Syria's Christian Minority Lives in Fear of Kidnapping and Street Battles

Jean, an 18-year-old whose home was also destroyed in the fighting, said, "In the beginning we were afraid of them, the regime told us Jabhat would kill Christians, but now Jabhat has not done anything to us so we are not afraid."

Still, Jean says he would not venture to the area where Jabhat had set up their base. "They are so religious, maybe they think that I'm a nonbeliever and then, I don't know," he added, trailing off.

In an article written for a Christian Orthodox website, Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Eusthathius Matta Roham called the Islamists, without naming Jabhat specifically, a great threat to the lives of Syrian Christians in Ras al-Ayn. He also praised the YPG for rooting out the rebels and protecting the Christian neighborhood.

Like many other Christians interviewed, a 24-year-old Christian named Diana refuses to answer questions about the specific armed factions. "We don't know about the fighting groups. All we want is the fighting to stop," she said. "My home has been destroyed, everyone has left."

I asked her who she was scared of. "Everyone," she replied. "My future is gone."

Previously she had studied in Aleppo, but she rarely leaves her neighborhood now.

Of particular concern to the Christians is kidnapping, which only some would admit seems specifically targeted at Christians. The week before we arrived, two local Christian men were kidnapped after they went searching for a stolen car. It's unclear who's doing the kidnapping. Many speculate it's simply criminal gangs trying to make money.

Elias Karmo, 22, is one of the few from his friends and family to remain in the city. A caretaker for one of the churches, he walked us around the damaged property, showing us the bell tower used by snipers and the adjacent school that had been ransacked. "Before the damage and this fighting we could take a walk, do whatever we want. Now we can't," he said. "Everyone is scared they could be kidnapped."


syrian christians man.jpg
Elias Karmo no longer feels safe leaving his neighborhood due to fear of kidnappings.

Elias's uncle, Joseph Karmo, described in detail how he was kidnapped twice. The first time, he was in a car near the church. A group of armed men drove up and told him they needed medicine from the closed pharmacy where his brother works. Then they grabbed him and drove him three hours to the countryside of Aleppo. He was held for seven days. They didn't beat him much, but they showed him pictures of dead people. "They asked my family for money, and they said, 'If they don't pay, we'll kill you like this,'" he said.

The second time he was kidnapped was in Hasakah. A group of men pretended there was a car accident. When he stopped to see what happened, they pulled out guns and took him while his wife and children sat in the car. He says he doesn't know why they targeted him. It could be criminals, or a gang, he speculates. "It's very bad here, the situation is very bad," he says. "When the night comes, we don't leave our homes."

Diana sees little hope for the future of Syrian Christians, and talks of joining cousins in Sweden. No one, she said, has provided any help or support to the Christian community in Ras al-Ayn. "We don't want words, we want action. Our cousins in America and Sweden tell us they pray for us, but this prayer does nothing," she said. "We are still here."

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Danny Gold is freelance journalist based in Brooklyn. His work focuses on breaking news, crime, and conflict. 

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