Syria: A sad Christmas for Damascus Christians

Subdued out of respect for dead, but 'we are united'
21 December, 11:56
(ANSAmed) - DAMASCUS, DECEMBER 21 - No Christmas lights are strung up around Damascus, and not even a decorated tree can be found in the Christian quarter of the Old City, where even the churches are bare of adornments. ''Out of the respect for the dead,'' the Christian community seem to say in unison in Syria, where they account for 10% of the population and have long been one of the most integrated in an Arab country. It is for the latter reason that they have oftentimes shown their support for Assad's regime, which they feel protected by. And it is for this every reason that now - aware of the crisis afflicting the country - they are calling for Syrian unity.

The community is doing its part by renouncing all ''superfluous' Christmas symbols, observing the holiday solely through religious celebrations and within their families. ''There will be celebrations as always, but due to the situation and out of respect for so many who have died, in our church and our family we have decided to spend Christmas in our houses and limit the use of lights and decorations,'' said Milad, whose name means 'Christmas'. Milad works with his father in one of the many goldsmith shops of the souk, whose owners are almost all Christians. ''In Syria there is a problem at the moment,'' he said, ''there is a need for reform, but the situation is not like what some media outlets make it seem. And so the arrival of observers is a good thing. However, we must stay united, more than before, for our future.'' Concerns over what the future may hold in store are palpable. ''There have never been religious tensions here,'' said Iria, a 71-year-old Christian Protestant in her tiny linen shop in the Christian quarter of Damascus's Old City, ''we have always lived in harmony. We are now worried because there are people shooting and killing and we do not know who they are. And we don't know what will happen if the regime falls - in Egypt, after what happened, the Muslim Brotherhood are now taking over.

We do not know what could happen here, but we have always lived in harmony and we want to continue to do so.'' These are fears that Bishop Louka El Khouri, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, seems to want to exorcise. ''The Christian community in Syria is very strong, and as Christians we are not afraid - because we love our country and will stay in our country and we do not believe the media which tell us we should leave it. We will stay and live with our Islamic brethren.'' He then said that the Damascus Bishops Council meets every month and holds meetings also with Islamic representatives. ''At the beginning of the month the council met to discuss the situation. We are here for anyone who needs support. Even Muslims: every day I receive at least 10 Islamic friends.'' The support is almost always spiritual, however, and almost never material: the bishop says that the community does not fear any economic difficulties due to the lasting of the crisis which has led even to the inflicting of heavy sanctions. Among the Old City shopkeepers, however, it is inevitable that the effects are being felt. ''Of course revenues are down,'' said Basil, a Muslim who sells almost exclusively Christmas decorations and who said that he had only sold 20% of what he had last year.

''But it doesn't matter,'' he said, ''it is a choice made by Christians and we agree with them. Because we are united and at the moment there is no happiness in the country.''(ANSAmed).


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