Christians Become Preferred Target in Syria’s Civil War

Posted GMT 4-2-2013 18:58:12

Christian Syrians have become a special target of violence and attacks in the ongoing war in Syria, according to Swedish freelance journalist and author Nuri Kino visited refugee’s in Lebanon late
December 2012. Kino filed a horrifying report of killings, kidnappings and rape of Christian Syrians, who are now forced to flee their country, even as the ongoing war in Syria affects every citizen, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

But the situation of the minorities is often neglected in media reports. Nuri Kino visited Lebanon together with Ninson Ibrahim, chair of the Swedish Syriac-Orthodox youth organization UI
(Ungdomsinitiativet). UI organized a charity concert before Christmas in Stockholm to support Christian Syrian war refugees. The purpose of the trip was to investigate the needs of the refugees
and to distribute help. Kino met with Christian refugees, priests, and smugglers.

Back in Stockholm, Kino said that Western media’s report on the war in Syria is too black and white. “Of course, there are exceptions. But one must always try to be aware of the context when there is a
news flash,” Kino said. Kino’s report tells the story of Christians being victims of attacks both from criminals and from terrorists. In some villages there are no Christians left as all have been forced to leave, like in the village of Rasel-Eyn. “I felt I had to contribute to make the voice of the Christians heard. My knowledge should be used,” Kino said, who is himself a Christian from Turkey. “I have an advantage in that I know the language and the culture. I also have a network in Syria.”

Churches and monasteries in Lebanon are trying to register the refugees as they arrive, but so far there are no reliable statistics on how many Christians have fled Syria. Hundreds of refugees seek asylum in Lebanon, some try to go to Germany or to Sweden. Many
Syrians/Assyrians live in Södertälje, a suburb south of Stockholm. Around 30 Christian refugees from Syria arrive every week in Södertälje, according to Kino. They are all Assyrians/Syriacs by ethnicity, as 20,000 inhabitants already living in Södertälje.

Nuri Kinos’ report “Between the Barbed Wire” tells about Christians being victims of harassment, theft, rape, murder and kidnappings. In the Syriac League Institute in Beirut, Nuri Kino met with a widow
who lost both her husband and her son in a murder. “They were brutally killed, both shot in the head by terrorists, Islamists”, she said. “Our only crime is our Christian faith.”

Approximately twelve per cent of the inhabitants in Syria are Christians. Many of them will try to leave the country, Kino said. The larger portion of Christian refugees go to Lebanon, but some seek asylum in Turkey. During the war in Syria, the rebels have become steadily more influenced by Islamists, says Kino, who
believes 70% of the attacks on Christians are carried out by rebel Islamists.

“The revolution started by youngsters writing graffiti. It was not an Islamist movement at all. The revolution has been kidnapped. Today, violent forces have taking over parts of the revolution and
publishes videos where people are being decapitated,” says Kino.
Kino points out that there were Christians among the rebels from the beginning: “Oh yes! And there were legitimate claims for the revolution. There was religious freedom in Syria before the war, but no political freedom. But the revolution was kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists,” says Kino.

However, later development of the revolution has resulted in a situation where Christians are being targeted. And Kino is pessimistic about the future. “I don’t think there is still a possibility to change this revolution into something good,” he says.
In the report, many Christians voice disappointment with “the West” and the US, and with media’s reporting on the war. “You must understand that this is being done deliberately. They want to clear the country of every non-Muslim. And in the West, you are just watching it going on. It is as if the US and all other countries
have become blind or mad. Do you really want an Islamist state instead of the Assad regime? Is that better?” said a man in a café at the Assyrian/Syriac association in Beirut to Kino.

There are also claims that Saudi Arabia is involved in the conflict, sending weapons and money to the revolutionary forces. Christians inside Lebanon are trying their best to help Syrian refugees. In the
report Nuri Kino tells about a visit to a monastery. Here, there are more than hundred refugees seeking asylum, a place to live and a job. Every week new refugees arrive. One of the Church representatives in Lebanon, the Catholic Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem Josef III, has earlier criticized the EU for being passive about the situation. “At the moment we have 300 families who have fled Syria. We are trying our best to help them. There are no refugee camps here. Two, three families live in a flat of two or three rooms. But there are few flats available, and we have turned a school into a refugee camp,” the Patriarch said to Kino.

Many refugees have paid substantial sums of money to smugglers to be able to leave Syria. Kino tells the story of Jacob, who ended up in a boat to Italy. He survived the trip, but many of other passengers
did not. Jacob’s story is a horrifying story about people being packed together like cattle in a small boat with no water or food supply for days. Jacob is now in Sweden, very traumatized. During the interview, Kino picks up the phone to call him to see if he has received asylum status in Sweden. “In Sweden, these refugees get a temporary asylum for three years. As Syria is in a war, there are no problems in getting asylum,” Kino said.

After the visit to Lebanon in December Kino went back to Turkey to interview other refugees about the situation for Christians in Syria. “The situation now is even worse than in December,” Kino said.
“This time I met with 21 young Syrian soldiers who fled the governmental armed forces of Syria. Their stories touched my heart. It demands a great courage to leave the army. They are just young boys, and they became tools in the war,” says Kino.

The report on the situation of the Christian minority has reached international attention. Kino hopes that it will change the view of the war and also make the world aware of the situation for non-Muslims in Syria. “Assyrians and other Christians in Syria have been part of the country for 2000 years. It would be devastating if the majority of them would be forced to leave the country such as in Iraq,” says Nuri Kino.

By Inger Alestig