Translated by : Aziz Emmanuel
The Syrian Christianity with its
ethnicities, represents the oldest and most ancient denominations of the
country, especially the Aramaic denomination for Aramaic or Syriac – both are
one in essence with variations in appellation as Syriac is a continuation of
Aramaic- is the national ID of the Syrian people who used to make up the
majority of the population in main land Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and eastern
Jordan until the present time.
According to statistics the
population of Syriacs as an ethnic component of Bilad al-Sham ( what used to
make up the present day Syria, Palestine and eastern Jordan [translator])
during the Islamic invasion used to make up 87% of the population with all its
various ethnicities and different religions. The number, however, decreased
after three decades; the percentage has now decreased to be less than Muslim
Arabs and Romans, because the population of the Syriacs at that time used to be
more than three millions and some put the number to four millions.
Meanwhile, the percentage of
Christians in Syria during the invasion was more than 78% of the population of
Syria and its various religions. There existed among the same Syriac Aramaic
component Jews and the Aramaic worshipers of god Hadad , son worshipers,
Sabaites, Magi and others.
Reference is made here to the
issue of conquering Damascus by the commanders of the Islamic armies: Abi
Ubaida bnul-Jarrah, Khalid bnul-Walid, Amro brul-Aas, Aiyas bnul-Ghanam, and
Sharhabeel bnu-Hasna. These were aided by the leaders of battalions and
divisions commanded by Abal-Aawar al-Salami who was sent to Tabaria. Meanwhile,
Dhal-Kalla’a was dispatched to Hums while Abal-Darda’a was sent to
Barza. Damascus was opened when its keys were delivered by a Christian bishop
named Mansour ben Sargon on 10 September 635 AD. The Muslims entered the city
and killed al those who resisted them and the city with its surrounding s were
subjugated. The Muslim armies then set off to conquer other cities until the
Euphraes peninsula , Qarqisya’a to the south of Mesopotamia starting with Kufa
to Assyria in the north.
The population of Syria at this
time used to comprise the following religions:
A Christian majority with a
Jewish minority and there were others who followed pagan religions as is
The Christians are divided into
four ethnic categories:
The first one used to be a
majority of Greeks, the second was a mixture of various ethnicities, while the
third was the indigenous group, i.e. the Syriac Aramaic.
Through the course of time an
integration took place between the first and the second groups resulting in
a religious sect named The Rome Sec. The Rome Sect in Syria
represents those who were called Melkites, followers of faith of the Roman
The fourth group is the Arab group.
We would like to point out here that Arabs entered Syria and occupied the
country in the 2nd century BC. The largest Arab tribes therefore, lived a
country whose religion was Christianity, especially the Ghasasina tribe. The
majority of this bribes members converted to Islam while some have remained
Christians till now; there are Christian tribes which live in Horan and in the
village of Hums who descend from the Arab tribe of Ghasasina. There are also
families living on the Syrian coast which belong to the Ghasasina but are of
different denominations. We also know that the city of Jabal on the Syrian
coast was built by Jubullah bnul-Ayham who gave his name to the city.
The Arab tribe of Taglub, on the
other hand, converted in the 10th and 11thcentureis and there are some
members of the tribe who still maintain their Christian faith and still live
within Christian tribes and are distributed in the area of Qal’aa
Marawiah ( a reference to a village to the north east of Der al-Za’afaran near
Mardin. The castle is called Mara the birthplace of the famous parliamentarian
and politician Sa’aeed Issac). There is also the Qaswarnah tribe – after the
village of Qusur to the south of Mardin. Likewise, there are some Syriacs who
belong to the Tribes of Bani Bakr, Taglub, Tay, Kalb, and Tanookh and others.
Most of the big Arab tribes converted in periods starting with the first
invasion of their country ending with the end of the Abbasid and Mongol
The reasons behind the conversion
of those Arab tribes are numerous and different. The most important are that
the members of those tribes suffered a lot of injustice as a result of, abuse,
Jizya ( a tax levied on non-Muslims), tributes and discrimination in clothing,
housing, food, and even walking and riding on donkeys instead of horses. The
campaigns and invasions which swept the Syrian territories have likewise had a
clear impact on the conversion of those tribes. The most important of such
campaigns were the Crusades and Mamluk campaigns in the 11th century and
the Mongol invasion in 1400 during which the Christians were liquidated and
their lands were confiscated; there was therefore ethnic and religious ethnic
cleansing which continued till the events of 1860 with the terrible massacre of
Christians in Syria at the end of which the Syrian Christians immigrated to
Lebanon and from there to the new world and Europe. They also continued to
immigrate following the British and French Mandate of Syria in 1946. And as of
the first quarter of the mid sixties of the twentieth century caravans of
Armenian people in particular immigrated from Jazeer to Armenia. The
immigration of the Syriacs started from the city of Qamishli to Lebanon and
then to the diasporah. This was followed in 1915 by numerous immigrations till
the present. The causes of the immigration are still standing. Rather, it has
become rampant with an escalating rate especially after the entrance into Syria
of a popular movement that opposed the Syrian regime one and a half year ago.
