What does persecution look like in Syria?
Years of conflict and instability have created an environment in which persecution can flourish with impunity.
In the few areas controlled by Islamic militants, leaders of traditional churches are particularly targeted for kidnap or attack since they have greater public visibility. This is designed to intimidate the Christian community. Most church buildings have either been demolished or repurposed as Islamic centres. Public expressions of Christian faith are prohibited and church buildings cannot be repaired or restored. Even in government-controlled areas, evangelism and converting from Islam to Christianity are seen as a threat to social stability and are therefore heavily suppressed.
Christians from a Muslim background experience particular pressure from their families and communities because their conversion is seen as a slight to the family's honour. Converts are at risk of being expelled from their family homes or worse.
In northern Syria, religious minorities (including Christians) are persecuted by Turkish forces and associated Islamic militias. They have been attacked, murdered, kidnapped and raped. Many religious sites have also been seriously damaged.
Who is most vulnerable to persecution?
Christians are particularly under pressure in Idlib Province in the northwest and in Hasakah Province in the northeast, where so-called Islamic State has attacked civilians and churches. Turkish military are operating openly across the north of the country, including Hasakah and Qamishli, which makes these areas particularly dangerous for Christians.
Leaving Islam is most dangerous in the northwest and north east of the country. Converts are ostracized by their family and community and, in the most extreme circumstances, killed in order to restore the perceived 'honor' of the family.
Christian women are vulnerable to persecution in Islamist-held areas. In northeast Syria, where Islamic State’s religious police has made a comeback, they must completely cover themselves in public spaces or suffer violence.
Meet Pastor Edward
"It’s a prolonged crisis, without seeing an end. We had positive and negative experiences. There were painful situations, people got killed, injured. On the other hand we experienced divine light amid darkness.”Pastor Edward, who runs a Centre of Hope in Syria
What has changed this year?
Syria has risen three places on the World Watch List mainly because of an increase in violence. Last year, three Christians were killed because of their faith and at least five were kidnapped. Dozens of churches, monasteries, Christian cemeteries and other buildings vital to the Christian community were attacked, damaged or looted in the west and northeast of the country, mostly due to intense shelling by Turkish forces and Turkish Supported Opposition, or by criminals.
What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Syria?
Open Doors partners strengthen the church in Syria through Bible distribution, discipleship and leadership training, trauma counselling, relief aid and practical support for internally displaced people, and Centres of Hope, which support Syrian Christians and their communities.
How can you pray for Syria?
- Thank God that, despite the dangers, brave Christians remain certain of their faith in Jesus, and are being salt and light in their communities
- Pray for peace and stability. Pray that the government will have wisdom to stabilise the economy and that soaring inflation rates will fall
- For Centres of Hope restoring hope to war-weary people. Pray for ongoing financial provision and that the workers will be reenergised to give help and compassion to those in need.
Dear Father, pour out Your compassion on people in Syria. Restore this land to a place of peace and stability. Draw near to Your children, who suffer threats, intimidation and persecution for their faith in You. Comfort them in their distress and heal the wounds that ongoing war has inflicted. Give hope to people who have lost so much and help them to find supportive communities. Intervene in the hearts of militant groups and bring an end to the violence. Amen.