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Posts tagged ‘Christianity in Syria’

Christians Face Danger From Jihadists in Syria.


Image: Christians Face Danger From Jihadists in SyriaThe Church of Saint Michael in the Syrian village of Qara was heavily damaged in fighting between rebels and pro-government forces in late November in the predominantly Christian region of Qalamoun, north of Damascus.

By Okke Ornstein

The biggest threats facing many Christians in war-torn Syria are the militant jihadist groups linked to al-Qaida, which want to establish a caliphate across the Levant ruled by the laws of their extremist brand of Islam.

In their members’ view, those who are not “true Muslims” deserve to be killed, and Christians most certainly qualify.

“I think my cousin was killed just because he had a Christian cross dangling from the rear-view mirror of his car,” Abraham Tunc, a representative of the Assyrian community in the Netherlands, told Newsmax.

Christians in Syria make up about 10 percent of the population, with the largest concentration living in and around Aleppo, which is now the scene of an all-out assault by the Syrian army on the various rebel groups that control most of the city.

Outside a Greek Orthodox church in Damascus, what appeared at first glance to be a Nativity scene is instead a small improvised space to remember those who were killed during the ongoing war.

The wall is covered with portraits and stories about atrocities: A family was dragged out of their house and murdered, a man was killed by a bomb. Others suffered even more gruesome treatment.

“We lost about 200 members of our community because of the war,” a church volunteer told Newsmax.

“It all started as protests. People wanted more freedom, which everybody understood. And then it became war and we are where we are today,” he added.

On Christmas Day in Damascus, the war was never far away. At the Greek Orthodox al-Salib Church, the sound of cannon fire could be heard between songs at Christmas Mass.

The church’s neighborhood in Damascus has been transformed into a heavily fortified compound. On every road there are two military checkpoints, and no cars, not even those with an official permit, are allowed to pass through.

On Christmas there was more security at the church gate where volunteers used scanners to make sure nobody carried guns or explosives inside. A surprisingly high number of visitors attended the service, lighting candles.

“Actually, visits have gone up since the start of the war,” explained the volunteer, who asked not to be named for safety reasons.

The Greek Orthodox Church is the oldest and largest Christian community in Syria, and al-Salib’s neighborhood is one of the wealthier in Damascus, reflected by the number of fur coats and other expensive fashion items people were wearing on Christmas.

Not surprisingly, the volunteer said that “you’ll find that most people here are very much pro-Assad.”

In February, Syria’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Levant and Antioch John al-Yaziji met with President Bashar Assad and was quoted by state media expressing his confidence that Syria would come out victorious from its crisis.

The Greek Orthodox community is far from the only Christian group in Syria. Throughout the country, but mostly in the north, there are other Orthodox as well as Catholic groups.

Many Christians have fled, most of them to other parts of Syria or to Turkey. A vast number of them are Assyrians, an ethnic group with origins in ancient Mesopotamia which now inhabits roughly the same area as the Kurdish people in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.

Those who can afford it, or who have family in Europe, often travel to Germany, the Netherlands, or other countries, either legally or with the aid of smugglers, Tunc said.

This often leads to harrowing scenes when rickety boats capsize on their voyage from Turkey to EU member Greece, or when refugees get stuck, abused, and extorted at the Eastern European frontiers. One of Tunc’s relatives narrowly escaped death in a boat accident while trying to make her way from embattled Syria to the safety of Europe.

Tunc has lived in Europe since long before war broke out in Syria, but he still has relatives in Aleppo with whom he sometimes manages to talk on the phone. He explained that the situation there is dangerous and some members of his extended family were killed and others now live in Turkey, near the border.

Just months ago, the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah, which is an ally of Iran and the Assad regime, drove out al-Qaida linked groups from the northwestern coastal part of Syria, where many Christian minorities live.

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Persecuted Church Group Organizes Day of Prayer for Syria.


Syria
As a result of the turmoil and uncertainty in Syria, churches will unite in prayer on Saturday in many places around the war-torn nation. (Open Doors USA)

Christians in Syria will gather this weekend to pray and fast for the Day of Prayer for Syria.

“Without the church, Syria has no future,” an Open Doors contact said last month about the horrendous conditions facing Christians inside the country and the refugees struggling in camps along the borders.