The percentage of Christians in
Syria is changing and so their numbers due to their circumstances, security,
settlement, rule and the surrounding regional and international conditions.
According to statistics the number of Christians in 1517 used to be 7% and in
1918 it used to constitute 30% which increased to 35% in the beginning of the
period of independence from the French.
In the middle of the 20th century
75% of the companies and foreign agencies were run by Christians and used to
have land properties beyond imagination but were nationalized by the state.
The number of Christians in the
Syrian peninsula in the mid-forties was more than 38% of the population. Those
Syrian Christians excelled in various aspects and that is why we see prominent
Syrian Christians in the 20th century, for example, but not inclusive,
Rose Mary Barakat, a federal lawyer in Florida who is originally a Syrian
Christian, Faris al-Khouri a politician, intellectual and prime minister, the
Syriac Saaeed Isaac al-Qal’a Marawi a professional parliamentarian and
politician who became an ipso jure president of Syria for more than 62 hours,
Michael Aflaq the founder of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party, Antone Sa’ada,
Mariana Marash the poet, writer, and journalist, Francis Mrash the writer and poet,
Carlos Mun’im, George Murad, George Wassouf, Koliet Khoury..etc. There are
hundreds of those who led the intellectual movement, media, cinema, and theatre
in Syria. There is also a large number of plastic artists, poets, writers,
doctors, pharmacists, engineers and manufacturers. We can also see prominent
names in the period between the 70s of the last century until today including
ministers, state ministers, high ranking military men, and senior political and
administrative posts assumed by Syrian Christians in all aspects of the Syrian
We would also like to point out
that we have not mentioned the names and numbers of Christian philosophers,
intellectuals, doctors, teachers, and army leaders in ancient times, such as
the Amawi, and Abbasid Periods, because to mention them is to fill many pages.
And to avoid injustice to any
Christian sect in Syria, we have to mention that there is in Syria a Coptic
orthodox community which belongs to the Alexandrian see that has lived in Syria
since antiquity. There is also a Maronite sect belonging to the
Patriarchal see in Bkarki in Lebanon which used to live in Syria for a long
time ago, rather , the beginning and spread of the Maronite church started in
As for the Armenian race, or the
Syrian Armenian Christianity, it came to Syria in 301AD when the Armenians came
as pilgrims to Jerusalem and settled in Allepo. Their vanguards began to settle
down there. Their percentage , however, increased with the Saifo massacres in
1915. They are therefore indigenous and deeply- rooted people in the history of
If the population of Syria is
taken to be 23 millions, then the percentage of Syrian Christians is 10.5% and
some estimate it at 10-12%. Based on this, the population of Christians in
Syria is more than 2,311, 500 people. Ethnic wise, they belong to the following
1.The Syriac AramaicAssyrian
This is the oldest Syrian
Component ever and its percentage is estimated at 80% of the total population
embracing both Muslim and Christian faiths; for the majority of Syrian Muslims
descend from Aramaic Syriac origins and there are still Muslims who admit their
Aramaic origins. They speak old Aramaic and live in the mountains of Qalamon.
The Syriac Aramaic people make up the highest percentage of Syrian Christianity
with a percentage of 87% for all the denominations.
2. Arab Christians who are of
Those who have read history
cannot deny the existence of these Arab Christians despite the merger of the
Arab component with the Aramaic Syriac Assyrian Chaldean one. Arabism, however,
had appeared since the 9th century AD. They settled the Syrian territories
since the 2nd century AD and they still spoke Aramaic.
Arabs therefore, with all their
tribes, original Arabs, Arabised, the Adananite, and the Qahtanites , descend
from the Sam the son of Noh. The Christian Arabs make up 4.5% of the total
population of Syria. Within this context there is an injustice against the
Aramaic Christian component for more than one thousand years, because others do
not acknowledge it as a nationalist non-Arab component, rather they confiscate
its freedom and ascribe it to Pan-Arabism.
3.Armenian Christianity: this
dates back to the 301. The population of the Armenians in Syria is more than
150 thousand people. Most of them are centered in the Syrian cities. The most
important of these are Allepo, Damsacu, Kasab, Hums, Lataqia, and the Syrian
The Syrian Armenian Christians
belong to the following churches:
Armenian Orthodox church.
minority of Catholic and Evangelic Armenians.
The Armenians are known for their
pride in their Armenian nationalism first and then their loyalty to Syria
nationalist second. They are owners of professions, industries, sciences, and
culture manifested in an amalgamation of Armenian and Syrian culture that
resulted in various examples of creativity.
There are numerous Christian
denominations of various religious rites. Following is a list according to
1.Roman Orthodox ( Patriarchate
of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria)
9. Syriac Catholic
10 Armenians who are subdivided
into Othodox, Catholic and Protestant Armenians.
The major Syrian cities were the
place where most Christian generations grew. We therefore find in Aleppo 10
dioceses for all the Christian denominations.
On the other hand, Damascus as
the political capital of the country, houses the HQs of three churches on the
Roman Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.
Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.
Patriarchate of Antioch, Jeruslem, and Alexandria for the Catholic Roman Melkites.
