Some Christians who fled Iraq sought sanctuary in Syria, where now Christian persecution is just as rife.
As Islamic forces clash with Assad’s government troops, Christians are caught in the middle.
“An estimated eleven million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011″, taking refuge in neighbouring countries or within Syria itself.
An estimated 400,000 people have been killed since the conflict began including thousands of Christians. Dozens of churches have been destroyed. As recently as the 1920s Christians made up as much as 30 per cent of the population. Now they are nearer 10 per cent.
Many Christians in Syria, while they may not support Bashir Assad, nevertheless assert that the ruling Ba’ath party is preventing the country from collapsing into a violent sectarian civil war, fuelled by religious extremism.
But many do not want to take sides. They wish to stay outside the conflict. Even so, the perception that Christians are sympathetic to the Assad Government makes them very vulnerable to militant Islamist groups.However, it is also true that Christians participated in the initial political demonstrations against the Assad government, hoping for greater political freedom and social rights. Several leading opposition members are Christians.
Senior Christian clerics and other clergyhave been kidnapped by Islamist militants. In April 2013 the Syrian Orthodox Archbishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi were kidnapped while they tried to negotiate the release of kidnapped priests. The two Archbishops have not been seen since but are thought to be alive in captivity and are held in prayer by the communities that they represent.
Groups such as ISIS/Daesh and Jabhat al Nusra (now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) have shown themselves to be brutal but well organised. They are boosted by thousands of foreign fighters from across the Middle East and beyond, and benefit from financial support from Jihadi groups. While Daesh is now losing ground in Iraq and Syria they still control many of the towns in the north near the border with Turkeyand roads in the north and west of the country.
A set of commandments, drafted by Daesh in Syria, specifically prohibits Christians and other minority religious groups from practising their faith.
Daesh and other groups are putting pressure on Muslims too. “In Syria, in the areas under Daesh or other jihadist control many formerly ‘moderate’ Muslims have become stricter as they do not want to give the impression that they are heretics.”