Middle East Church Leader Fears for Christians if Syria Chaos Results in Civil War

syria-church2.jpgBy Gina E. Ryder
 Middle East Church leader has expressed his concern for Christians and the potential adverse consequences that could result from increased pressure by the Syrian government, and especially if violence escalates into a fully blown civil war.

(Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri)
A man walks near a mosque and a church in Old Damascus. Syria’s dwindling Christians coexist with their Muslim compatriots in a country where religious minorities often struggle for survival.
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PersecutionHuman RightsPeaceConflict/WarReligious FreedomThe Syriac Catholic Church’s Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan told the Catholic News Service, “This chaos, surely — with no means to implement security — will lead to civil war,” said the patriarch, who stressed that a civil war in Syria would not merely be a struggle among political parties to control the power.

“It will be confessional (religious), and war in the name of God is far worse than a political struggle. And this is what we fear.”

The situation facing Syrian Christians is an old and reoccurring phenomenon: persecution of native non- Muslim minority communities in the world of Islam. According to NPR, Syria’s President Bashar Assad ordered promises of reform from the onset of the Syrian uprising last spring.

However, according to analysts inside and outside the country, the Assad government seems to be relying exclusively on brutal repression, giving free reign to the security services to crush the revolt.

Syrian Christians make up 10 percent of the nation’s population. According to Christian leaders, Syria needs a lot of reforms including a multiparty system of government and freedom of speech.

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As Younan expressed to CNS a need for a neutral third party, he suggested that Syrian reforms have the highest potential to be accomplished if given through dialogue that could unite those who are in conflict.

In the Catholic patriarch’s opinion, the West should push for true democratic reforms rather than trying to change political systems.

Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Younan told CNS, “By civil rights, we mean not only the freedom of speech … but civil rights to implement the religious freedom for all.”

Slogans launched near the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March were “Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the coffin.”

“Those might only be slogans,” warned Archbishop Paul Sayah in CNS. “But they are significant.”