The Syrian Christians live in
major Syrian cities such as Damascus( Qusa’a, Bab Toma, Al-Abaasiyeen, Tabbala,
Dmr, Harasta, Barza, and in the countryside of Damascus in Jaramana, Kashkool,
Dwel’a . There are Syriac villages in the mountains of Qalamon such as
Ma’alola, Saydnaya, Yabrud, Hums al-Qaryatain, Sadad, Fayroza, Zaydal, Eastern
and Western Dmena, Wadi al-Nasar, Marmarta, Nasira, Mashta ‘Azar, Mashta Helo,
Zwetina, Mashta’iya, Safita, Maharda, Rasten, Hufr, and Qasir.
In the governorate of Tarsus
there are numerous Christian villages which have a majority Christian
population. This is also true of the governorates of Hama, Latakia, Aleppo,
Raqa, Deirel-Zur, and Hasaka. And in the governorates of Dar’a and Sweida’
there are whole villages whose population is completely Christian starting from
the Syrian peninsula till Zazoon in Dar’a numbering 2500 village excluding the
villages which coexist with their Muslim and Yazidi brothers. The average area
of each village is about 2000donums the equivalent of 5000000 donums in all.
In addition to that, there are
Christian properties in the cities, towns,sub-districts and industrial cities
as well as the Christian endowments. There are also those lands which surround
monasteries and destroyed villages or those that are dubbed as the forgotten
cities such as Rasafa, Halabia, Zalabia, and Qasr al-Hir.
Archaeological studies confirm
that only in the northern part of Syria there are more than 778 archaeological
sites that until recently belonged to their Christian owners. Most of those
sites are centered in the two governorates of Aleppo and Idlib.
It should also be mentioned that
the number of Syrian Christians with all their denominations and those in the
diasporah is more than 9,460,000 distributed on north and south America,
Canada, the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, Germany, the
Netherlands, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Austria, Switzerland, and Newzealand
as well as in the Arab countries, especially in Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, the
Gulf states, the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. There are also numerous Syrian
Christians in Nigeria and other African countries.
There is no room for questioning
the national loyalty of these Christians if a just and objective study is made
of the Christian scene with all its Syriacs, Arabs, and Armenians, as well as
the extent of impact of what they offered to their Syrian society through 1430
years; they are not, therefore, a group which came to Syria recently. Rather
they have existed since Syria did, especially the Aramaics. On its soil are
manifest facts that cannot be denied save for those whose eyes have been
covered by rotten chauvinism.
So, everything in Syria refers to
the antiquity, glory, heroism and creativeness of the Christian human character
with all its doctrinal and ethnic components shared by other nationals.
This human character stresses on
coexistence in freedom, justice and equity and rights which are
secured not as a favour from anybody but as a legitimate right, for he the
legitimate son of historic Syria.
I have tried to write about a
subject which requires scrutiny and credibility of source because it is one of
the important and necessary subjects which is directly related to a reality ,
especially during the present hard, exceptional and strange conditions in the
Syrian culture that apply to all the Syrian components.
I have therefore sought to be
transparent, objective, and scientific in terms of dates, figures and
percentages of the Christian community in general. I have also tried to achieve
this to the best of my ability. My objective was to write an article that dealt
with the special characteristic of the Syrian Christian community. No doubt I
did not deal with the dark ages nor the bright ones in which all Christians
lived during their golden ages, rather I dealt with the meanings of all these
denotations in a transparent way and I only dealt with them in a casual way for
to go into details would require writing books under such a title.
We can therefore conclude from
the above by raising a long and broad question, and by two points: the worrying
and disturbing question is: will the existence of Christians in the east in
general and in Syrian in particular, continue? How and on what basis? Will the
just partners do justice to Syrian Christians to help them sent their roots
deep in their ancestral land?!!!
Regarding the first point I think
it all depends on the Christian community, i.e. the Syrian Christian component
through its various syriac, Armenian, and Arab denominations. On this community
depends the future for its generations, its existence, creativity and the
realization of its objectives .
The second point depends on the
reading by their partners from the major Syrian religious component, of the
Syrian people and the way they interpret the future conditions after the
collapse of all revolutionary ideologies and high-sounding mottos that were the
first to cause harm to Christians who joined nationalist, communist, liberal
and labour parties and took no care to found for themselves and their
component, parties through which they could defend their existence and rights
in a civilized way.
The question is if there were any
objective and just constitution that would contain and recognize for Christians
as a Syriac Armenian component, their existence and rights and secure the
future of their coming generations to be able to continue to live on their
All that we know and what our
life experience and history have taught us is that no right can be
granted to those who have no belief in their existence, and who think they come
from an imaginary world or will turn into angels in times of big strife. There
is no resurrection for any community that does not work to realize its rights.
Christians are required to think
in a real, scientific and objective way with their partners who represent all
the components of the Syrian people. They have to struggle through all means
possible to be able to send their roots deep in the soil of their homeland
Long live Syria free for all its
components, religions and denominations
No to extremism, chauvinism, and
No to destruction, yes to
No to bloodshed , yes to rebirth
From my ashes will come the next
A Syrian poet, writer, and
researcher in Germany