Christians left in Syria’s Idlib struggle amid banned religious practices and property seizure

Author: Sa’eed Zeino

Publication Date: 5/3/2022

Source: North Press

Alone at their house, Rabi’ Jallouph, a pseudonym for a Christian man, lives with his wife in an area near al-Qeniya town, west of Idlib, northwestern Syria.

Jallouph’s four children immigrated abroad along with hundreds of fellow Christians.

Jallouph, now 52, said between 2015-2018, up to 95% of the population of his village emigrated. That was the time Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS-formerly al-Nusra Front) took full control of the city and all aspects of life.

Press releases said only about 200 Christian people, mostly the elderly, remained in Idlib until the end of 2021. They are distributed in the two cities of Jisr al-Shughour and Idlib and in the towns of al-Qeniya, Ya’qoubiya, al-Jedaida, Halouz, and al-Ghassaniyah. The majority of them are Greek Orthodox.

Prior to the Syrian war, approximately 10,000 Christians used to live in Idlib governorate.

Systematic tightening
Since they have taken control of Idlib in 2015, the extremist groups, headed by HTS, started to tighten the noose on the Christian community.

Properties of the Christians were seized, churches were locked up and Christian people were denied to perform their religious rituals, Jallouph said.

Those were the most reasons why Christians left their hometowns, he added.

Later, the HTS permitted the Christians to perform their prayers and religious rituals but only on Sundays. Bells were prevented to ring and Christian crosses were not allowed to be hanged in Saint Joseph church in the village.

Jallouph, a farmer, sustains on the agricultural land he owns. However, the HTS takes 2,5% of the citrus crops every year as a “tax” considering them as alms.

Another Christian man known as Ra’ed Saljaq, pseudonym, refused to leave Ya’qoubiya town and immigrate just like other fellow Christians did.

Saljaq, 45, preferred to stay in his hometown and live in his house where he grew up despite the systematic tightening practiced by the military factions, mostly by HTS.

The regions where the Christians currently live in are marginalized and lack the basic services such as schools, medical posts, civil institutions and NGOs unlike other areas.

The faction which is in control of the region strangle the people and push them to immigrate abroad or displace, Saljaq said.

Demographic change
The opposition fighters seize all Christians’ properties in the villages in Idlib and in Jisr al-Shughur, Saljaq added.

This leads to a demographic change to the areas where, for many decades, the Muslims and the Christians lived together, according to Saljaq.

Members of the HTS have seized my brothers’ properties. They were about to take mine, too, but I filed a law suit against them in the courts in Idlib city, Saljaq noted.

The HTS pushes the minorities, Christians and Druze, to think of immigration or displacement by strangling them in order to achieve its main goal which is to build a region of one sectarian population that agree with its own ideology, locals of Idlib said.

Muhammad al-Rashid, a pseudonym for a 28-year-old media activist who lives in Idlib, mentioned that conditions of the Christians are no different from other Christians’ elsewhere. The HTS have confiscated their properties under the name “state properties”, gave them to its own members to live in or rented them to the displaced people.

The HTS shuts the Virgin Mary church and deformed its landmarks. Moreover, a section of the church is rented by a person who turned it to a shop to sell furniture, al-Rashid added.


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