This post was written by Connor Balough
Syrian christians held a massive demonstration in support of the secular baathist leader President Assad, calling on President Trump to stop his air strikes.
A few weeks after the US Coalition blew up a house with 200 people in it to kill an ISIS sniper in Mosul, and months after President Trump’s opening military operation where an entire village was wiped out to kill 1 Al Qaeda operative, the US launched air strikes on Syria’s military for allegedly carrying out a Sarin Gas attack on an Al Qaeda controlled village. In response to the Trump-led air strikes on Syria’s Assad regime, christians of syria rallied together to decry the attacks. Having seen what happened to their brethren in Iraq after Saddam Hussain fell, they know what the consequences are if they are to lose their protector, President Assad.
“It is a shame that the United States administration didn’t wait until an honest United Nations investigation was thoroughly made into what is said to be a chemical air strike in Khan Shaykun,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph Younan told CNS.
“The agglomerate media and the supremacist policy of the USA just want the killing and destroying conflict in Syria to continue, and this primarily to kill whatever attempt to resolve the bloody crisis,” the Syrian-born Younan told CNS. Younan also served for fourteen years as bishop of the New Jersey-based Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance for Syriac Catholics in the United States and Canada.
Bishop Georges Khazen, who serves Latin-rite Catholics in Aleppo, agreed that there should have been an investigation as to who perpetrated the chemical weapon attack before any military response, telling the Rome-based Fides news agency that the U.S. action “opens new disturbing scenarios for all.”
The Pentagon confirmed the launch of 59 Tomahawk land attack missiles on Thursday night as a retaliatory move following what appeared to be a chemical attack on civilians in Idlib province.
“The strikes were intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again,” Pentagon Spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said.Davis said the strikes hit aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage areas, ammunition supply bunkers, and air defense systems and radars.
In a speech explaining his actions, Trump said, in part:
Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where a chemical attack was launched. It is in the vital, national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.
We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed, and we hope that as long as America stands for justice, that peace and harmony will in the end prevail.
The criticism by Christians of the U.S. attack against the Assad regime reflects the complicated lives of believers in Syria and the contrast of their lives before and since the civil war.
In December 2016, the Economist wrote about Christians caught in the civil war in Syria, now entering its seventh year, in an article entitled, “Aleppo presents a moral dilemma for Christian leaders”:
The leaders of Syria’s local churches have generally looked to President Bashar al-Assad as their protector; and their feeling that only Mr Assad guarantees their lives has deepened as the conflict has polarized, with fundamentalist Sunni fighters, murderously hostile to all other faiths, on one side and government forces backed by Shia militias and Russian air power on the other. In this state of affairs, only the latter coalition seems to offer Christian churches any chance of prolonging their precarious existence. Many would say Mr Assad is to blame for bringing about that polarization; but to a bishop on Syria’s front-line, survival probably matters more than political analysis.
To defend Mr. Assad seems morally outrageous, but calls for his removal risk sounding like a death-knell for fellow Christians.
The Economist cited Father Jacques Mourad who survived five months of captivity at the hands of Islamic terrorists. He said that, while “Sunni extremism” is a threat to Christians, they are not the only threat.
“The U.S. has been bombing Syria and Iraq for years, and now the Russians are doing so, too,” Mourad said. “And what have they achieved? Have they stopped the terrorist violence?
“Absolutely not,” Mourad said.
The BBC provided a backdrop for the Christian dilemma in an article it published in February 2015.
The founder of the Baath Party, which has ruled Syria since 1963, was a Christian, and Christians rose to senior positions in the party, government and security forces, although they are generally not seen to have any real power compared with their Alawite and Sunni colleagues.
Although, like other Syrians, they had very limited civil and political freedoms, Christians are believed to have valued the rights and protection accorded to minorities by Hafez al-Assad, who was president between 1971 and 2000, and by his son Bashar.
While christianity began in the middle east, in modern history and throughout the last millennia it’s been a pretty small minority. After the fall of Saddam Hussain and the rise of Islamic extremism, which put an end to the secular nationalist Baathist movement of the arab world, it is now more dangerous than ever to be a christian in many countries that once held huge christian minority populations.
In fact, the christians of Iraq are considered to be one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world. The vast majority are indigenous Eastern Aramaic-speaking ethnic Assyrians. There is also a small community of Armenians and populations of Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen Christians. While older sources mention also Christian Kurds, most present-day Christians are ethnically different from Kurds and they identify themselves as being separate peoples, of different origins and with distinct histories of their own.
In Iraq, Christians numbered about 1,500,000 in 2003, representing just over 6% of the population since then there have been no official census it is estimated that the number of Christians in Iraq had dropped to as low as 450,000 by 2013 but the number could be as high as 1.2 Million with no official census its hard to estimate The most widely followed denomination among Iraq Christians is the Chaldean Catholic Church.
Christians live primarily in Baghdad, Basra, Arbil and Kirkuk and in Assyrian towns and regions such as the Nineveh Plains in the north. Iraqi Christians live primarily in the Kurdistan Region; and in regions bordering it in northeastern Syria, northwestern Iran and southeastern Turkey, an area roughly corresponding to ancient Assyria.
Christians in Iraq are not allowed to proselytise, especially to Muslims. Muslims who change their faith to Christianity, are subject to societal and official pressure, which may lead to the death penalty. However, there have been cases in which Muslims have secretly adopted the Christian faith, becoming practicing Christians, but legally Muslims; thus, the statistics of Iraqi Christians does not include Muslim converts to Christianity. In Iraqi Kurdistan, Christians are allowed to proselytise.
Even as a 6% minority pre-2003, the Iraqi christians actually were over-represented in the Saddam Hussain regime. Saddam was brutal towards shias and kurds, but the christians found positions and free reign to move up the ladder in the regime. The most famous of course was Tariq Aziz, an iraqi christian who served as Saddam’s Foreign Minister from 198-1991 and then went on to be the Prime minister of Iraq from 1991 to 2003.