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07/29/2020 Syria (International Christian Concern) – Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad announced yesterday that it will build a replica of Turkey’s Hagia Sophia, showing its opposition to Turkey’s latest decision converting the church into a mosque. Russia pledges to assist Syria in the construction of this replica. They claim that unlike Turkey, Syria desires a peaceful and positive interfaith dialogue.

Although a seemingly pro-Christian decision from both Syria and Russia, this announcement is laced with geopolitical motives. It demonstrates how religious freedom issues have evolved into a type of stone throwing for geopolitical posturing within the Middle East.

From Syria’s side, there is much discontent from the regime about Turkey’s military involvement in the country. Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria last October created a significant shift within Syria’s landscape of conflict. Russia has been outspoken against Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion and also supports the Assad regime. This announcement creates an opportunity for the three countries to further entangle themselves into Syria’s conflict.

The Syrian civil war involved the mass exodus of Christians from the country. As the conflict grew in the involvement of more international actors, the violence only further perpetrated. While this conflict has made life for remaining Christians extremely dangerous, it is worth remembering that even before the civil war, they were a persecuted community. Assad’s human rights record, before and during the conflict, is severely impoverished.

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