Depending upon whom you talk to, anywhere from six to sixteen ethnic groups constitute the Syrian population, with the main six groups being: Sunni Muslim; Shiite Muslim (Alawite and Ismaili); Christian; Druze; Kurd; Circassian; and the stateless Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The Christians are not foreign to the Syrian land; they have not been imported; they are, in fact, the founders and original inhabitants. The name “Syria” is derived from the Assyrian and Syriac Christian denominations, which constituted eighty percent of the country’s population before Islam arrived in the seventh century.
Syrian Christians are survivors no matter which other group is in power, although they have suffered at the hands of most who have ruled or invaded Syria over time. Syria’s Christians pride themselves on their national identity, patriotism, and participation in the struggle for Syria’s independence and their role during the formation of the modern Syrian state. Their support of the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s occupation and their Pan-Arab identity prove their unwavering connection to the region’s peoples and their struggles toward independence.
In the past six years, several theories have emerged to explain the caution and silence of Syria’s Christians towards the regime’s increasing brutality. They are afraid of the jihadi opposition, and it is easy to single Christians out because they are concentrated in urban areas. They also tend to follow the line dictated by the leadership of their respective churches. And despite some token commanders, they are underrepresented in Syria’s military machine, for reasons ranging from a personal dislike of violence to preference for civilian careers, to the meticulously calculated sectarian policy of the Assad regimes that have ruled the country for nearly five decades. The plight of Syria’s Christians stems from the fact that, while they have been used for show, they are actually marginalized by the regime and maligned by the opposition.
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