BEIRUT – A Syrian Christian opposition group has voiced fears that the Bashar al-Assad regime is seeking to displace Christians from the historic center of Damascus, known popularly as the Old City.
In a statement issued Sunday, the Syrian Christians for Peace warned of the “deliberate and systemic [efforts] to displace the remaining Christians from the Old City of Damascus.”
The humanitarian organization—which seeks to challenge the narrative of Christian support for the regime—said that the government was purposely ruining the “security and moral” situation of Christian quarters in the Old City in a bid to “prompt [Christians] to sell their homes.”
“The Syrian Christians for Peace condemns the deliberate disregard for the values and ethics of the Christian-majority areas of Damascus, especially in Bab Touma,” the statement also said.
The Syrian Christians for Peace claimed that Christian residents have been complaining that their neighborhoods have transformed into “hotbeds of immorality,” in reference to the large number of bars and nightclubs opened in the past months in the residential areas, which the group said was “violating the sanctity and security” of the historic neighborhoods in central Damascus.
The Syrian Christians for Peace called on “all Christian clergymen to take a firm stand against these practices and to stop favoring an authoritarian regime that killed more than half-a-million [people], displaced ten million and destroyed half the country.”
Top Christian clerical officials in Syria have all stood on the side of the Bashar al-Assad, who counts on the public support of a majority of the country’s Christians, approximately 10% of the total population.
Asharq Alawsat followed up on the Syrian Christians for Peace’s statement, interviewing residents of Bab al-Touma who complained about changes in the neighborhood, including the prevalence of nightclubs and Shiite militiamen.
One man, identified as Abu Nidal, said that he moved out of the neighborhood “out of fear” for his children, especially his daughters, because of the “moral corruption in the area.”
Abu Nidal complained in his comments to the Saudi-owned daily that “Bab Touma is no longer a Christian neighborhood, but a place for the National Defense Force militias guarded by Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite militiamen.”
He added that Hezbollah posters and yellow flags commonly used by the Shiite militia groups were plastered across the walls of Bab Touma alongside images of Christian saints.
Another resident, identified as Tereza, told Asharq Alawsat that Christians in the neighborhood were being “provoked” and that walls were being spray painted with popular Shiite sectarian statements.
Meanwhile, an unidentified music teacher who recently moved into Bab Touma said he was shocked by the number of bars and clubs in the area, saying it had been turned into an “open-air brothel.”