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Every Sunday - 9am Divine Liturgy in English (fully or mostly) at the Holy Family Cathedral

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Saturday, 22 February 2014

Kurds and Christians cooperate in parts of northern Syria

Feb 21, Ken Hanly, Aleppo. Digital Journal

Many Syrian Christians have already fled the country and those who have remained have mostly stayed out of the conflict even though they have often been attacked by Islamist rebel groups who accuse them of being pro-Assad.

However a minority of Christian youths are forming militias in the northeast of Syria in alliance with Kurdish militias. The Kurds have a somewhat different political agenda than the Christians, who want a unified secular Syria where as a minority their rights would be protected. The Kurds want at least autonomy for their region. Nevertheless the two groups have a common cause in the fight against militant Islamists who have moved to take some of the territory held by the Kurds.

The Syriac Christians have a long history in Syria and other areas of the middle east and even in India. A quite detailed description is given of members of the militias in this article. The article opens with a description of two young Christian militia members manning a checkpoint on the edge of the town of Al Makiyah. Twenty-year old Rami says:“It’s our country, so we have a duty to protect it, Dangers? Sure there are dangers. But we don’t care.”

Christians in Syria represent about 8 percent of the population or about 1.7 million people but many are already refugees with an estimated 450,000 already left. But others remain devoted to protecting their own areas and cooperating at times with the Kurds to keep out Islamic militants.

Majoub Abdul Ahad is a Christian glass maker in the town of Ras AL Ayn west of Al Malikiyah. He and his Sunni Muslim partner Mahmoud are trying to fix the Orthodox church of Mar Tuma (Saint Thomas) whose two towers were damaged by shelling from rockets launched by the Free Syrian Army and Al-Qaeda linked Islamists just outside the town. They launch rocket and mortar attacks from time to time. The dome is riddled with gunfire, the crosses are broken off, and many windows are broken. Now Abdul and his Muslim partner together with others are trying to repair the damage. Referring to the rebels he says, "They say they are Muslims, but Islam is not like this,..Some work on the doors, some on the windows, some on other things, People from all the different communities are helping to try and restore this to its original state."

He remarks that his partner is a Muslim and the Christians also have helped to repair mosques. 

The Christian Kurd alliance has been developing for some time as this article from last June indicates. The article shows some of the government plotting in relation to the two groups as well and the conflicts of interest between them. The two groups have also set up an alliance to obtain representation at the Geneva 2 talks apart from the Syrian National Coalition the western-backed umbrella group. The Kurds and Christians have a different agenda than the main opposition rebels as both seem to be concentrating on security rather than fighting with the Assad forces. The Manifesto of the group can be found here. Development of Christian militia is not new. As the appended video shows, last June there were Christian militias protecting a town. The group expressed admiration for al Assad but they lived in peace with Muslims in the town.

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