Syrian Christian families are being forced out of their homes by rebel factions operating with the support of the U.S. and its allies in Syria’s civil war while President Obama continues his policy of ignoring a genocide in the making.
A coalition of Sunni Islamist forces working to overthrow the Shiite government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is attempting to seize the key northern city of Aleppo with help from the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Aleppo has been home to Syria’s largest Christian community, numbering in the tens of thousands, but two-thirds of this community has been scattered throughout the surrounding countryside into neighboring towns while others have migrated across the border to Turkey or into Lebanon.
The rebel coalition, which is fighting ISIS as well as Assad, is no different than ISIS in its utter contempt of Christians. And a July 3 report from National Public Radio confirms this, saying: “The alliance has extremists in its own ranks who have mistreated Christians and forced them out of their homes.”
NPR reporter Deborah Amos traveled to Antakya, Turkey, once known as the ancient city of Antioch. This is the site of one of the first Christian churches organized by the Apostles Peter and Paul. She met a priest there, Father Ibrahim Farah, who was kidnapped last March by al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaida that fought alongside ISIS before later branching off from the caliphate.
The al-Nusra terrorists held Father Ibrahim for 20 days. In Syria, his church in the provincial capital of Idlib is now shuttered and he is living with Christians across the border in southern Turkey.
At the turn of the century, Syria was home to about 1.5 million Christians, who made up 10 percent of its population. Those numbers swelled to about 1.75 million by the time the civil war started in 2011, largely because the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 left Islamists in charge there, forcing many Iraqi Christians to flee to Syria.
According to George Marlin’s new book, “Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy,” acts of violence by Islamic groups forced about 150,000 Iraqi Christians to escape to Syria.
Now, the Christians are running out of places to hide in an increasingly Islamic Middle East.
“Christians in Syria and Iraq are generally caught in the middle of these conflicts and find they are targeted by all sides, because they support democratic reform and are perceived to be sympathetic to the West,” said Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need USA.
“Many elements on both sides would not be unhappy if Christians disappeared from the face of the Middle East and they (the Islamists) would destroy all the Christian historical sites, the relics and the documents dating back to the founding of the Church, that are there,” he continued. “Peter centered the church in Antioch before he moved it up to Rome. Syria is the cradle of Christianity.”
He said Christians were generally left alone under Assad and lived peacefully. “But Islamic Turks slaughtered 200,000 Christians in Syria during the Ottoman Empire so it’s nothing new.”
As of December 2014, 600,000 Syrian Christians had fled their country or have been internally displaced, Marlin reports. In Aleppo, more than 65 percent have been forced to leave.
He told WND most Syrian Christians will not go to the United Nations refugee camps for two reasons. First, they are afraid they will be harmed and, second, they do not want to leave their country.
“The Christians are afraid to go to those camps, because the camps are basically populated by Muslims, and they’re afraid of retaliation and harm in these camps,” Marlin said. “So what is happening with the Christian refugees is the Christian community is basically taking care of these people, they’re staying in the churches, they’re staying in Christian homes, and we at Aid to the Church in Need are trying to get aid to the churches that are housing them.”
He said many rural Syrians have been run off their farms and have fled to the mountains between Syria and Lebanon, while others have gone into Lebanon. Many would rather die than abandon their ancient homeland, but there could come a day when they run out of places to flee.
“In Aleppo and elsewhere, Christians who are escaping, they are staying at Christian homes, churches, places where there is solidarity so they are not necessarily leaving the country or trying to get into refugee camps,” he said.
This could explain why so few Syrian Christians are among the refugees being sent to Western countries. In the U.S., for example, more than 90 percent of the Syrian refugees being sent to the U.S. from U.N. refugee camps have been Muslim.
Marlin said the persecution of the Church in Syria has followed the same pattern as every other country where Islamists have taken over.
“In the eight countries I cover in the book, the tactics are pretty much the same, with the exception of Saudi Arabia which doesn’t have any Christians and focuses on harassing Christians there as guest workers,” he said. “In the other seven countries, the churches are being blown up on high holy days; the pastors are being abducted and murdered. We’ve kept these records so people can recognize the pattern.”
‘Horrified’ by Obama response to persecution
He said the response of the Obama administration to the war on Christianity in the Middle East has been abysmal.
“My hope in writing this book was to remind the West that the unthinkable is real and to jolt the conscience of the West, where too many people have been putting their heads in the sand, including the White House,” Marlin said. “I was horrified at their response of the White House when those Coptic Christians were murdered on the beach in Libya, specifically because they were Christians, and our president referred to them as ‘migrant workers from Egypt.’
“Pope Francis said they were murdered solely because of their faith, and no one has stepped up to the plate on this, no one in Europe, no one at the White House, to condemn what is going on and try to effect change.”
Marlin believes part of the lack of response comes from the fact that Europe, and increasingly America, has lost touch with its Christian roots and thus feel no connection with the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.
“Secretary of State John Kerry said we don’t recognize this, that ISIS acts like they’re in the 18th century. This did not begin with ISIS; this is what’s been going on for centuries, Mr. Kerry, so this again is just the West putting its head in the sand.”
