January 8, 2014 - 16:55 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A small congregation of Armenian Orthodox Christians prayed for peace at a Christmas service in Old Damascus and reflected on the hardships of living in an uneasy middle ground in Syria’s increasingly sectarian conflict, The Daily Star reports.
They lamented a low turnout compared to previous years – many have fled Syria and others were unable to get through a maze of checkpoints and traffic bottlenecks to reach the church of St. Sarkis for Armenian Christmas, celebrated on Jan 6.
“You used to see this entire church courtyard full, but it’s been fewer and fewer people every season,” said one of the community organizers who, like all those interviewed for this article, asked to remain anonymous due to sensitivities.
“The trouble is many would have liked to come today but they couldn’t because of the traffic at checkpoints,” the organizer said.
Syria’s conflict has grown increasingly sectarian since it started as a peaceful uprising in March 2011 and then evolved into an armed rebellion against President Bashar Assad. Majority Sunnis dominate the uprising while minorities have for the most part stuck with the government, which is dominated by members of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Archbishop Armash Nalbandian led the Christmas Mass then delivered a short sermon, with a prayer for better days.
“Last year witnessed many martyrs and kidnappings ... There have been martyrs in our schools ... children aged 6 and 7 killed,” he said. “We pray this year for the release of the kidnapped, and for peace in our country, Syria.”
Many of the Armenian Orthodox Christian congregation live in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, a densely populated area home to many of the city’s Christians. Jaramana has been the site of several car bombs and dozens of mortar and rocket attacks that the government blames on rebels who control the adjacent suburbs.