UK Telegraph, via Jihad Watch — 8/2/2013
Towns and villages in Syria that have been home to Christians for hundreds of years are being steadily emptied by sectarian violence and targeted kidnappings.
Tens of thousands Syriac Christians – members of the oldest Christian community in the world – have fled their ancestral provinces of Deir al-Zour and Hasakah in northeastern Syria, residents have said.
"It breaks my heart to think how our long history is being uprooted," said Ishow Goriye, the head of a Syriac Christian political Hasakah.
Mr Goriye, told The Daily Telegraph how, over the past two years he has watched as Christian families from Hasakah pack their possessions on the rooftops of their vehicles and flee their homes "with little plan to come back".
Conflict in the area, desperate economic conditions, lawlessness, and persecution by rebel groups born from the perception that Christians support the regime, remain the main reasons for why Christian families are fleeing the area.
The growing presence of radical jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda, has also seen Christians targeted.
"It began as kidnapping for money, but then they started telling me I should worship Allah," a male Christian resident of Hasakah who was kidnapped by jihadists said.
"I was with five others. We were tied and blindfolded and pushed down on our knees. One of the kidnappers leant so close to my face I could feel his breath. He hissed: 'Why don't you become a Muslim? Then you can be free'."
Another Christian in Hasakah said he knew of "five forced conversions" in recent weeks.
Mr Goriye's Christian 'Syriac Union' party has long been in opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
While speaking to The Telegraph, its members were loath to criticise the opposition rebels, but many confessed that the situation had become "too bad" not to talk about it.
Hasakah and other towns in northeastern Syria have long been one of the main population centres for Christians, who make up approximately 10 per cent of the country's population. Residents estimate that at least a third of Christians in northeastern Syria have fled, with few expecting to return.
One Hasakah resident who has now escaped the area said: "Rebels said we had to pay money for the revolution. My cousin is a farmer, and wanted to check on his land. I warned him he should take armed security but he refused. A group kidnapped him in the barn of his farm. We had to pay $60,000 [£52,000] for his release. They are milking the Christians".
Though accused by some opposition groups of supporting Mr Assad, much of Syria's Christian community has avoided "choosing sides" in the war, seeking self-preservation in neutrality.
But the strategy has left Christians defenceless in the face of sectarian attacks and the lawlessness that now define rebel-held areas. Last year, when government forces pulled out Hasakah province, leaving the terrain in the hands of Kurdish groups and Sunni opposition rebel, Christians became an easy target...
More in the full article...