December 5, 2012
Syrian Christians: Caught Up in Chaos of Faith and Politics
Update: Church leaders and government officials are calling for the release of two kidnapped Orthodox bishops in Syria.
Update (May 6): Orthodox church leaders are not the only ones calling for the release of two kidnapped Syrian bishops. Pope Francis and the U.S. government both have issued calls for the release of the two bishops, who have been held hostage in an undisclosed location since their capture on April 22.
In addition, George Conger reports that the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster issued a joint statement on the kidnapping, calling it "another telling sign of the terrible circumstances that continue to engulf all Syrians."
Reuters reported that church sources said the bishops had been freed on Tuesday, but later stories have contradicted the original report. As of Wednesday morning, a "source at the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo said the bishops had not been released and he was unaware of any contact with their abductors."
RNS has the latest details.
Many Syrian Christians have flooded into Turkey, which announced last week that it would build two refugee camps for its displaced neighbors.
Deadly twin car bombs in two suburbs of Damascus, Syria's capital, appeared to target two Christian and Druze communities that have not joined the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's government.
State media said "terrorists" were behind the blasts, which killed at least 38 and injured at least 83; the government says it is protecting these two minorities from "terrorist extremists." However, the area is known for its loyalty to President Assad’s government, making it a target for armed opposition groups.
With Syria heading toward deepening breakdown, Christians inevitably have been caught up in the chaos over the past months. But some Syrian Christians say a series of incidents recently points to a trend of violence against Christian civilians, including priests.
Particularly worrying, they say, is the growing presence of foreign radical Islamic fighters in the country, and the many Islamist brigades within the opposition Free Syrian Army—as well as fear of government forces.
On Nov. 14, four missiles struck the Christian village of Tel Nasri in northeast Syria. St. Mary’s Church was severely damaged, as were many houses. As the Assyrian International News Agency reports, a 14-year-old boy was killed and many were wounded, apparently by Assad’s fighter planes, though that is not confirmed.
It is difficult to tell if these incidents of violence are the result of Christians' faith or myriad other factors, including politics. Christian communities in Syria don’t arm themselves in any organized way, which makes them vulnerable to criminal groups. This is particularly the case in those regions where the police and the military are almost absent due to war efforts elsewhere in the country.
In addition, many Syrian Christians are relatively prosperous and are considered to have family in the West—making them an attractive objective for kidnapping for money.