Syrian regime threatens Christians, clamps down on churches

640×392_83593_1970751.jpgMany Syrian Christians have been targeted by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for participating in protests demanding his ouster. (Reuters)
Many Syrian Christians have been targeted by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for participating in protests demanding his ouster. (Reuters)
By Mohamed Zeid Mestou
Al Arabiya Beirut

As part of its campaign against all pro-democracy activists, the Syrian regime has been persecuting Christian citizens and clergy who take part in the revolution or help the revolutionaries.

The Syrian regime issued instructions to all banks across the country to stop transactions with the Greek Orthodox Mariamite Church on charges of money laundry, said a Christian activist from the southwestern governorate of Rif Dimashq.

“This step was taken right after the church started receiving money from churches abroad to support Syrian revolutionaries,” he said.

The activist added that security forces killed Christian activist Friday Hossam Mikhail for links with the Free Syrian Army.

“A few weeks ago, the Syrian army also killed priest Basilius Nassar and state TV held terrorist groups accountable for his death.”

Nassar, the activist explained, used to deliver food to areas attacked by the Syrian army and was helping doctors out in Hama.

The activist added that according to a priest who worked with him, Nassar was killed while rescuing a victim of an army attack in the Jarajmah neighborhood in Hama.

Syrian forces also fired a non-explosive missile at the Convent of our Lady of Saidnaya north of the capital Damascus after knowing that its monks were involved in delivering medicine and supplies to bombed areas.

In addition to delivering supplies to victims, several churches in Damascus and other Syrian cities have been giving lectures against the Syrian regime and its brutal repression of peaceful protestors.

Three months ago, Syrian revolutionaries declared their solidarity with Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian monk who has for 20 years been the abbot of the monastery of Mar Musa in Rif Dimashq after Syrian authorities asked him to leave the country citing involvement in “activities unrelated to his job,” in reference to supporting the revolution.

Under the slogan “Syria is your homeland Paolo,” Syrian youths took to the streets in support of Dall’Oglio. The priest was finally allowed to stay in Syria after pledging not to speak about politics again.

Individual Christian activists are also harassed by the regime as many of them are summoned for interrogation on almost monthly basis while others receive threats whether directly or through their family members to stop taking part in the revolution or be killed.

This drove several Christians to leave the country like activist Yara Nosseir who took part in protests and relief in Christian neighborhoods in Damascus like al-Qasaa, Baba Toma, and Bab Sharqi.

In the beginning of the protests, the Syrian regime tried to win Christians to its side like it did with other minorities in the country. The regime tried to convince those minorities that protests aim at dividing the country along sectarian lines and that the regime would protect them.

That is why the first months of the Syrian revolution saw several monks and priests from neighboring countries issue statements in support of the Syrian regime. Shortly after, however, the situation started changing with many priests arguing that since Christianity is a religion of love, justice, and equality, its clergy in Syria cannot support the killing of innocent civilians who are fighting tyranny.

Several Christians also started realizing the hollowness of the regime’s words as they were reminded of the Syrian constitution’s stipulation that the president of the country should be Muslim, an article that also enraged several Muslim activists, who agreed with Christians that the presidency is a national and not a sectarian matter.

Christians were more outraged at the regime after security forces attacked the historic Syriac Orthodox Um al-Zennar Church in Homs and stole its contents. This incident was followed by a remarkable participation of Christians in anti-regime protests.

Anti-regime Christians have also established dozens of pages on the social networking website Facebook and which are all dedicated to posting news and videos about the revolution.

Despite the increasingly prominent presence of Christians in pro-democracy protests, several activists still argue that it is not enough.

George Sabra, member of the General Secretariat of the Syrian National Council, attributed the relatively weak participation of Syrian Christians in anti-regime protests to the church’s stance.

“The fact that the church has not yet taken a clear position on the revolution makes many Christians still reluctant to take part in the protests,” he said to Al Arabiya in an earlier interview.

Many members of the Christian community in Syria, Sabra added, still take the regime’s side.

“As for Christians who have already become part of the opposition, these are mainly from the elite rather than the masses.”

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)