A report from Open Doors says some areas in the cities of Homs and Aleppo are being taken over by Muslim extremists, who are implementing Shariah law.

“We need food and medicines,” says an Open Doors contact in Aleppo. “But what our country needs most now is prayer. We have no option than to turn to God in this desperate situation. The most important thing the world can do for us now is pray.”

As a result of the turmoil and uncertainty, most churches in Syria will unite in prayer on Saturday in many places around the war-torn nation. This will be an extraordinary show of unity of Christian denominations in Syria, where the ongoing civil war has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

Syrian Christians are asking their brothers and sisters around the world to pray and fast with them on the Day of Prayer for Syria on Saturday.

“The situation in Syria is really desperate,” a contact in Damascus says. “We will all pray together in Syria, but we need every Christian in the world to pray. Please pray that the problems will come to an end and those causing the problems will stop. Pray that Syria will find Jesus.”

Another church leader explains that others joining with Syrian Christians in prayer would be a big blessing: “It is so powerful to pray like one family. It’s not that just our prayers aren’t enough for God, but if all the Christians in the world unite with one heart, we believe it will be a blessing for Syria and the whole earth. Words can’t describe how thankful we are that you will pray with us. We pray that God will bless everyone who is praying with us.”

“Join Christians in countries around the world who will pray for Syria on May 11,” says Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra. “Perhaps you can also pray in your churches the following day. Pour out your heart with pleas for the suffering Christians there. They are in need and asking for our prayers!”

Prayer requests from churches inside Syria include:

  • Healing for the injured and comfort for those who have lost loved ones
  • An end to the bloodshed
  • The children, as their childhood has been stolen from them
  • Unity and reconciliation among churches and denominations to continue
  • Rootedness of Christians in their land without fear of violence

Click here for more information, a list of specific prayer requests and to make a pledge to pray for Syria.

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

BILL ROBERTS

Syrian Christians Fearful of Extremist Government Control.


Bashar al-Assad
Hunkering down: a poster of Syria‘s president at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus, Jan. 14 2012. Photo taken by VOA Middle East correspondent Elizabeth Arrott while traveling through Damascus with government escorts. (Voice of America)

With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad possibly losing his grip on power and rebels making major inroads, an end to the bloody civil war may be in sight.

The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 have been killed in the violence since the crisis began in March 2011. Another report puts the total at more than 17,000, including 1,261 last week.

Although the defeat of Assad and the military would be welcome news to most, the sizeable Christian community of over 1.5 million is fearful for its future.

Under Assad, Christians enjoyed a measure of freedom to worship in Syria, which is 90 percent Muslim. In fact, Christians were granted a degree of religious freedom not seen in most other Middle Eastern countries–before and after Arab Spring.

According to Reuters, the rebels include the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaida-style jihadists, the Muslim Brotherhood and local pro-democracy Sunni liberals.

“If Assad falls, Christians in Syria are fearful of what will happen when a new government–probably a radical Islamic one–will come into power,” says Open Doors USA president and CEO Carl Moeller. “Will their freedom to worship end? Will persecution increase? Will they have to flee Syria with their families as have thousands of believers in Iraq?

“Already thousands have been targeted and have fled Syria. Some have been forced to flee from cities like Homs and seek shelter and help from Christian churches in the area. Christians who supported Assad could face reprisal from the rebels. There is just a tremendous fear for their future.”

A Christian from Syria asks. “What is the free world doing to prepare for that exodus? Who is going to welcome Syrian Christians?”

In the last few months, Open Doors has been responding to the pleas for help by providing emergency relief packages to displaced Syrian Christians as well as food and medical supplies. Open Doors works in partnership with leaders from churches in designated areas.

An Open Doors worker says: “The aid will help them survive. And it will be enhanced by the other work that Open Doors is doing in Syria, such as providing biblical training, trauma counseling and discipleship training.”

Moeller says believers must get on their knees in prayer for the Christians in Syria.

“Pray that if the rebels overthrow the Assad regime, that they will not retaliate against Christians, forcing a mass exodus of believers from Syria,” says Moeller. “Pray for an end to the chaos and violence. Pray that Syria will allow freedom of religion for all minorities. And pray that Christians will continue to reach out to Muslims who are also suffering from the violence.”

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

By Jerry Dykstra

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