Some military analysts and human rights groups say that the Syrian civil war may soon be over – but that reassurance isn’t enough to prevent the country’s Christians from fleeing from the violence.
Dutch journalist and human rights analyst Martin Janssen reports from Jordan that Christians are fleeing Syria in record numbers. Janssen says the Christian refugees first fled because of an ultimatum.
“An exodus of Christians is taking place in Western Syria,” Janssen said. “The Christian population has fled the city of Qusayr, near Homs, following an ultimatum issued by the military chief of the armed opposition, Abdel Salam Harba.
“This is what local sources told Vatican news agency Fides, pointing out that since the conflict broke out, only a thousand of the city’s 10,000 faithful, were left, and they are now being forced to flee immediately,” Janssen said.
Janssen says the city’s mosques have reissued the ultimatum for the Christians to leave.
“Some of the city’s mosques have issued the message again, announcing from the minarets: ‘Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, ending Friday,’” Janssen said. “The ultimatum therefore expired on June 8 and spread fear among the Christian population.”
Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra confirms the Christians’ desire to flee the violence but says there are few places to which they can go.
“Although Christians in Syria and leaders do not desire or want to leave, yet the question still prevails, ‘What is the free world doing to prepare for that exodus?’ a Christian from Syria asks,” Dykstra said.
“Who is going to welcome the Syrian Christians?” Dykstra asked. “One Syrian source says that the churches in Syria know very well what happened to the Iraqi Christians.
“They were in many countries not really welcome, so we are afraid that the same will happen to Syrian refugees, and that would be a disaster,’” Dykstra said, quoting the Syrian source.
Dykstra says the pressure to flee comes in many forms.
“Protests, assaults, bombings, thefts [and] kidnappings are all part of daily life in Syria,” Dykstra said. “The almost 10 percent Christians of the Syrian population fear for the future, many are already thinking of leaving the country.
“Christians in Syria wonder what will happen with their daily life, when a new government will come to power,” Dystra continued. “This uncertain and unknown future might lead to an exodus of Christians from Syria (like what happened to Iraqi Christians), and that is what Syrian Church leaders do expect.”
Dykstra compares the Syrian Christians’ plight to the Iraqi Christians who fled Iraq after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
“In Iraq hundreds of thousands Christians left that country due to all the violence targeting them. But where will a Syrian exodus lead to? Which country will welcome hundreds of thousands Christian refugees in a period where borders seem to become more and more closed borders?” Dykstra asked.
Terrorism and foreign policy think tank Gerard Direct stated in a report recently released that the battle for Syria’s second largest city could determine whether Assad’s regime stands.
“The battle for Syria’s second city, Aleppo, is a crucial fight that could determine the direction of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad,” the report said.
Reports coming from Aleppo say the rebels survived an offensive by the Syrian army.
Janssen believes the fight for Aleppo is key in Assad proving that his government can stand. Janssen adds that Assad’s problems are being compounded by large numbers of fighters coming from outside Syria.
“At this moment the biggest problems are in Aleppo. I heard that more than 5,000 rebels entered the area across the Turkish border,” Janssen said.
Janssen also says ethnic Kurds are entering the fight: “It seems that the Kurdish Democratic Union party (the Syrian branch of the PKK) controls great swaths of land in Syrian Kurdistan. They are at the same time fighting with the Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army.”
“There is some talk about the presence of Peshmerga fighters from Iraqi Kurdistan,” Janssen said.
Janssen adds the outside support signals that the rebellion has become a “holy war.”
“Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia invented the idea of in indirect military intervention in Syria and the West followed and approved. Money and weapons poured from across the borders into Syria and with them thousands of foreign fighters,” Janssen said. “This last development changed the nature of the Syrian crisis profoundly. The crisis became a full-blown, internationally-sponsored, civil war.
“These foreign fighters consider themselves to be holy war warriors, jihadists fighting against an atheist regime. They are not interested in democracy and human rights for minorities. It paved the way for a dangerous and growing presence of al-Qaida inside Syria,” Janssen said.
Christian human rights group Open Doors USA confirms Janssen’s conclusion, saying that al-Qaeda has joined the fight.
“According to Reuters News, the rebels include the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaeda-style jihadists, the Muslim Brotherhood and local pro-democracy Sunni liberals,” the Open Doors report said.
The Open Doors report also says that while Assad is unpopular, Christians aren’t supporting Assad’s overthrow.
“While the defeat of Assad and the military would be welcome news to most, the sizeable Christian community of over 1.5 million is fearful for its future,” the Open Doors report said.
“Under Assad, Christians enjoyed a measure of freedom to worship in Syria, which is 90 percent Muslim. In fact, Christians were granted a degree of religious freedom not seen in most other Middle Eastern countries – before and after Arab Spring,” the Open Doors report also said.
“If Assad falls, Christians in Syria are fearful of what will happen when a new government – probably a radical Islamic one – will come into power,” says Open Doors USA President and CEO Dr. Carl Moeller,” the report said.
“Will their freedom to worship end? Will persecution increase? Will they have to flee Syria with their families as have thousands of believers in Iraq?” the report asked, quoting Moeller.
Reports of an end to Assad’s regime, however, may be premature. Janssen reports from Jordan that Assad still controls Damascus.
“Currently the situation in Damascus seems to be under the control of the Syrian army despite some fighting in certain neighborhoods,” Janssen said.