It has been said that “the last acceptable prejudice is against Christianity,” Marlin said. “And when people like Mrs. Clinton said a few weeks ago that we must change our religious views (on same-sex marriage), that is where we’re heading. That’s what’s coming next, it’s no longer freedom of religion but freedom from religion. You can practice your religion in your home and within your church, but not in the public square. So yes, language matters, culture matters, and we’re seeing a change in the language to justify actively shutting up of Christians in the public square.”
And without that voice, the suffering of Christians in the Middle East will not be given a willing ear.
‘We’re here to get you’
In just one of many examples of the blood-lust of al-Nusra, Marlin documented the attack in late 2013 on the Christian village of Maaloula.
“They destroyed the crosses on the monastery of St. Serge and threatened the nuns at the convent of St. Thekla. They forced their way into Christian homes screaming, ‘We’re here to get you, worshipers of the cross.'”
When the Islamic invaders demanded in one household that three Melkite Christians convert to Islam, they proceeded to murder them, after one had said, “I am a Christian and if you want to kill me because I am a Christian, than do so.”
Al-Nusra Front then kidnapped 12 Orthodox Christian nuns from the convent in December 2013 and held them for four months.
In October 2013, the al-Nusra Front captured the Christian town of Sadad, about 200 miles north of Damascus, where 45 Christians were brutally murdered, Marlin reported, and 2,500 families fled after their homes, shops and churches were destroyed.
Marlin cited a report by Catholic World Report in October 2014 in which a nun who had worked in Syria for years assessed the situation.
“There are slaughterhouses, many slaughterhouses, in Syria where Christians are taken to be tortured and slaughtered. People who are not political, who do not choose or take sides in the conflict, are taken from their families, kidnapped, forced to deny their faith and then – whether they have or have not – are killed, often by beheading. This is not about siding with the government, not about siding with President Assad, but about sheer persecution of a peaceful but vulnerable minority. Yet the world says so little, and often nothing at all.”
Stoking the war against Assad
The U.S. government under President Obama, with the help of its ally Turkey, has helped stoke the civil war against Assad’s regime, training rebels, helping transfer arms and creating a refugee crisis of unimaginable scale.
The U.S. has agreed to accept 2,000 Syrian refugees during the 2015 fiscal year and many more in 2016 and beyond. But of the nearly 1,000 resettled in the U.S. so far, 90 percent of them have been Muslim and only 4.5 percent Christian.
Aleppo now stands poised as the next bloody front in the now five-year-old civil war.
Christians there are preparing for mass exodus as the Middle East continues to empty itself of followers of Jesus Christ. Ancient churches dating back to the first century have been left in ruins.
Father Ibrahim, who escaped the northern Syrian town Idlib last March and is now living in Turkey, told NPR that Christians in Turkey are concerned for their brothers and sisters just across the border to the south.
“Of course, they’re interested. And they ask because they know about the situation in Syria, and we are all Christians in the Middle East,” he told NPR. “They’re afraid. They’re very afraid.”
He stopped the interview when asked if these Christians are right to be afraid of the advancing Sunni Muslim rebels.
He still hopes the Islamists can be convinced to allow civilians to run the government, according to the NPR report. But those hopes are fading fast.
Are Kurds last best hope for protecting Christians?
Half of Aleppo is now held by the Islamist rebels. Many Christians in the Turkish frontier towns just across the border are stepping up emergency plans for when Aleppo falls. They expect a mass exodus of Christians.
Of all the groups in the Middle East that have had success fighting ISIS, the Kurds are clearly the one group most worthy of American support, says Joel Richardson, author of the best-seller “The Islamic Antichrist” and “Mideast Beast.”
Richardson, earlier this year, visited Kurdish strongholds in northern Iraq. The Kurds also control areas within Syria and the New York Times recently reported that the Kurds have made advances against ISIS in northern Syria, increasing their control of a strategic highway and cutting off a main supply route from Turkey. Many Christian men have fought alongside Kurdish militias.
“I can attest that not only do Christian churches exist there, but the Christians are treated well. Americans of all parties must ask themselves why the Obama administration has, up until this point, refused to adequately get behind the Kurds,” Richardson told WND.
“The U.S. has openly supported the Syrian rebels, despite the fact that it is well documented that many of these rebels have gone on to join al-Nusra or ISIS,” he said. “It is also well documented that many of the Syrian rebels have been brutal in their persecution of the Christians, and other non-Sunni minorities throughout the region.”
What is Obama seeking to accomplish?
Richardson said he has been in regular contact with Syrian Christian leaders, and they have repeatedly reminded Americans to look at the history of the Assad regime.
“Under Assad, Christians in other minority groups have lived with a relative freedom and security,” he said. “Why then has the Obama administration chosen to cast (the Assad regime) aside as the greatest evil in Syria above all others?”
No one is suggesting that Assad is an angel, Richardson said.
“But look at the nation of Libya, after Obama and Hillary Clinton decided to remove Gadhafi. Of course, no one will say that Gadhafi was an angel, but Libya under his control was 1,000 times more stable and secure than it is today, after the Obama administration effectively handed that nation over to Islamists. One would think that they would have learned their lesson, and taken a different approach in Syria.”