Massimo Pizzotti Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom

Massimo Pizzotti Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom

Religious leaders from Syria warned that without dialogue between Bashar al-Assad’s government forces and the rebels, Syria will eventually lose its indigenous Christian population.

“If things continue the way [they are], there will come a time [when] there will be no more Christians in Syria,” Revered Dr. Riad Jarjour, Presbyterian clergyman from Homs, said at a Heritage Foundation panel discussion Monday.

Panelists discussed the history of Christian persecution in the region, highlighting the precedent set by the Armenian Genocide of 1915, during which Ottoman Turks conducted death marches into the Syrian desert and carried out the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians.

Patrick Sookhdeo, chairman of the Westminster Institute, cited the writings of an American historian in 1910 who “predicted that a day would come when Christian minorities would pay for their very existence with their lives. That proved true in 1915 that saw the Genocide of the Armenian and Syrian communities.”

According to Sookhdeo, countries in the West “stood by and watched” despite the historian’s plea for help. As witnesses to the current Syrian conflict, “we would plead for your media to break the silence.”

Stressing the importance of maintaining Christian presence in the Middle East, Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Primate of the Armenian Church of Damascus, noted prior coexistence and mutual respect between different religious communities in Syria who once “shared their daily bread.”

Now, however, militants in the Syrian conflict have been committing atrocities that echo the historical extermination of Christians, including killing and decapitating both young and old, and kidnapping nuns from the historical town of Maaloula to intimidate local Christians.

“Sadly, al-Qaeda has not died,” Sookhdeo said. The ideologies driving the terror group “emanate . . . from those countries that we regard to be our allies: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and increasingly, Turkey.”

Without humanitarian aid and international attention to negotiations, “[t]oday we are faced with a potential extinction of the Church.”

“We accept to be marked for destruction if it comes from [Saint] Paul’s mouth,” added Reverend Adib Awad, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. “But we do not accept to be marked for destruction by terrorists.”

This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.