- Christian Crisis Looms in Syria

By Elizabeth Kendal

As a tactic, siege has been used repeatedly during the Syrian crisis, by both sides. From the outside, a village, town or district is surrounded and its supply-lines severed. On the inside, hardship, fear and anger mount as besieged locals watch their food, water and medical supplies run dry. The aim of a siege is to create a pressure-cooker environment so horrendous that it will ultimately culminate in a coup, a revolt or a surrender. The USA's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which takes effect today - 17 June - places Damascus in a state of economic siege. The Act mandates that any foreign entity found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or 'entering into contracts related to reconstruction' in areas controlled by the Syrian, Russian or Iranian governments will face US sanctions. Thus, the Act will not apply to business and reconstruction in the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), nor in Idlib - a jihadist sanctuary under the protection of Turkey - nor in the eastern oil fields of Deir ez Zor which are controlled by Islamic jihadists under US protection.

As in 2011, regime change efforts will doubtless fail for Syria's ethnic and religious minorities (including Assyrians and Armenians, Alawites and Christians), as well as her large cohort of largely secular, cosmopolitan, anti-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Sunni Muslims who do not want to risk an Islamist takeover! While it is highly probable that the Syrian government will survive the sanctions, the same cannot be said for Syria's Christians, most of whom (including those displaced by war) live in areas controlled by the Syrian government, where they are both safe and free. Will the Hungarian government be sanctioned if it continues to assist persecuted Christians with reconstruction through its 'Hungary Helps' program?  Will aid groups such as the Assyrian Aid Society, Open Doors or Aid to the Church in Need, or Assyrians and Armenians in Syria's diaspora community, face sanctions for helping decimated and devastated Christian communities rebuild? Christians will suffer as their economic situation deteriorates to catastrophic. They will suffer as efforts at reconstruction grind to a halt. Also, most seriously, they will suffer unspeakably if the Syrian Army, now deprived of funds, is forced to pull back, leaving frontline Christian communities in the north and east vulnerable to genocide at the hands of Turkish military and Islamic jihadist forces.

In its own words, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act has been enacted 'to halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, encourage a negotiated political settlement, and hold Syrian human rights abusers accountable for their crimes'. By targeting the Syrian government alone, the Act perpetuates the false narrative that the Syrian conflict was a war between the evil President Assad and 'the [victimised] Syrian people'. On the contrary, the truth is that under the cover of 'Arab Spring' protests (which were led in Syria by the banned MB), neo-Ottoman, pro-MB, NATO-member Turkey, pro-MB Qatar and Wahhabist, US-allied Saudi Arabia moved to effect regime change in Damascus in pursuit of their dream to run oil and gas pipelines from Qatar to Turkey via Syria. A YouGov poll commissioned by Qatar in December 2011 showed that, while a majority of regional Arabs (Saudi, Qatari, Yemeni, Jordanian, Palestinian etc) supported regime-change in Damascus, 55 percent of Syrians did not! Furthermore, through 2012, as multitudes of well-armed foreign jihadists flooded into Syria across Turkish, Iraqi and Jordanian borders, Syrian support for the Syrian government grew exponentially.

From the outset, Syrian Christians had pleaded with the West not to support the up-ending of the secular order (as happened in Iraq) and not to arm Muslim 'rebels'. Alas, their cries and warnings were rejected. Had Russia not intervened in September 2015, al-Qaeda (based in Idlib) would have seized Latakia (the Alawite heartland in the north) and Islamic State (advancing from the Syrian desert) would have seized Damascus (the Syrian capital), at which point Syria would have descended into genocidal hell. The Western narrative is a false narrative. [See After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, Elizabeth Kendal, (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016)].

The Caesar Act is supposedly motivated by a desire to see an end to impunity for human rights abusers. Yet the region's most repressive, vile and anti-Christian human rights abusers - NATO-member Turkey and US-allied Saudi Arabia - are not under scrutiny. Turkey, which stands accused of ethnic cleansing in northern Syria, is not even mentioned in the Act. Essentially, what Damascus' enemies (Turkey-Qatar-Saudi Arabia) have failed to achieve militarily (regime-change in Damascus), the US hopes to achieve by economic means, although Washington is doubtless motivated more by a desire to humiliate Russia (which backed Assad) and obstruct China (which sees Syria as an important node in its Belt and Road Initiative) than by any human rights issues it has with Assad. 


* not allow Syria to collapse into chaos; may war-weary Syrians not be forced into further suffering and deeper poverty; may religious freedom be protected and may any scheme that would imperil Syria's Church be re-thought.

* provide Syria's suffering Church with her every need:

- may Jehovah Jireh (God our provider) supply the Syrian Church with all the food, water and medicines she requires, not only for herself but also for her numerous compassionate and outreach ministries;

- help Christians seeking to rebuild their homes, districts, villages, churches, seminaries, schools and health clinics;

- most critically, may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts; the commander of heaven's angelic forces) protect Syrian Christians from the genocidal plots of Turkey and its jihadist proxies, as well as from a resurgent Islamic State.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.' (Psalms 103:13,14 ESV)