Worthy Christian News » World News » Syria's Christians caught between Iraq and a hard dictator
By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (Worthy News)-- Although President Bashar al-Assad's counter-insurgency has already claimed the lives of at least 7,000 of his own people, his state represented a diverse society in which minorities and women enjoyed freedoms alien to other Arab nations.
In Syria, Sunni's are dominant, but its population includes communities of Christians, Kurds, Armenians, Druze and Greeks; Assad himself is a minority Alawite from the Sh'ia sect of Islam.
According to Syria's constitution, although its president must always be Muslim, Christians are free to build churches and monasteries as well as establishing private schools, according to H.L. Murre-van den Berg, a professor at the Institute for Religious Studies at Leiden University, the Netherlands.
Berg said there are also other reasons most Christians have supported the current Syrian regime.
"Most Christians think Bashar is their best bet in securing relative peace and stability," said Berg, "and because upheaval in itself ... tends to harm minorities the most, but ... mostly because Christians fear a radical Islamist government will take over once al-Assad is gone: a radical government that will not only further restrict social possibilities for Christians, but might even allow extremists to actually attack Christians."
After the fall of Iraq, radicals began kidnapping Christians, killing their clergy and bombing their churches, but though Syria was loathe to welcome more refugees, most were allowed to stay.
"However, little to no financial support was provided to them," said Berg. "In fact, many live in dire poverty, and depend on gifts from local Christians, the United Nations refugee agency and other non-government organizations."
"Of course, a major difference so far is that Iraq was occupied by foreign forces which the Christians were seen -- mostly incorrectly -- as supporting," he said. "To put it another way, targeting Christians in Iraq ... was a way to target the occupiers, which was probably one of the reasons why the official state response was rather slow.
"I think the conclusion should be that the West should be very careful when it considers ousting Bashar al-Assad; a Western occupation may harm rather than protect Christians and the other minorities in Syria."