Christians Exodus from Der Ezzor
Enab Baladi Issue # 128 – Sun, August 3 , 2014
Cyrine Abdel Nour- Alraqa
Christians of Der Ezzor are an additional story of the Syrian tragedy. They suffer either from forced displacement and harassment by extremist groups or from shelling by Al- Assad’s forces. Their displacement coincides with the exodus of people of the city after it was transformed into a battlefield, and people’s businesses there were disrupted.
Only tens of Christians still live in Der Ezzor today; mostly in areas controlled by Al-Assad regime. One of the activists (who requested anonymity for security reasons) said to Enab Baladi; “I still retain my Cross, I hided it well from fools and dupes, who have become like a mobile plague spreading quickly, killing coldly and destroying everything”. The activist said; “our story is an extension to a Levantine wound continuingly bleeding for a long time due to previous wars experienced in the region”. He added; “I wonder who benefits from evacuating the region of Christians in a systematic, structured way of displacement, and creating fragile sectarian entities; legitimizing sectarian, factional and ideological racism in the region”, although some Christians joined the Syrian revolution, while the largest proportion remained on the fence, and only few of them supported Al-Assad.
In addition to suffering from poor living conditions in Der Ezzor due to the battles against Al-Assad’s forces, Christians endured ISIS fights against Islamic phalange and FSA. The intense fighting in the city of Al-Hasakah which extended to some villages in the Orontes valley is also an extra threat on the Christian civilized human presence in the region which may vanish now after its continuity for over thousands of years in a county whose name was derived from the Syriac Christian presence therein.
Der Ezzor includes five Catholic and Orthodox churches, distributed among the Armenians, Assyrians; in addition to dozens of Christian families that belong to different communities, (more than 50 percent of them belong to the Orthodox Syriac). However, most of them left the city after the outbreak of clashes between Al-Assad’s forces and the opposition forces alongside bombing the city by Al-Assad, which did not exclude houses of worship. Consequently, most churches were let vulnerable to tampering, looting and full and partial destruction despite residents’ attempts to protect and preserve them.
Although there are no official statistics on the number of displaced Christians, activists in the city said that the ratio has exceeded 90 percent. They expressed their fear of the potential interruption in the relationship of the Christian displaced with this city although they have been an essential component of it for a long time.
Christians experience many concerns nowadays in their new migration, where their bells remain silent and churches ‘seats remain empty in Deir al-Zour, their final destination after their first migration from the mountains of Anatolia in 1915, due to the massacres to which they were subjected at that time. Thenceforth, economic activities and industrial professions have grown remarkably which was reflected positively on the status of the city.
The case of displacement was not confined to a particular class or sect, but included all public categories and sects in the city. The number of the displaced from different sects constitutes 90% of those fled out of “Alsiasia” crossing which was opened two months later, following the deterioration of the internal situation.
Hajj Abu Mohammed, a shop owner in “Altakaya” street said; “Many people have taken up what was left of their belongings and fled out, everything has changed here” adding, “We have been patient for 3 years to live in dignity and freedom, but everyone today feels upset and scared”.
This 60-year-old man, who had insisted on staying in the city, relying on his small shop for living, is considering fleeing out after he felt alienated and hopelessly besieged.
The city is considered the third headquarter of the Armenian diplomatic mission in Syria after Damascus and Aleppo. It is worth noting that “The Armenians’ martyrs” church, the architectural edifice that is considered a masterpiece, is located in Der Ezzor. Yet, many valuable artifacts the church contains, disappeared by the shelling and the hands of abusers.
Translated by: Rahaf Alabar