March 29, 2013
The plight of Syria’s Christian community has returned to the fore once again this week after opposition forces claimed that the Assad regime has targeted churches in the Deir Ezzor region.
Websites affiliated with the Syrian opposition posted videos allegedly showing damage to churches in the region as a result of air raids carried out by Assad regime forces. One Deir Ezzor activist, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, claimed that “regime war planes bombed two Syriac Orthodox churches.”
He added, “All Christian families fled the city with the intensification of the shelling and the escalating clashes between the regime and opposition.”
Abdul-Ahad Astepho, a member of the Syrian National Council’s Executive Committee, confirmed that regime forces were targeting churches in Deir Ezzor. He informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “all Christian families have fled the city due to the excessive violence that Deir Ezzor is being subjected to.”
He emphasized: “The Christians have a long history of persecution, particularly the Armenian community who make up a considerate portion of the region’s population. This means that they are quick to flee when there is any violence.”
Astepho asserted that Bashar Al-Assad’s regime is responsible for the displacement of the Christian community from the region, adding that “a climate of intolerance and extremism contributed to intimidating the Christians and prompted them to flee.”
Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop Luke, speaking to RT News yesterday, acknowledged that “our churches have been attacked in all provinces.”
He put forward a litany of church attacks, stressing that “everywhere–in Harasta, Arbin, Zabadani, Deraa, Aleppo, and around Damascus–our churches and our people have been attacked.”
He also revealed that “our cathedral in Raqqa has been severely damaged. The outlaws assault parishioners and kidnap and kill priests.”
However, rather than point the finger of blame at the Assad regime, Bishop Luke blamed opposition militants, saying, “These people say they act with the Syrian people’s best interests at heart, but it is not true.”
Earlier this year, the Assyrian International News Agency reported that 25,000 Christians, including Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics, Chaldeans and Armenians, had been prevented from fleeing the country after armed Islamist militants set up a number of roadblocks to prevent this.
Christian missionary Father Andrzej Halemba, a Polish diocesan priest who also works as Middle East coordinator for the Aid to the Church in Need project, also highlighted the suffering of Syria’s Christian community.
Speaking to Catholic ETWN News, Halemba said that the Syrian crisis is an “incredible tragedy” for Syria, but particularly for Syria’s Christian minority.
He added that since Syria’s Christian community live in places “where the violence is strongest … they suffer most.”
The priest clarified that Syria’s Christian community has no choice but to flee the violence. He said, “They have to run away. They suffer from the fighting and they can’t come back.”