, lined with markets, cafes, sandwich shops, bars and liquor stores. But as the conflict took its toll, the atmosphere grew perceptibly edgier and increasingly paranoid.

Siryan Adeemeh sits within sight of the rebel-held areas of Sheikh Maqsoud and Ashrafieh, less than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away, and has been on the receiving end of indiscriminate rebel shelling, the most recent of which killed and wounded several people last month. The fear of shelling is ever-present, but just in case one briefly forgets about it, loud explosions and gunfire from the nearby fronts are there to remind you. The din of generators and stench of diesel fumes are your constant companions here, as is the crazy driving of the military pickups rushing dangerously along the main road.

Against this backdrop I went to see Abu Fadi, a middle-aged man, tanned with silver hair and sharp dark eyes — a striking appearance to match his striking personality. He was the de facto mayor of his neighborhood, the go-to guy for news, stories and gossip, a figure much liked and respected by his Christian community and beyond.

As we sat on chairs and wooden stools in one of the back alleys that crisscross this peculiar neighborhood, a few of Abu Fadi’s neighbors, mostly middle-aged men, joined us. The mood was gloomy as darkness fell. This was the way the residents had always socialized, sitting together outside their homes, their front doors open. But all talk and gossip these days is about the war — and rumors, lots of rumors. Abu Fadi did not need much prodding. He talked candidly, almost continuously. “We no longer fear speaking out — that was long ago,” he explained. “And we have no other way to express our frustration.”

I asked Abu Fadi about the impact of the conflict on his community, and the prevalent sentiment. “Everything has changed,” he replied, his tone more somber. “Before the war, we [the Christians of Aleppo] were secure as a community, but now we live in fear for our continued existence in Syria. It has never been this way, not in anyone’s living memory. We are feeling persecuted in our own country.”

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