Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – There are conflicting reports regarding Christians in Syria forming armed militias to help the Syrian regime suppress the ongoing popular uprising. In recent days, several websites have circulated news reports claiming that “the Syrian Christians have decided to stand by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad”. The websites also report that “more than 150 young Christian men were killed in Aleppo during battles between Christians and Free Syrian Army battalions.”
However, Syrian Christian activists opposed to the al-Assad regime have refuted these reports. One such activist, who identified himself to Asharq Al-Awsat as Nadir, said: “The aim of these reports is to distort the Christian stance that supports the popular movement and opposes the criminal regime. Moreover, since the beginning of the revolution, the regime has relied on the theory of ‘protecting minorities’ in order to justify its existence, and has tried to involve the Christians in its dirty battle against the Syrian people, but fortunately this has not worked.”
Nadir stressed that “the majority of Christians in Syria believe in a collective national identity and do not follow those creating sedition and promoting civil war.”
“The regime has begun to sense that it will collapse soon. Hence it has been prompted to adopt the saying ‘it’s either me or the flood’, and now it is trying to arm the Druze and the Christians in an attempt to drag them into its suicidal battle”, Nadir added.
Yara Nasir, a Christian activist and member of the Syrian National Council, has cast doubt over the reports of 150 Christian youths dying in battles in Aleppo, telling Asharq Al-Awsat: “The Syrian Christians are participating in the popular revolution against the al-Assad regime and a large number of Christian youths have joined the Free Syrian Army battalions in Homs.”
Nasir points out that “A large number of Christian activists are working within the revolution’s cadres and organizations, in all the Syrian cities and villages.”
The Christian activist went on to explain that “calls for arming the Christians are issued by the regime in order to sow the seeds sedition, and turn the people of one society against each other. These calls have been rejected by the church institution at the level of the patriarchs and bishops. Moreover, the Christians themselves have refused to be dragged into this.”
Nasir categorically believes that “the position of the church is certainly not siding with the regime. If a priest here or a church official there emerges and expresses a stance supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, this does not mean that the church as an authority for the Christians in Syria is siding with the regime.”
A Homs-based Christian priest, who spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, revealed that: “We have opened our monasteries and churches to receive the displaced and care for them; therefore, how can we be accused of carrying arms against our brothers in the country.” While refusing to take sides in the ongoing conflict, the priest stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat: “The demands of the Christians cannot be separated from the demands of the rest of the sectors of Syrian society. We are part of this society, and ending its injustice also means ending our injustice.”
Syrian society is made up of a number of ethnic groups and religions. The Alawites, who currently hold most posts in Syria’s governing institutions, represent only 12 percent of the population, whilst the Sunnis represent 75 percent.
The Christians constitute some 10 percent of the Syrian population, the Kurds 8 percent, and the Druze less than 3 percent. While some people welcome the neutral stance adopted by the Christians, others call on them “to join the Syrian revolution and play a historic role.”