Black Christmas for Syria Christians

SOURCE: JORDAN TIMES / AFP

Syrian women decorate a Christmas tree at a café in the old city of Damascus on Thursday (AFP photo)

DAMASCUS — Festive spirit is a distant memory for Syria’s Christian minority as it faces a second Christmas in the grip of fear of daily violence and the spectre of rising Islamism.

“We’re in no mood to celebrate Christmas this year. Everyone around me is so sad, and the situation is terrible,” said George, a 38-year-old accountant from Damascus, who, like many in Syria after 21 months of bloodshed, asked not to give his full name.

“How am I going to celebrate now that many of my relatives have fled, and we have lost our loved ones? This Christmas doesn’t look anything like a celebration.”

Syria’s 1.8 million Christians make up some 5 per cent of the population.

Many have tried to remain neutral in the country’s spiralling conflict. Others have taken President Bashar Assad’s side, for fear of the Islamists in rebel ranks.

“Foreign fighters are coming to Syria to impose their religious and political views in our country,” said Maryam, who lives in central Damascus.

“These armed terrorists might force me to wear the veil, stop working and stay home,” she said.

It was similar fears of daily violence and hardline Islamism that prompted a huge exodus of Christians from neighbouring Iraq in the years after the US-led invasion of 2003 and Syrian church leaders have appealed to their flocks not to take the road of emigration.

“We Christians are here in the country and we will stay here,” Syria’s Greek Orthodox leader, Patriarch Yuhanna X Yazigi, said on Saturday.

But many are voting with their feet.

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