Christian persecution in Syria branches out from diverse areas. Emigration of Christians is a long-standing challenge, rooted in discrimination in employment (especially in the public sector). For example, land reforms in 1958 disproportionately affected Christians, prompting migration from rural to urban areas followed by emigration abroad by those unable to secure suitable employment. A severe drought in 2009 had a similar effect.
Pre 2011, churches were allowed to meet provided that all events were notified to the authorities in advance and only persecuted Christians attended. Churches have had greater scope since the current crisis erupted in 2011. Many Christians support the government of President Assad whilst in no way condoning the human rights abuses that continue being perpetrated. They fear for their future should a different government emerge. Family and social pressures on Jesus’ disciples from Muslim heritage remain intense.
President Bashar al-Assad
“The Christians are leaving, and my church building is fuller than ever. Do not describe the conflict in our country as a ‘civil war’; there are far too many foreign fighters and numerous governments playing active roles.”
- Syrian Pastor and leaders
History of Christianity
Christianity arrived at Pentecost and was strengthened by the displacement that followed the death of Stephen (Acts 8). The church became institutionalized following its acceptance by the Roman Empire. As with much of the Middle East the Crusades had a profound impact, creating Catholic denominations in parallel with existing Eastern and Oriental Orthodox denominations.
Today, the largest church is the Byzantine/Greek Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East based in Damascus. There are fully recognized churches belonging to the Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox (to which the Greek Orthodox church belongs), the Oriental Orthodox and the Protestant families of churches, plus the Assyrian Church of the East which does not belong to any of these families of denominations.