While the Syrian Regime Portrays Itself as a Secular Guardian of Christians, It’s Deliberately Destroyed Churches and Imprisoned Many Christian Citizens, as well as Exploiting Sectarianism, Including Politicizing Religion as a ‘Survival Strategy’
The US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) has released its annual report on international religious freedom for the year 2022, including in Syria. The report notes that sectarian violence, fueled and exacerbated by the Syrian regime and other parties to the conflict, is still continuing, while also shedding light on the widespread destruction of infrastructure and the targeting of individuals on a sectarian basis by the Syrian regime and other parties to the conflict.
The report draws upon a number of sources, which are ordered below by the number of times they were cited:
• Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI): 14 citations.
• Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR): seven citations.
The report also cites other sources, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP).
The report notes that sectarian violence is still going on in Syria due to the tensions between religious groups, further exacerbated by regime actions, worsening economic conditions, and the ongoing conflict in a broader sense. The report further notes that about half of the population living in Syria before the start of the popular uprising in Syria in March 2011 has either been internally displaced or become refugees in other countries (6.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 6.7 million refugees). As the report further reveals, the Syrian regime’s government, with the backing of its allies Russia and Iran, continues to commit human rights violations against dissidents, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, with regime forces also destroying places of worship, hospitals, houses, and other civilian infrastructure in a widespread manner.
Furthermore, the report stresses that the Alawite majority in Syria still enjoys an “elevated political status” disproportionate to the size of the country’s Alawite population, particularly in leadership positions within the army, security, and intelligence apparatuses. As the report states, “The regime attempted to project an image as a secular protector of Christians, but… [the regime] intentionally destroyed churches and detained numerous Christian citizens… Authorities used sectarianism, including the politicization of religion, as a “survival strategy.””
The report further notes that the Iranian regime has directly backed the Assad regime, primarily through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and has recruited Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani Shia soldiers to fight on Assad’s behalf in the Syrian conflict.
Moreover, the report notes that some Turkish-backed armed opposition factions have also committed violations amounting to war crimes, including torture, rape, taking hostages, pillaging, and seizing private properties, especially in Kurdish-majority areas, not to mention the desecration of Yazidi religious sites in the areas under their control.