Syrian nightmare continues for Christians

As the war of words around a proposed strike against Syria raged last week, the war on the country’s Christians continued.


On September 4, word emerged from the country of the targeting of the predominantly Christian village of Maalula, an ancient enclave where some of the population still speak Aramaic and where a number of important Christian shrines are located, pressed closely together in a village clinging to rocky outcrops north east of Damascus.



In the fog of war that followed, there were allegations that Islamists were firing from those same outcrops towering over Maalula, having stormed a checkpoint with suicide bombers along the main access road, while it was simultaneously claimed that the fighters who had seized the checkpoint were members of the non-Islamist Free Syrian Army (FSA) and were insistent – via a statement from the Syrian Coalition – that no Christians or Christian sites were targeted. Latest reports as The Irish Catholic went to press indicated that the fighters were pulling out of the area, and while this withdrawal was being ‘sold’ as a move towards further protecting the Christian sites from harm, it came amid other reports of at least three air raids on the seized checkpoint aimed at driving rebel fighters back.


Whatever the truth, the incident serves once again to illustrate succinctly the perilous state in which remaining Christian communities now exist amid the Syrian conflict. In one version of events, the dreaded Islamists remind all of the fate that must ultimately be faced by Christians should radical Islam overcome all opponents in Syria while in the FSA version, Christians, though respected, fall between the warring sides and suffer the consequences of living – and worshipping – in a battle zone.



Ironically, it was the international ‘bad guy’, Russia, which was quickest to condemn the Maalula incident. As details of the attack emerged, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement: “Moscow is deeply concerned over the fact that terrorist attacks in Syria have affected Maalula, a symbol of the Christian presence in this country. 


“Its residents speak the Aramaic language, which is almost extinct and is the language in which Jesus Christ preached, and the churches located in this city are among the oldest and most honoured churches of Christians.”



One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, of course, and the propaganda touches to the statement are undeniable. 


This does not, however, undermine the fact that the Syrian conflict has again touched dangerously on that community with most to lose before a resolution, peaceful, military or otherwise, is reached.