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2012-08-13 10:17:40 Views : 2053 |

Syrian Christians: percentage, population, nationalities, and denominations



 

Al-Jazeera Com

 

Translated by : Aziz Emmanuel Zebari

 

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 mentioned above.

 

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 Caesar.

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 periods.

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 life.

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 Syria.

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 Syria.

 

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 nationalities:

1.The Syriac AramaicAssyrian Chaldean nationality

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 Arab origin.

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 peninsula.

The Syrian Armenian Christians belong to the following churches:

1.     The Armenian Orthodox church.

2.     A 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 size:

1.Roman Orthodox ( Patriarchate of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria)

2.Syriac Orthodox

3.Roman Catholic

4.Latin

5.Protestant

6.Maronite

7.Chaldean

8.Assyrian

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 international level:

1.     The Roman Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.

2.     The Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.

3.     The 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 ancestral land?!!!

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 Syria. 

Long live Syria free for all its components, religions and denominations

No to extremism, chauvinism, and exclusion

No to destruction, yes to construction

No to bloodshed , yes to rebirth from death

From my ashes will come the next song

….

Isaac Qomi

A Syrian poet, writer, and researcher in Germany




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