State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013 - Case study: Christians in Syria

Fears for Syria's ancient Christian communities continue as they are attacked by both the militias and government forces.

The Syrian Christian community makes up approximately 10 per cent of the population, but its size has been declining since the March 2011 uprising due to displacement and emigration. There are Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians. The number of Syrian Christians abroad is about 5 million, although this number is rising due to displacement and emigration.

Syrian Christians have their own courts that deal with marriage, divorce and inheritance. Damascus contains a sizeable Christian community.

The plight of Christians in Syria was articulated by eyewitnesses, journalists and religious leaders. For example, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon said that Christians have no guns while they have been attacked by both armed militias and the government. A Catholic charity representative said that many Christians feel they have to support Assad because they fear what may happen if the rebels win: they may face the same tragedy as Christians in Iraq. Church leaders express fears that Syria may lose its Christian minority. Emigration has increased. Some sources reported increased intolerance and employment discrimination as key reasons for Christians choosing to leave. Churches and Christian institutions, such as schools and hospitals, have been destroyed. Neither the government forces nor the opposition militias admit those attacks. According to the Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Yohanna Ibrahim, some churches have been closed because of the ongoing fighting. The number of worshippers has declined by over 50 per cent because of security issues, except in the areas that have Christian majorities and where security arrangements can be made. The Archbishop noted in spring 2013 that more than 30,000 Christians had fled Aleppo and more than 6,000 Armenians had left for Armenia, while more than 300,000 Christians were internally displaced by then.

In Syria, caution and fear now characterize relations between the different elements of society. Each community is cautious when dealing with other groups. Alawites left Aleppo out of fear; Shi'as also fled the region for the same reason. And Christians are now on the move in order to avoid increased intolerance, targeting by militant groups, the threat of government bombardment and the increasingly dire humanitarian situation.

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