Syria, November 15, 2011: Christian leaders in Syria and neighbouring countries have expressed growing concern about the deteriorating situation in Syria, and in particular what it means for the vulnerable Christian minority.
The Arab League on Saturday suspended Syria over its crackdown on protestors in a move that highlights how far conditions in the country have worsened since anti-government demonstrations broke out in March. The UN says that at least 3,500 people have been killed.
The EU is also increasingly concerned about the unrest in Syria. European foreign ministers have agreed a preliminary deal on tightening sanctions against the country, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said it was time to look at increased protection for Syria’s civilians.
As the Assad regime comes under mounting international pressure, Christians, who comprise around ten per cent of the population, are particularly concerned about what the future holds for them and Iraqi Christian refugees living in the country.
Should Assad fall, it is feared that Syria could go the way of Iraq post-Saddam Hussein. Saddam, like Assad, restrained the influence of militant Islamists, but after his fall they were free to wreak havoc on the Christian community; hundreds of thousands of Christians were consequently forced to flee the violence. Many of them went to Syria.
A Syrian church leader, who coordinates food programmes for Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria, said:
Most of the Iraqi Christians living in Syria are worried because they do not want to see Syrian Christians passing through the same path as happened with them in Iraq. They are lifting their prayers for a safe and secure Syria and for it [to] continue to be a safe haven.
Christians have mostly stayed away from the protests in Syria, having been well treated and afforded a considerable amount of religious freedom under President Assad’s regime. In September, an influential sheik issued an implicit threat to the country’s Christians, saying that all those who oppose the revolution will be “torn apart, chopped up and fed to the dogs”.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:
Syria has been very much a safe haven for Christians in the Middle East, one of the few Arab countries where they were treated with respect and had equality with the Muslim majority. Syria also has a history of welcoming in persecuted Christians from other countries. But I greatly fear that within the near future we will see a new Iraq developing in Syria. Barnabas Fund is standing with our brothers and sisters during this tumultuous time.
* That the actions of the international community will help to restore peace and stability for all Syrian citizens.
* For Christians in Syria, especially those who are concerned about their future in the country. Pray that the Lord will keep them safe, grant them His peace and reassure them of His sovereignty amid this turmoil.
- barnabas team