قدمت هذه المداخلة للدكتورة ميرنا داوود باللغة الإنجليزية عن الدور المفترض والريادي لمسيحيي سوريا في المرحلة المقبلة في جلسة عصف فكري ضمن انشطة الرابطة الثقافية في كاليفورنيا.

 

If we intend to give Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God, we must be honest with ourselves and say that the Syrian Christians have been distinguished, throughout their long history, of their awareness and high sense of nationalism. Such awareness was an integral part of their drive, which made the greatness of this country. It also made them aware of the dangers of wars against Syria, since the first spark of war was ignited. They were also personally loyal to their homeland throughout the ages. Furthermore, we must not deny, but rather recognize their hardship and suffering the abusive acts of terrorist organizations in the region. Terror acts affected the rest of the Syrian communities, which exists along this geographical area of Syria. They paid the ultimate price for their belonging to this land and because of the depth of their patriotism. It is a patriotism which cannot be claimed by a aspirant, especially in terms of understanding the present, and also taking advantage of past experiences, to create a better future.

Resistance against the Ottoman Empire and the French Occupation

The Syrian Christians had an effective political and ideological role in the establishment of modern Syria. This had taken place during the resistance of the Ottoman occupation, as well as the resistance of the French occupation afterwards. A number of Syrian Christian names have entered history as an anti-colonial orientalist, such as Francis Marash, who is a symbol of the Arab Renaissance Movement, Esber Zaghibi, who was a leader of resistance against the French occupation, and Fares al-Khoury, who was the prime minister during the independence era.  This is in addition to others who contributed to building the Syrian territory in the 20th century.

It is shameful and unfair to attempt and depict Christians as a group, who did not resist colonialism. Their history is full of stories about resisting foreign interference and their efforts to strengthen national unity, such as Fares al-Khoury, who formed the sixth government after the departure of the French. He was one of the most prominent Syrian politicians, who was elected in 1914 as a deputy of the city of Damascus. He was arrested and detained during the era of Jamal Pasha in 1916, for conspiring against the Ottoman Empire, but was eventually acquitted and subsequently exiled to Istanbul

Upon return to Damascus after the defeat of the Ottomans, Khoury was appointed as a member of the Shura Council. He was the one who proposed to Prince Faysal Bin Al Hussain the idea about the establishment of that council, to protest against the despotism of the French authority during the mandate. Khoury, Abdel Rahman al-Shahbandar and a number of nationalists in Syria were responsible for establishing the People's Party in Syria. He was arrested and detained in several occasions on the hands of the French authorities, charging him of anti-mandate and incitement acts against the French.

 One of the most prominent political positions of Fares al-Khoury, which resulted in Syria's independence from France and the removal of the last French troops, was when he entered the United Nations, minutes before the scheduled time of meeting, requested by Syria, for the purpose of ending the French mandate. Khoury proceeded and sat in the seat assigned to the French Ambassador to the United Nations, and when the Ambassador entered and saw Fares al-Khoury, occupying his seat, he asked al-Khoury to move and use the seat assigned to Syria. However, Khoury did not move from the seat, but rather said to the Ambassador, “I occupied your seat for a mere 25 minutes, and you became some upset that you were about to slaughter! Syria suffered tremendously from your presence of twenty-five years on its territory, and now it is time for our independence!

At this meeting, Syria gained its independence and the last French soldier was removed from the country. Few people may be aware that Fares al-Khouri, while being the head of the Syrian government, he was also in charge the Ministry of Islamic Endowments. When few individuals objected him being in charge of that ministry since he was Christian, the Deputy of the Islamic Bloc, Abdul Hamid Tabba, came out to confront the protesters and said to al-Khoury: "We trust you with that more than we trust ourselves. You are the best among us to assume this post. "

Belief in the unity of Syria

 These facts and historical narratives were not coincidental, but rather emerged as an image, reflecting the reality and essence of the Syrian society, which was able to deal rationally with the severe sectarian and ethnic problems within the various stages of its formation. This was not an easy matter to deal with. Eastern Christian communities supported and contributed to the enlightenment and Arabization movements and acted as a link between the Eastern and the Western societies. This is in addition to the peculiarity of this Middle Eastern territory characterized by its cultural and civilizational presence in terms of the diverse mosaic of sects and ethnicities, as well as the nationalities in which they live and coexist.

