Believers Living in Syria Fear Christianity May Soon Disappear From Country amid Civil War, Persecution

( [email protected] ) May 11, 2016 12:46 PM EDT
Christians living in Syria fear their people may soon entirely disappear from the country as persecution from Islamic extremists and civil war show no signs of stopping.
Children ride on the back of a truck loaded with water jerrycans at a camp for internally displaced people in the Dhanah area of the central province of Marib, Yemen, April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ali Owidha

Christians living in Syria fear their people may soon entirely disappear from the country as persecution from Islamic extremists and devastating civil war show no signs of stopping.

"We are facing terrorist action in the whole geography of Syria," the Rev. Ibrahim Nseir, pastor of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and the Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, told from the conflict-torn city. "They are destroying our churches, killing and kidnapping Christians, stealing our homes and our businesses."

The Christian population in Syria, the region where Christianity began 2,000 years ago, has been reduced by two-thirds since the beginning of the country's civil war in 2011, from 1.5 million to only 500,000 today. In Raqqa, ISIS' stronghold, just a dozen Christian families remain, and are forced under threat of execution to convert, pay an "infidel" tax or go into hiding, Fox News notes. 

"We are trying to help them escape or stay safe, in hiding," said Ayman Abdel Nour, executive director of Syrian Christians for Peace. "Their life is horrible. The people of Raqqa are being forced to live like it was 1,400 years ago." 

Raqqa first fell into rebel control in March 2013 after a battle between Al Qaeda-linked jihadi group Al Nusra and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's regime, becoming the first provincial capital under rebel control. 

"The suffering of Christians began with ISIS control of Raqqa," Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered (IBSS) said on its website. "ISIS looks at Christians as infidels loyal to the West more than their loyalty to their homeland which they live." 

While many Christians are forbidden to leave "under any condition," others choose to stay, determined to maintain a presence in the war-torn region.

"We are rooted in this country," Nseir said. "Any picture of Syria without Christians in it is the true destruction of Syria."

Under ISIS rule and ongoing civil war, Christian archbishops, nuns, clerics and church leaders have been systematically kidnapped and executed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a list late last month of over 4,000 people who have been slaughtered by the militant group in Syria since June 2014, many of them believers.

A number of Christianity's most sacred sites and treasures have been looted or destroyed by the terror group. In addition, ISIS has taken hundreds of Christian women and girls as sex slaves and forced children into battle, according to US researchers, prompting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to officially declare the group is committing "genocide" against Christians and other ancient minority groups.

"Christians and Muslims lived in the same neighborhoods, we fasted together for different religious holidays," said Malak Al Hussaini, a 24-year-old post-graduate student from near Raqqa, who now lives in Damascus. "But these terrorists are mutilating the minds of people."

"We lived in harmony," she added. "And now, ISIS takes minorities at checkpoints, women are taken as sex slaves and men are killed or forced to convert to the Islamic version of ISIS... We don't know when this will stop."

Pastor Nseir, whose Aleppo church was bombed in 2012, told the news outlet he believes Syria can find its way out of chaos and misery, but said it is impossible to do so unless Christians remain in the region. 

"Our society in Syria was never perfect, but we were worshiping our God freely and we were respected," he said. "We need Christians to stay in this country where Christianity started and if they have left to come back, but they need to know their cities are safe before they can do that."

As earlier reported, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, recently urged the West to refrain from taking in any more refugees and instead put more effort into finding a solution to the devastating conflict.

"They [the West] pity the Syrians and the Christians. But do they really know about their problems? No, I don't think so, because if they did, they would have made efforts to end this war, to prevent it from continuing," he said.

"We will reconstruct our country. We want to build and stay," he said, according to Catholic Philly. "We want it to be our country and stay in this country where Christianity was born, and give a testimony of Christ's love and charity, and of the possibility to live together, as men believing in God and respectful of one another."