Christians in Syria fear ethnic cleansing
Aleppo is basically “Little Syria,” a melting pot, representative of the diverse ethnic and religious groups that make up the nation. Christians in Aleppo have tended to live together in close-knit communities in neighborhoods usually clustered around churches.The rebels have shown a hostility to the Christians that will only grow worse if they win. The regime has allowed a certain amount of freedom to the Christians in the past, but seems to have on compunction about killing them in the cross fire with the rebels.
It would be very accurate to describe some areas of Aleppo as “Christian,” although this by no means implies any sort of self- or outside-imposed segregation or discrimination. Residents of other faiths are found, and get along just fine in those areas. It is just that they are predominantly Christian.
Unfortunately, by a stroke of peculiarly bad luck, all the Christian neighborhoods are on or near the front lines in the parts of Aleppo divided between regime and rebel control. They have seen more than their fair share of fighting, “collateral damage” and a long line of civilian casualties.
The area of Midan in particular, home to many of Aleppo’s Armenian Christian minority, was a front-line area that saw heavy fighting for many months. It is still the scene of sporadic fighting and shelling today, although a large proportion of its inhabitants have already fled. Some went to Lebanon, others went back to Armenia where they applied for Armenian citizenship and passports, then moved on to settle in Europe or the Arab Gulf — where Syrian passport holders are denied work or residence permits, hence their change of passports.
It is particularly sad and ironic to witness today the Armenians, who fled persecution and sought sanctuary in Aleppo more than a century ago, again being forced to do the same, this time from Aleppo. I doubt very much whether they would have considered doing so under any other circumstances. They have always enjoyed excellent communal relations with the rest of Aleppan society, and were even allowed to set up their own private schools which taught in Armenian — something not allowed for other ethnic groups, most notably the Kurds. The Armenians were guaranteed a place in the Syrian parliament via their own elected representatives.
As for Arab Christians — in other front-line places such as Sliemaniyeh, Siryan and Azizieh — the wealthy among them have fled, mostly to Europe or Lebanon, as have most of Aleppo’s wealthy elites. Those who stayed behind have now irrevocably tied their fate with that of the Syrian regime. Not out of love or loyalty or ideology, but out of fear and necessity. As a Christian friend told me the other day about the rebels, “If they don’t take my life, then they will take my way of life,” and it is easy to see what he means if you take a stroll through his area. Christians in Aleppo, while being for the most part conservative, are nonetheless a lot more open and liberal in their social customs, dress code and general attitude than other inhabitants in the city.