Syria’s Christian Minority Are Fighting Back
The security office is so neatly tucked away into a small side street that it’s a little difficult to take it seriously as a threatening resistance operation. Inside, young guys are sitting around with rifles, some in uniform, others in civilian clothes. It’s a typical scene in today’s Syria, a country with more armed groups than is possible to count, except for the fact that the office is so clean you could eat off the floor, and most of the men are strikingly well-groomed. Also, the sign on the office wall is in a language other than Arabic or Kurdish, the two main languages of the region, and there is a cross in its center.
Sutoro, the name the organization goes under,means “police” in Syriac, the language of theAssyrian Christians of the area—the Hasakah Governorate in the northeast of the country. The group has been described as a Christian militia, but it’s really a neighborhood watch, albeit with arrest powers and automatic weapons. Its members patrol the streets of Qahtaniya, Al-Malikiyah and Qamishli, towns and cities where people—mostly Kurds, but also Christians and Sunni Arabs—are locked in a brutal struggle against Islamist militants, some of them with ties to al Qaeda.
Syria’s Christians—many of whom are richer and more comfortable than the country’s mostly poor Sunni majority—have mostly featured in the news as victims of the country’s civil war. The fightingbetween Islamist rebels and government forces in Maaloula, a Christian town north of Damascus where Aramaic, the language of Christ, is still spoken, has been widely reported and seen as another ominous development for a community that was, until a few years ago, thriving not just in Syria but also in Iraq. Since the conflict began, 450,000 Christians are thought to have left the country, more than a quarter of the original total. But some are now resisting.