“I’ve been in fear and terrified about staying in Lebanon or any other Arabic nation; in which I feel we are in real danger and there are so many concerns facing us today as Christians”, said Pierre Khoury ; a Lebanese Christian who decided to migrate after being aware that the economical, political and security situation in Lebanon and the Arabian East nations is not safe anymore to live in.
This Lebanese fellow, who had finished his university studies few years ago, feels that Christians are facing an existential threat, especially after what most of Syrian Christians are being subjected to as well as others in the Arabic nations; and that is the case of most of Christians in the East.
As in Jordan, Cyrine Aldababina feels the same way, although Jordan seems to be a safe nation for Christians, since the security situation is stable. But this young woman, who works at a banking institution, says that she feels some discrimination from non Christian groups; “most of the time, some hardcore ones at my work, used to indirectly criticize my religious beliefs and point out that we are a minority that has no voice in Jordan. So lately and after the appearance of some radicalisms movements; I started hiding all signs that show the sect I belong to because of the remarks and rejection I heard from others. I also hid the cross that symbolizes the religion I belong to; out of fear of hearing more criticizing and hurtful words from others”.
East Christians fear the future. There number is decreasing day after day, as a result of many factors and reasons; today Christians consist only 6% out of the total inhibitors of the Arabian world, and it used to be 25% out of the total, in this area of wars and endless disagreements.
Christians’ churches of different sects are still opposing in face of all the storming events in the area; bells are pounding shyly, believers are trying hardly to stay in “the east land”, where Jesus Christ was born and crucified; although a big number of them find themselves forced to leave for many reasons.
In Lebanon as in Jordan, Christians’ situation looks better than other East nations. Christians in Lebanon participates in the political life powerfully, and the president of the state belongs to the Maronite community. In Jordan the monarchy provides for Christians security and stability.
As for Egypt, the attachment the Copts have to their lands enabled them to stay, even though they are being subjected to violence, murdering and political exclusion. In Palestine the number of Copts is decreasing crazily, especially in Beit Lahem and other conflict zones between the Palestinians and Israelis.
With respect to Iraq the situation is terrifying; in which more than 69% of the Christians immigrated, because of the terrorism and violence that have been going on in the country since 2003; especially with the continuous Terrorist movements that threatens the minorities by burning of churches and attacking citizens. This picture gets darker and uglier in Syria; with the escalation of violence, and the continuous exchange of accusations between the regime and the opposition.
“Fateful risk” describes Ilya Tohme, Bishop of the Valley of the Christians of the Orthodox in Syria; the East’s Churches are terrified, searching for a solution for this massive decay of Christians’ numbers in the area.
Christians are a minority livening in an area of wars and conflicts; and today they are trying hard to play a positive role in creating peace through communication with moderate Islamic groups, to fight the radicalism which creates a real fear for everyone.
And there is no doubt that, the kidnapping of the two metropolitans John Abraham and Paul Yazigi over a year ago, is a huge proof of the danger that is threatening the Christians, their societies and their existence; It is a collective sense with respect to the predominant concern among Christians of the possibility of being persecuted and murdered.
A lot of reasons have brought Christians to this fate, starting from poverty, privation, the security situation, the instability, the violations of the human rights, the nature of the Arab regimes, the nature of the laws and constitutions; all this have led to the decline of the Christians’ demographical number, and to the increase of immigration, and to their retreating from participating in the political life in the East’s nations.
Robert Khalaf, a member of the Swedish parliament and a delegate in the Christian Democratic Party in Sweden, defends the rights of Christians in the East, and assumes that the repression and the lack of a real democracy in the Arab world, is the major reason after the migration of Christians and leaving of their mother lands.
Khalaf belongs to the Syrian Orthodox sect, which is considered as a minority among Christians, found himself outside Syria, after he immigrated decades ago, to escape from racism, discrimination and political restrictions.
Khalaf sees that the introduction of the democratic system to the Middle East would turn this region, to an area that respects human rights and religions, pluralism and freedom of belief; which is the only way to get rid of more extremism.
The Christian in the Middle East finds himself on the margin and unequal with other Muslim citizens for many reasons, Said Jean Salmanaan, representative of the Catholic Armenian Orthodox Council of Churches in the Middle East; who believes that immigration, includes both Christians and Muslims, but the targeting of Christians seems clear and obvious, and the kidnapping of the metropolitans has political message designed to terrorize and intimidate the Christians, in order to make them feel that they are threatened in their areas and lands and force them to leave their countries is the only way to salvation.
The fear of the Syrian Hell
This fear have been doubled over the past few years with the beginning of the communal movement in Syria, which turned on into a destructive civil war, that led till now to hundreds of thousands of killed victims, and more than a million were wounded ,in addition to around two millions and a half displaced Syrians.
In the middle of the bloody conflict between the Syrian regime and the armed opposition, emerged some militant groups as Al-Nosra and al-Qaeda who are aiming to establish an Islamic state in the Levant; which doubled the risks and concerns of Christians and minorities, of the possibility of being subjected once again to persecution and systematic displacement.
“The Violence that afflicts the Christians in Syria is unjustified at all, this major sect that has been living in Syria for thousands of years now is being persecuted, while others are working on displacing its inhibitors to outside Syria, as if there is a plan to empty the Arabian area from Christians as a whole”…
These were the words of Mother Agnes Mariam Alsalib, Head of the Monastery of Saint James and head of the international body to support reconciliation in Syria. Who confirmed that “there are some capital countries supporting some of the armed Syrian opposition, which will increase the murdering and violence works against Christians in Maloula to Halab ,Ladakia and Sidnaya and to the rest of the Arabian East nations.”
