A 90-year-old resident of Idlib, Syria, who is said to be the last Christian in the area, shared the difficulties he encountered in the face of Muslim persecution.
The International Christian Concern reported that Michael Butros al-Jisri disclosed in an interview with Al-Monitor the hardships of being the only Christian left in the city after the majority of believers took flight in 2015 when “opposition took control.” Butros, who has no children, revealed it was his decision to stay in Idlib out of his commitment to their property. He said he and his wife along with his father opted to stay when many Christians decided to.
“My family is from Idlib city. My family and I used to live here in this house, which became a part of me, and I shall not leave it, come what may. My brothers moved to live in Aleppo while my father, his wife and I chose to stay,” al-Jisri said.
The International Christian Concern said Christians make up less than 1% of the residents of Idlib where there once was 10,000. The decline started in 2012, a year after the civil war began and then skyrocketed in 2015 when the Islamist rebels began to storm Idlib. This led to the majority of the remaining 1,200 Christians in the city to flee. Five Christians, including al-Jisri, his wife, and father, were left by the end of 2015. His wife and father died recently.
“News spreads easily. They put their families in cars and drove away,” al-Jisri told The New York Times.
“Now, there’s no one,” he stressed.
al-Jisri lamented last Christmas that he had to celebrate the great feast in the cemetery with the Greek Orthodox Christians buried there. He used to be the caretaker of the cemetery for which he organized funerals and attended to the needs of grieving families.
“Who am I going to celebrate the holiday with? The walls? I don’t want to celebrate if I am alone,” al-Jisri said.
Last November, Christianity Daily reported that Christians were being bombed out of Syria by Turkish-backed forces. Christian communities in the town of Dil Dara were faced with danger that forced them to eviction due to an ongoing civil war. Christian villages have been abandoned due to the Turkish attacks who persist unless the area’s residents leave permanently. Many families have been reported to seek shelter in Lebanon.
Syria ranks 15 in the 2022 World Watch List of Open Doors USA, an international persecution watchdog. The list pertains to areas in the world where it is difficult to follow Jesus. The 638,000 Christians left in the country experience “very high” persecution from “Islamic oppression”, Open Doors said.
“Even though the public threat of ISIS has largely subsided, Christians in Syria still grapple with daily persecution that may become violent. In areas where Islamic extremist groups are active, leaders of historical church communities may be targeted simply because they are more visible. But leaders of other Christian groups are also vulnerable because they may be more active in evangelism. Church buildings are completely destroyed in many parts of Syria where Islamic extremists had control (or continue to maintain control),” Open Doors USA said.
United States Department of State Secretary Antony Blinken announced last week that Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed in a military operation northwest of Syria. The operation took place a week after the United States assisted the Syrian Democratic Forces in regaining control of the al-Sinaa prison that was attacked by the ISIS militants. The said prison takeover is said to be the largest coordinated attack of the ISIS since 2017.
“Throughout that process, the United States took extraordinary care to protect innocent lives and prevent noncombatant casualties. ISIS, however, once again revealed its disregard for human life, including that of women and children, when al-Qurayshi choose to detonate a suicide bomb, killing his own family,” Blinken declared.
By Anton Carillo