Earthquake Shakes Foundations of Christian Communities in Syria
In the early hours of February 6, 2023, a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey and northwest Syria, killing over 41,000 people. The destruction was centered around southwest Turkey and northwest Syria, and has affected Christians in the cities of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Idlib.
The Stream spoke with Sarah (not her real name) through an interpreter, called “The Marshall.” “The Marshall” fought against ISIS in 2017, but this is a whole new level of death and destruction. Sarah lived in Homs, but has taken shelter in Latakia. Sarah said that the quake caused so much destruction that many towns are uninhabitable. Whole neighborhoods came down. She said she thanks God that her building survived and her family is okay.
Sarah continues to live in fear due to aftershocks. “There are still ‘little’ earthquakes” that leave everyone on edge.
Sarah also explained that churches in the area have stepped up to help. “The churches did everything they could do: give food and shelter for those who lost homes.” The churches have even given their buildings to the thousands left homeless, regardless of faith. “The churches do not discriminate; they are helping people, Christians and Muslims alike.”
But the earthquake and aftershocks are threatening the already weakened Christian communities. In March of 2011, a brutal civil war engulfed Syria, which gave rise to ISIS and al-Qaeda. In addition to toppling Syria’s president Bashar Assad’s dictatorial government, ISIS was intent on exterminating the ancient Christian communities of Syria, centered in northern cities of Qamishli, Kessab and others.
Over the last decade, up to half of the Christians have fled Syria, draining people and support from their embattled churches.
“The economy for us is really, really bad,” said The Marshall. Even before the earthquake, Syrians were hurting. Syria’s conditions are so bad that people live on $10-20 per month. “They do not have money and 9 out of 10 stores are empty.”
Owing to 12 years of civil war and ongoing sanctions from the West, the Churches resources are stretched to the breaking point. Sarah and other Syrians struggle daily. Syria is a disaster area, said Sarah. “Not just buildings, there are more homeless people. Normal living is really hard. There’s no electricity or water. No fuel. We don’t have a lot.”
“Aid has come to those in Turkey, but not us in Syria,” The Marshall added, “The sanctions put in place in 2011 are not hurting the government of Syria but are killing its people.”
When asked if she has any hope for the future, Sarah replied: “We should, must live in hope; if not, it’s a big problem. The problem is bigger than food, water or blankets. And people are helping each other, but total neighborhoods are destroyed. People have nothing left.”
When asked what Christians of the world could do for their suffering brothers and sisters in Syria, Sarah said, “Please, we ask that all Christians pray for us [and] light a candle for us — We know that prayer from sincere hearts will do something and God will hear it.”