Syria’s Christian Community Remains on the Brink
Before the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Christians made up 10 to 12% of the country’s 18 million people. Assyrian Christians trace their historical roots to ancient Mesopotamia, concentrated in northeast Syria.
While the immediate threat of Islamic State jihadists has diminished, other challenges remain: lack of youth, an exodus of thousands to foreign countries, an Assad regime that poses a threat and a catalyst to Sunni fundamentalism that has long targeted Christians in Syria.
Marlen Kalo, an Assyrian local, said,
“Christians have no future in Syria, the majority have been displaced. Those who stayed are a tiny minority,” she continued. “We hope that those living abroad consider coming back here and help us rebuild our country so that it is better than before. If the Christians come back, we will have a future. Otherwise we won’t. I don’t think they will come back.”
In 2015, ISIS attacked multiple Christian villages, taking some 257 women hostage and destroying several churches in their path. The captives were later released in exchange for hefty ransoms. Among those kidnapped by ISIS was Somo Suleiman, a middle-aged Assyrian Christian.
The captors searched Somo’s belongings and ushered her to another house along with the other women. The militants attempted to forcefully convert Somo to Islam, but Somo declined multiple times. Her release came a surprise and created in her a determination to keep the Christian community alive in its ancestral land.
“Assyrians are an original people of Syria,” Somo stresses.
However, many of the Christian community’s youth have fled Syria, unwilling to risk recruitment into the Syrian army or face persecution. The few Christians who remain in Syria continue to face a myriad of challenges. Although the war’s violence has significantly decreased over the past year, many believers are still at risk as they are singled out and considered disposable by violent Islamists.