The accusation of Mother Agnes to the Syrian opposition, by considering it the only reason behind fueling the situation in Syria and being the only one responsible for the violence affecting the Christians, was rejected by Maria Elias from the Syrian Ladakia city; where thousands of Christians live.
Maria works as a teacher in one of the Christian schools, She is 33 years old, an activist theologian in the Roman Orthodox church between Lebanon and Syria, she suggests that the Syrian regime headed by Bashar al-Assad and before him Hafez al-Assad, works to intimidate minority Christians’ communities for decades, by presenting itself as their protector, and that any other alternative will claim their persecution, violence and displacement.
She adds: “there is no safe place in Syria anymore. Chaos is the master everywhere. Danger is threatening everyone including the Christians, regarding to the fact that they are the weakest in Syria. These difficulties and security threatens that is faced by everyone, made the Christians feel depressed and a large number of them were convinced by the necessity and inevitability of migration; due to the inability of the system to deal with the crisis correctly.”
From the beginning of the revolution, regarding to the archdioceses’ numbers, about one-third of the Christians migrated from Syria, and the rate of the Christians visiting the churches has fell to less than 50% compared to what it was before the crises in 2011.
Farouk Tibi – 29 years old, Syrian Orthodox, a resident of Ladakia, an activist in the association youth Christianity, considers that the situation in Syria changed over the past years, and that the fear in the Christians increases, but this fear is not from Muslim extremists only, as some appeals to portray it , but the acts of the system, in addition to other concerns related to their fate and their lifestyle, which has become threatened by war and chaos, which is revealed by their constant readiness to emigrate and travel.
Farouk believes that Christians are divided between loyalists and opponents of the Syrian regime, and this immersion in the war led to the decline in their numbers surprisingly; Young people are migrating to the Gulf States and the United States and Europe frequently. He adds: “during the Easter Mass in Ladakia, I noticed declining in the numbers of people participating compared to the past feast.”
There are neither scenarios nor clear speculations about the improvement of the Christians’ future situation in Syria. Especially by the presence of a wave of extremist and terrorist movements which is being controlled by many forces as the Syrian Regime.
Tragedy and displacement…
On the track of displacement, the war in Syria has led tens of thousands of Christians to leave their lands and homes and move to nearby areas; as Lebanon and Jordan. There are International aid agencies and Christians’ organizations working to take care of the new comers. In addition churches and religious orders are trying as much as possible to provide the Christians’ families with the requirements of life, in an attempt to heal the tragedy that has fallen out due to the continuous killings.
Out of the stories of those families, an Armenian Christian family tragedy story, the family had displaced from Alhska North Syria to Jordan… the family split due to war that displaced it; the family resorted in one of the schools that hosted it in Alashrafia Street in the capital of Jordan, Amman.
We visited this family that is made up of 10 persons, women, kids and men in their sixties of their age, living miserable disturbing days, and waiting for things to get better in their countries; waiting to return home.
The cross hanged on the wall of the small room , the family sitting quietly, shy smiles welcomed us in … on one corner of the room placed a table, placed on it a bunch of pictures the old and the new of Syria where the family used to live all together safely and in stability.
This family found a safe shelter away from Alzaatari camp where hundreds of thousands of refugees from different sects live. Says Andreh (65 years old and a grandfather to 7 grandchildren)” the Syrian Regime has protected the Christians and that the Regime’s army is working on fighting the terrorists and armed ones, the opponents had ruined everything as a result of its participation of this endless bloody game”.
They Pulled Us from Our Roots
“Syria will never calm down from today till ten years, everybody is armed, and fighting, and we are paying the price”. Said Terese who left her daughter and relatives in Syria and ran away to Jordan; and today she is living a tough life after the communication with a large number of her relatives was disconnected. Her tears never dry up; fear is her companion besides the killing silence that mastered our visit, between one story and another.
Terese adds in her Syrian Armenian accent: “my daughter lives in Alhasaka, my other daughter in Sweden, and my son travelled to Germany… we split apart and the war had scattered us everywhere; Armenians have been forced to immigrate in 1915, and today they are being forced to immigrate again from Syria as a result of the war…enough persecution from here and there”.
The elders as well as the young ones of this family; all assure that they are going to return to Syria as soon as the situation gets better, and only one word from one of them would summarize it all… “They pulled us out of our roots, they took everything from us, they forced us to leave Syria because we refuse to kill, we refuse to get armed, so immigration is not our destination, it is only the temporary way to reach the safe side”.
The Dark Tunnel
Endless stories and suffering of Christians everywhere, and what’s happening in Syria will complicate things more everywhere...It’s a harsh reality, which is being reflected negatively on the minorities living in the East, and on the Muslims and other sects as well.
What’s going on in Syria is just a result of the wars, militancy and fighting; and there is no way for salvation, unless this radicalism is being faced through tolerance and communication. Unless the accurate key for those divergences and conflicts is been found; the number of Christians will keep on decaying, in addition to the number of moderate Muslims. Then the East will become a well of tragedies, which are inexhaustible and endless…
The trail of Calvary is rough and painful, and today Christians are experiencing it; as they wait for salvation for their suffered difficulties, fear and apprehensions.
Investigated and written by: Salman Andary
to read the piece in Arabic
www.aljoumhouria.com/ epaper/index/2014-06-24#/ 1044/10/97249
to read the piece in Arabic