Syria's Christians - and Syria's future

As yesterday’s article by David Ignatius "Ousting Assad may only be the beginning" makes clear, a post-peace agreement in Syria may not actually look a lot like peace. 

“As al-Qaida grows more powerful in Syria — seeking "complete control over the liberated areas," according to a new Syrian rebel intelligence report — moderate opposition leaders are voicing new interest in a political settlement of the grinding civil war.

“But a peace agreement may be just a prelude to a new war against the terrorists.”

The presence of al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism in the Syrian civil war has brought a harrowing level of brutality to the conflict.  As Ignatius points out, Islamic militants are ever present in the country. Among the most brutal are militant Chechens – famous for the gruesome nature of their terrorist attacks, including the 2004 Beslan attack that killed 334 hostages, 186 of which were children. 

This particularly brutal type of violence is leaving behind a devastating wake of destruction in a country once viewed as being a relative safe haven for minority communities.  Granted, war by any definition is violent, but as we have witnessed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Egypt, Islamic fundamentalism does not die easy.

Most concerning to The Institute is the impact of the Syrian conflict on Syrian Christians.  Al-Qaeda is no friend to Syria’s Christians, and as it has shown to be the case, a strong al-Qaeda in Syria means more persecution of Christians. Already, reports suggest that up to one third of Syria’s 1.75 million Christians have been displace or fled the country. Recently, a church in Raqaa was cleared of any sign of Christianity and, instead, converted into an office for al-Qaeda. 

The recent Iran nuclear agreement may force chief Iranian ally in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, to the negotiating table.  In these negotiations, western governments should not only consider the role of a fundamentalist Islam in the future of Syria, but also the impact that a diminished Christian community may bring to the country.  Any future peace agreement between Syrian factions should include enforceable protections of the Christian minority in the country – for all of Syria’s benefit.