Syria was a homeland characterized by pluralism, where Christians contributed to building its civilization and dignified its culture over time. They respected the common living system and did not try to undermine the unity of the country. On the contrary, the Christians’ nationalistic stands were their appropriate witness in this aspect. Their presence, which dissolved and mixed with the Syrian national identity through long-term stages, was an integral part of Syria's culture today. This situation is not a unique case in the Syrian history. In the second half of the 1950s, a dignified representative from Hawran, by the name of Hani Salem (a Syrian Christian), ran in an election for the presidency of the Islamic orphanage in Daraa. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Janadi, ran against him in the election, but the people of Daraa chose Hani Salem to be president of the Islamic orphanage, despite all difficulties and obstacles.

Early warning of the magnitude of the Syrian war

Based on the above and what happened, I return to the last war and what happened in the last eight years, on this Syrian territory. I must say that several qualities have characterized the role of Syrian Christians today, as they have in the past. Positions of many heads of churches can be considered, in this regard, as united in supporting the Syrian nation and its territorial integrity in the face of terrorism. This is in addition to extremist movements, which attempt to undermine Syria’s sovereignty. There was a consensus on the unity of the Christian position to stand firmly behind the Syrian state, which protects against all forms of aggression, along with a powerful military that defends the country against fragmentation, division and the external enemy.

The Syrians have become increasingly aware that the unrest taking place on the Syrian soil has the characteristics of a plot, which was planned by a number of Middle Eastern countries, as well as other countries of the West. This may sum up the Christian position on this filthy war. It means that while many slipped into subversion and utilized hollow slogans of change, Christians remained loyal to the land and learned from the past. They viewed the crisis in the country with a visionary eyes and realized early on, what is being planned and what is being fabricated. It was all about dividing the country and undermining the unity of its territory and its entity. Therefore, they stood united against all plots that threatened their patriotism and nationalism!

Future role: Secularism and respect for pluralism and the homeland

Today, as we stand at this historical junction and at a crucial stage, we inquire about role of Syrian Christians in the upcoming phase, after the end of the war and the establishment of a new Syria? Christians support their country's interest in all aspects. At a time when they expressed a desire to change mechanisms, Christians in Syria believed that a secular state is the only guarantee for their continuity in all existential aspects. Chaos and unrest experienced by Syria during the years of this unrest have never been a project of building a modern state or liberating a society. Those who sought destructive change had no goal but killing and displacement of the innocent. Christians were not willing to accept any form of government that does not agree with the standards of civil society, or a respect for religious pluralism and diversity.

 On the other hand, and as a reader of the crisis, Syrian Christians realized from the beginning that the unrest in Syria was not meant to change the regime or bring about political reform. It was merely ignited to destroy the country.  Therefore, they stood in the line of peaceful political solutions and refused to get involved in internal sectarian fighting, which was going to generate destruction and slaughtering of the innocent. The apprehension, insecurity, and instability created by terrorist organizations in the country, as well as their criminal actions against all sects caused Christians to appreciate the importance of the Syrian national state as the legitimate authority in all matters.

Syrian Christians have never been part of the Syrian war, which was represented in their refusal to take up arms against the government. Their pursuit of political change by peaceful means has never gone beyond respecting the Syrian authorities. This will reflect on their future role in the country, and this is what they are looking for. They want to assume an effective role on the Syrian land, which responds to their needs and the needs of their homeland. The history of Christina Syrians and their struggle against the foreign colonists is a clear testimony about their loyalty to this country. This is in addition to their adherence to the values of Eastern Christianity, which calls for peace, love, respect for pluralism, and respect of other religions. All these considerations, along with their solid confidence in this country as a protector of all, can make Christians an important part in shaping Syria's future. We, as Christians respect pluralism and respect granting opportunities to those who deserve it, regardless of any religious or sectarian considerations. This is Syria, which we aspire to today. We take lessons from the past, apply what we learn to our present, to overcome our shortcomings, and look forward to a better tomorrow.