Christians account for about 10% of Syria’s population that totals nearly 22 million people. In the period of the Late Ottoman Empire the Christian population accounted for 25% of total. Since then, the number of Christians has decreased dramatically mainly due to migration - it is more common among Christians than other religious groups - the falling birthrate, and Islamic sects.
The largest group of Christians in Syria is the Greek Orthodox Christians. Nearly all the cities in Syria have Christian population. Before the Syrian crisis, nearly 20% of the population in the province al-Hasakah was Christians: mainly Syrians, Armenians, and Chaldeans. Their number was significant also in the towns of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor in the east.
Christians accounted for 10% of the population in Aleppo, with half of them were of Armenian origin. In the town of Hama, Christians accounted for about 8% of the total population. Christians live also in Homs, Latakia, Tartus, and some districts in Damascus.
Emigration of Christians started with the Syrian crisis in 2011 when the armed ‘opposition’ attacked Aleppo in the north of Syria with the largest group of the Christian community in the country. For instance, before the crisis, Armenians in Aleppo totaled 65,000 people, while their number is below 20,000 now. Emigration has become the only goal for many Christians living in the one of the most dangerous cities in Syria.
With the military actions, the migration scales have dramatically increased in old Homs – more than 30,000 Christian families fled the city and only 500 returned after the military actions ended in that region.
More than half of the Christian population fled Hama, as the situation in the province destabilized. Nearly 22,000 Orthodox Christians lived in Marda, in the north of Hama. Many young people were killed there when trying to rebuff the attacks by The al Nusra Front, though the terrorist group failed to take control of Marda.
In the northern province Latakia, the Armenian town of Kessab – it is located on the border with Turkey - was severely destroyed by al-Nusra. Turkey appears to be behind those attacks that forced about 3000 Christian to flee to Latakia and then to Lebanon. After Kessab was regained by the Syrian army, only 30% of the local population returned.
Yet, the most painful blow on the Christian community of Syria was from “the Islamic State” in the east of the country. After the IS gained control of the given part of the country, thousands of Christians left Er Raka and Deir ez Zor. Christian fled al-Hasakah after the IS took control over the greatest part of it. In the border town of Qamishli, where the Christian population exceeded 10,000 people before the crisis, there are about 5000 Christians and most of them think of leaving the town. Most of the Christians that left al-Hasakah – with over 25,000-strong Christian community - and Tel-Tamer village have not returned. After the Kurdish forces took control of Ra's al-'Ayn, only 50 out of the 500 Christian families that fled the town have returned.
Many other Christian communities occupied by the IS are abandoned now. An estimated 30% of the labor force and businessmen in al-Hasakah province fled with their families leaving their homes, lands and property. Christians accounted for 80% of them.
Murders and abductions of Christians have just speeded up migration. Extremists killed at least 1500 Christians and abducted hundreds of young men and women. Many religious clerics were abducted too. For instance, Aleppo Metropolitan Paul Yazigi and Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim (Syrian Church), nuns from the Convent of St. Thekla, Maaloula, Father Frans van der Lugt – he was later killed in Homs. Paolo Dall'Oglio, an elderly priest, was abducted and killed in el-Raqqa. Priest Francois Murad was killed in Idlib. Many churches were destroyed and wiped off from the face of the Earth.
However, part of the Christians still remain in their villages and towns, create armed groups and public self-government to protect their towns. Young Christians in Qamishli, el-Khasaka and some districts in Aleppo, in Marda, rural areas in Hama province, and in Sednaya community in Damascus showed strong resistance and protected their towns against the armed attacks.
By some data, war forced nearly 500,000 Christians to flee their homes or country. The future of Christians in Syria appears to be under a big question mark…
What happened and is happening in Syria and the neighbor states, mainly in Iraq and Palestine, drives the Syrian Christians to the wall. Their lives are endangered. The uncertain situation Syria has occurred in makes the Christian population to migrate. In addition, the West offers the local Christians a temptation to leave Syria.
All this is a king of malicious plan to evict Christians from Syria. Regional and international organizations support this plan and provide the necessary financing to split up the society. This plan aims to split up Palestine’s neighborhood. It is used also in other countries to stir public discord and make Christians migrate to the West to save their lives. All this is done for Israel – the weaker are its neighbors, the smaller are the threats emerging from them. Eventually, this will create preconditions for establishment of “Greater Israel.”
Syria is not the best place to establish a religious state, as it consists of religious groups and races. The future of Christians in that country is as uncertain as the future of Syria. It applies to all the groups of the Syrian people without exception.
Mohammad Bilal, Latakia, specially for EADaily