Thursday, August 10, 2017

[End_Times_News] Persecution Update

End Times News Update
Sign: Believers Persecuted
Scripture: Matthew 24:8
News Source: AFP

Rosary in hand, Christians flee Syria's IS-held Raqa

Delil Souleiman
AFP August 9, 2017

Jazra (Syria) (AFP) - Sawsan Karapetyan and her family lived in fear
for years as some of the only Christians in the Islamic State group's
Syrian stronghold Raqa. On Tuesday she fled, clutching her rosary.

Under the cover of darkness, the 45-year-old Syrian Armenian and six
other family members left IS-held territory in the northern city on

They were rescued by Christian fighters participating in the battle to
oust IS from Raqa and taken to the safety of the western suburb of
Jazra in the back of a truck.

"I didn't want to leave, but there was so much bombardment around us
that we fled," said Karapetyan, 45, still clad in the black robes
mandated by IS.

Like many of the thousands who have fled IS control, they escaped with
virtually nothing.

But Karapetyan could not bear to leave behind her rosary, or her pet
parrots, "Lover" and "Beloved".

"It would have been a shame to leave these birds in Raqa. I left
everything except them," she said.

As she spoke, she sipped a cup of tea handed to her by fighters from
the Syriac Military Council (SMC), a Christian unit battling alongside
the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces to oust IS from Raqa.

The anti-IS fighters have captured more than half of the city from IS
since first penetrating it two months ago.

The offensive has ravaged the city, leaving civilians caught in the
crossfire of mortar rounds, sniper fire, and US-led coalition air

"When Raqa was bombed, we'd gather together to pray to the Lord so
things would be calm," Karapetyan said, fiddling with her
greenish-grey rosary.

Along with three female and three male relatives, she fled Raqa at
3:00 am on Tuesday using an escape route the SMC opened two days ago.

"We lived through the hardest moments these last three days because of
the fierce bombing. I was terrified for my husband and my family."

- Celebrating holidays in secret -

Thousands of Armenians and Syriac Christians once lived in Raqa,
making up around one percent of the city's population, which is
predominantly Sunni Arab.

Armenians in Syria are the descendants of those who fled mass killings
in Anatolia at the peak of World War I, massacres the Armenians see as
a genocide, though Turkey rejects the term.

When IS seized Raqa in 2014, most of the city's Christians, as well as
its Kurdish population, fled.

Under IS rule, Christians face the choice of converting to Islam,
paying a sectarian tax called jizya, or fleeing under threat of death.

The group has regularly destroyed religious symbols and houses of
worship, and Karapetyan's relative Alexey told AFP she had haunting
memories of IS's oppression of Christians.

"When IS entered they burned the churches, all the prayer books, the
angels, the statue of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus the Messiah," she

The city's famed Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs and the Greek
Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation were both ravaged by

"We used to celebrate our holidays in secret, spending them at home in
fear," Alexey, 50, said, still dressed in the headscarf and robes
required by IS.

"We would light a bit of incense just to feel that it was a religious

Alexey presses the palm of her hand against her worn face, exhausted
by the terrifying journey to Jazra and missing the home she left

"We all left Raqa and all of our things stayed behind. It's a painful
feeling. We tried to stay but we couldn't take it anymore."

From Jazra, she and her relatives planned to head west to Aleppo to be
reunited with Armenian family members they lost touch with about a
month ago.

- 'We will pray again' -

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from Raqa by the
escalating fighting.

Matay, a 22-year-old Christian fighter, told AFP that his forces had
secured a route in recent days to help civilians flee.

"We got a Christian family out yesterday... This is our goal in the
campaign to liberate Raqa."

Kardij Kirdian, 50, fled on Tuesday after his brother escaped the day

"I can't describe the feeling when we saw the Christian fighters
welcoming us," he said.

He told AFP he had chosen to stay in his native Raqa even if it meant
paying exorbitant taxes.

"The first year, they took 55,000 Syrian pounds (more than $100) per
person as jizya. The next year it was 66,000, and this last year it
was 166,000 pounds each (more than $300)," Kirdian said.

To afford the levy, he would rent out and farm fertile land around the

The 50-year-old was wearing a loose charcoal grey robe and had thick,
jet-black eyebrows and an unruly salt-and-pepper beard.

"Daesh blew up all of the churches, which devastated us. I haven't
prayed inside a church since 2013," Kirdian lamented, using the Arabic
acronym for IS.

But he remained hopeful.

"If we rebuild them, we will pray again in Raqa."

Source: AFP

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