More than a decade of civil war has inflicted terrible suffering and hardship on Syrians. For Christians the torment has been compounded by the rise of Islamist militant groups, including Islamic State (IS – also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), who kill or kidnap believers.
Around 5.5 million Syrians have fled the country to escape the conflict, which began in 2011, and 6.9 million have been internally displaced. Those who remain are cut off from outside help by sanctions. Food and medicine shortages, spiralling inflation, bombed-out homes and lack of work are among the difficulties they endure in some areas. In 2022 churches struggled to provide what little help they could in “this bleeding and financially exhausted country”.
Christians made up around 10% of Syria’s 22 million population before the war. Many were Armenian and other descendants of survivors of the Armenian, Assyrian, Greek and Syriac genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire, which peaked in 1915. Unusually for a Muslim-majority country, Syrian Christians enjoyed respect and equality until the rise of Islamist groups during the civil war.
Christians and other minority groups are threatened by Turkey’s plans to conduct new military land operations in north-east Syria. In 2022 Turkey’s fighter planes continued attacks on the Assyrian Christian region of Tel Tamar, claiming to be targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and the US. The operations have, however, repeatedly hit Christian communities, including damaging a church and homes in the village of Tel Tawil in Tel Tamar.
For many Assyrian Christians the air strikes are a reminder of the Ottoman genocide of Christians, and the attacks suffered under IS in 2015. “Here in Syria, history is repeating itself,” said an Assyrian leader.
It is estimated that around 500,000 Christians left Syria since the civil war began, but have often faced discrimination and sometimes violence in the countries where they have sought refuge.
Pray for peace and reconstruction in Syria. Ask the Lord to give Christians the strength, hope and faith to endure.