The Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, reported Wednesday that in only five years of conflict and persecution, the Christian population in Syria has been reduced by two thirds, from 1.5 million to only 500,000 today.
Speaking at a press conference at the UN headquarters in Geneva, the bishop said that the situation in Aleppo is even worse than in the rest of Syria, with only a quarter of the Christian population remaining since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Ravaged by the fighting and persecuted by Islamic extremists, the number of Christians in Aleppo has fallen from 160,000 to just 40,000. Most of the Christians population lives in areas controlled by the government.
Audo, who is also president of Caritas Syria, said that Aleppo’s three cathedrals have been almost completely destroyed, and hundreds of people were carried off and later released in Chaldean villages.
“You cannot imagine the dangers that we face every day,” he said.
Wealthy Christians have all left, while “the middle classes have become poor and the poor have become miserable,” he said.
The bishop wondered aloud why militants always felt compelled to target Christian sites in their attempt to destabilize the population, such as they have done in Homs and other cities.
According to Audo, a majority of Syrians still support President Bashar Assad, and in his estimation, 80 percent of all Christians in the country would get behind Assad if he were to run for re-election. The Assad government is not the source of Christian persecution, he said.
The bishop said that the truce in force since February 27 has brought “some relief” to the people of Aleppo, and after six months without water and electricity, these basic needs are finally being met.
Audo traveled to Geneva for a peace campaign launched by Caritas International, and he is also scheduled to meet with the president of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
Last month, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill issued a historic joint statement in which they decried the emptying of the Middle East of Christians in the very cradle of the faith, at the hands of Islamic radicals who have driven them from their homes.
“It is with pain,” they said, “that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.”
In the home of the Islamic State, Christians have been killed by the thousands, and millions of others have been displaced.
“Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance,” the text read.
The two leaders called upon the international community “to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East,” while also expressing their compassion for the “suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter. @tdwilliamsrome