Across denominations, Orthodox Christians in Syria tend to be supportive of the Assad regime, since it is seen as protective of non-Muslim minorities, writes Christoph Leonhardt in the journal Ostkirchliche Studien (63/2). More than loyalty to the regime itself, the rejection of opposition groups makes these churches supportive of the status quo, he adds. The Greek (or “Rum”) Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, which is not Greek but Arabic Christian, numbers some 4 million faithful. Although a majority of them no longer reside in the Middle East, The Syriac Orthodox Church (belonging to the group of the pre-Chalcedonian, Oriental Orthodox Churches) numbers around 1 million followers around the world (two-thirds in India) and is reported to gather some 200.000 Christians in Syria; 70 percent of them are descendants of those who fled the Ottoman genocide in 1915.
In interviews with Christians in Syria, Leonhardt finds that most of them are critical of the Syrian opposition. While moderate and secular voices exist in the opposition, they have little influence at a time when armed groups have the say. Christians agree that rebel forces are eager to overthrow Assad’s regime, but hold that they show little concern for minorities. Christians feel safe in government-controlled areas, but not in rebel-controlled areas, where they are often targeted. In the eyes of Orthodox Christians, it is more important to preserve their religious freedom than to aspire to political freedom. They often had initial sympathies for the quest of political reforms but soon became distanced, as Islamic references became a key reference for the protests (mosques indeed were one of the few places where people could gather freely in an authoritarian state). The fear that Syria could turn from secular into Islamic is a major reason for emigrating. Especially in comparison with other Muslim-majority countries in the area and the worsening circumstances for Christians after Islamist turbulences and political upheavals, the Syrian Christians believe that the Damascus regime currently offers them the best conditions: a stable social status, with freedom to build churches and to practice their religion openly.
(Ostkirchliche Studien, Ostkirchliches Institut an der Universität Würzburg, Steinbachtal 2a, 97082 Würzuzburg, Germany – http://www.echter.de/zeitschriften/ostkirchliche-studien)