Christians in Aleppo, Syria are currently facing some of the most intense fighting since the civil war broke out in 2011. Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart spoke out following Easter attacks on Christians, warning the world that Christianity in Syria “could disappear.”
On Easter Sunday, jihadists attacked the Christian neighborhood of Aleppo. The attack killed 15 people. Jeanbart witnessed the death and destruction upon his arrival:
Among the lost was an entire Melkite Greek family of four, crushed to death when a section of their apartment building collapsed. One of Jeanbart’s grim responsibilities was to find a suitable spot for their burial, since the cemetery used by his Church for centuries is now a battle zone ringed by snipers.
Jeanbart’s secretary almost died in 2012 “when a bomb exploded near the archbishop’s residence.” He lost an eye in the attack. Jeanbart and his driver were almost kidnapped in Beirut, but they “escaped when a military convoy happened to pass by, prompting the assailants to flee.”
The archbishop told Crux there were 170,000 Christians in Aleppo before the war, but they “may be around 100,000, maybe less” as of publication. He does not know if those who left will come back. The Easter attack scared everyone into thinking Aleppo will be the next Mosul. He refers to Syria as the “country of blood and fire.” Aid to the Church in Need brought Jeanbart to America following the Easter attack. He told an audience in Manhattan the Christians “are in grave danger” and “may disappear soon.” From Religion News:
First, in his experience, Jeanbart said Americans tend to assume that everyone in an Arab country such as Syria is a Muslim. Melkite Catholics in the U.S. are a proud and vibrant community, numbering some 25,000 families in nearly 50 parishes. But they are spread across the country and are almost invisible when compared with the 65 million Roman Catholics in the U.S.
Second, Jeanbart said the media’s focus on the geopolitics of the Middle East conflict and on military strategies obscures Syria’s pluralistic society and the fact that Christians exist there — and are main targets for Islamist terrorists.
Third, the geopolitics don’t work in the church’s favor. The Assad regime and the rebels have support from different Muslim countries, which use each side as a proxy, while he said Israel is the focus of U.S. support. Jeanbart stressed his support for Israel’s right to exist, but he said there needs to be a different balance.
“I know the American people have values and like freedom and like justice, so I thought they would listen, would give an ear to the other communities in the region — particularly the Christians, who are forgotten,” he claimed.
Christianity is important to Syria. The Assyrians date back to ancient Mesopotamia, which includes Syria, over 4,000 years ago. They faced discrimination throughout their entire history, which still causes them “to flee and seek refuge.” Assyrians make up five percent of the population in Syria, but over 50,000 fled to Lebanon since 2011.
“How can Syria be Syria without the Assyrians?” Osama Edward, founder of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, told CNN. “We gave the country our name.”