Syrian Christians in SoCal do not want a US attack against Syria

Prayer candles in the vestibule near the entrance to St. Ephraim Cathedral.
Prayer candles in the vestibule near the entrance to St. Ephraim Cathedral.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Prayer candles in the vestibule near the entrance to St. Ephraim Cathedral.
St. Ephraim Cathedral.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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Among the Syrian Americans in Southern California, many Christians are against a U.S. attack against Syria. They fear American military action could lead to a victory by Islamist rebels, and they believe that could spell doom for the country’s Christians.

At Sunday Mass at St. Ephraim Cathedral in Burbank, families packed the pews as usual. But on this Sunday, the congregants in this Syrian Orthodox Christian church — mostly immigrants with roots in Syria — are palpably worried.

Karen has family in the Syrian city of Homs. She doesn’t want her last name used for their protection. She says she has “mixed emotions” about possible U.S. intervention.

"As bad as everybody is saying [President Bashar] Assad is, we feel like he’s protecting the Christians," she says. "Our relatives in Syria are worried that if he goes, they don’t know what will happen to them.”

Karen says even with Assad’s protection, Christians are under assault. She says priests have been killed, and two Orthodox bishops who were kidnapped months ago are still missing.

Father Abdulahad Shara presided over Sunday's mass. He’s afraid that Christians in Syria will be pushed out, as they have been in places like Iraq. Already their numbers have shrunk, he says -- there were about a million Christians in Syria before the start of the war, but many have fled.

"They’ve run away," he says. "There are only thousands. They left their houses, they left their money, they left everything."

Father Shara says people’s phone calls to relatives go unanswered. He says there’s no way to know if people have fled to refugee camps, gone into hiding, or been killed.

John is a 42-year-old immigrant from Aleppo; he also doesn't want to give his last name. He lives in Granada Hills now; he moved there a year and a half ago to be near his parents. He is frightened by the prospect of a U.S. military strike, and what it might mean for Syria’s Christians.  

"We need from our President Obama to be careful, please don’t touch Syria, because we live there and we have many [Christian] friends," he says, choking back tears.

Among Syrian Muslims in Southern California, there is greater support for U.S. action, because of the widespread hatred of Assad's regime.  

For now, southern California's Syrians — Muslims and Christians — can only watch and wait, to see how this latest crisis plays out in their already devastated homeland.