ALEPPO CHRISTIANS DON’T WANT TO BE ‘PAGE IN HISTORY’
Sept 13 2012
AFP – Pope Benedict XVI visits Lebanon this week at a time when
Christian refugees from the war-torn city of Aleppo in neighbouring
Syria are fearful for their future.
Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, has for the past two months
been the focal point of fighting in the uprising against President
Christians are a relatively prosperous minority in Syria and they
account for as much as 10 percent of the population of the northern
city, with half of them being Armenians.
Sitting at a cafe in Beirut’s upscale and mainly Christian district
of Ashrafiyeh, a graduate student spoke of the hopes and anxieties
of the Christian community ahead of the pope’s weekend visit.
“When the protests began in Egypt, I thought maybe there would be
peaceful protests in Syria, but not war,” said the Syrian Catholic,
who declined to be named.
“Now it’s just the (rebel) Free (Syrian) Army and the army. The people
are the victims. They can’t do anything,” he said.
The student said many Christian refugees, loathe to give up hope of
returning to their homeland after the conflict, were looking for a
message of encouragement from the pontiff.
“He should say that the Christians must have courage and not leave
the region,” said the young man. “If they do, we will just be another
page in the history books.”
An Orthodox Christian who asked to be identified only by the initial
of her first name, J, said that before the Syrian revolt broke out
in March 2011, life in Lebanon was good.
“Now it’s very different,” she said.
“Some people ask you how things are because they really care about
what’s going on in Syria. But others make fun of you and say: ?Now
it’s your turn,'” she explained.
For three decades, from the time of its own 1975-1990 civil war,
Lebanon lived under the domination of its larger neighbour.
At the same time, the Syrian conflict has stoked tensions and deadly
clashes in Lebanon, whose political factions, including the Christian
community, are divided between supporters and opponents of Assad.
In this atmosphere, the pope will need to walk a fine line as he
seeks to bring a message of peace and reconciliation to the region.
Before July, Aleppo remained largely immune from the anti-regime
uprising that erupted with peaceful protests but became increasingly
an armed insurrection in the face of a brutal crackdown.
“You’re either pro- or anti-regime,” said J. “There is no middle
The biggest fear for Syrian Christians is the prospect of a post-Assad
Syria which many fear will be dominated by hardline Islamists.
“The problem in Aleppo is that the Christian community for a long
time has been very tight-knit, very closed,” the Catholic student
said. “I don’t know many Muslims.”
J said all religious groups mix at university and in the public
sphere, but when it comes to her family’s social circle, they prefer
to associate with fellow Christians.
Minorities are well represented in the ranks of opposition activists,
but more broadly, Christians feel their fate is tied to the embattled
regime, which has long presented itself as the guardian of minority
“If Assad goes, the Muslim Brotherhood will come and I doubt the
Christian community will have any future in such a regime,” J said.
Lebanon, home to the second-largest Christian community in the Middle
East after Egypt, offers a temporary safe haven for Syrian refugees.
But it is also not considered a stable option.
“For the future, Lebanon is not safer than Syria. It can explode in
a minute.” J said.
She hopes the pope will encourage Christians to hold their ground
in the face of an uncertain future. “I want him to tell Syrians
Christians to keep the faith and not to leave, to keep strong and
stay in your country.”
Photo: A Syrian Armenian man walks in the courtyard of the closed
historical Armenian Church of the 40 Martys in the Christian district
of Jdeideh in Old Aleppo in northern Syria on September 4. Pope
Benedict XVI visits Lebanon this week at a time when Christian refugees
from Aleppo in neighbouring Syria are fearful for their future
Photo: View of the Christian Maronite church on September 2 in the
Jdeideh neighbourhood of Aleppo, hit by a rocket and under the control
of the Syrian army. Pope Benedict XVI visits Lebanon this week at a
time when Christian refugees from Aleppo in neighbouring Syria are
fearful for their future.