New church opens in former Islamic State area of Syria


ALEPPO, SYRIA (ANS) — An Evangelical church was recently opened in the Syrian town of Kobani, given the rise of conversions to Christianity by Kurds and some Syrians.

Zani, a priest from Afrin, leads prayer in the new church. Photo – Kurdistan 24.

According to multiple reports, the first published by Reuters, and cited by Middle East ministry Behold Israel, there has been a spike in converts to Christianity over the past year, many stating that Syria’s ongoing atrocities and radical Islamic factions, mainly IS– Islamic State — as their reasons for converting.

The ministry said radicalization of Sunni Islam and abuses by ISIS have been said to have led many to search for faith and religion outside of Islam.

Behold Israel reported that Kobani is located in northern Syria in the Aleppo region and was heavily affected by the war given the Islamic State.

It says the once predominately Kurdish town was taken over by People’s Protection Units (YPG) in 2012 until 2014 when IS took over several areas in the region. The region was hit heavily by US-backed forces carrying out multiple airstrikes throughout 2014-2015 in the city located close to the Syrian-Turkish border.

In a ministry update, Behold Israel said: “The situation for Christians in the Middle East has been dire, with dozens of terror attacks by Islamic factions on churches and places of worship.

“Israel is the only country that is a safe haven for Christians and has absorbed Christian refugees from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt in the past. The Islamic State’s campaign to eradicate Christians throughout Middle Eastern countries led to massacres, human and sex trafficking and forced conversions in Syria, Iraq and Libya, with multiple terror attacks in Egypt.”

Kurdistan 24 reported that Parish leaders opened the new church on Thursday in a city that became an icon for the resistance against the Islamic State (IS) in 2014.

“Afrin was destroyed, but with the help of God, and the permission of the administration in Kobani, we opened this place,” said Zanî, a priest from Afrin who fled when Turkish-backed Islamist rebels took over in March. “And our people will meet here and we thank the people of Kobani,” he told Kurdistan 24.

Kurdistan 24 said about six Christian families from Afrin fled to Kobani, where a total of approximately 300 Christians now live.

Farzad, project manager of the Christian NGO AVC International, which supported the opening, said this is the first time in recent memory a church has opened in the city. “The last church [in Kobani] was destroyed 30 years ago and the last Christian meeting was 55 years ago,” he told Kurdistan 24.

Over the past three years, Christians in Kobani worshipped privately in home prayer groups. “When the war in Kobani started, and ISIS attacked Kobani, they [refugees] came to Suruc, and we start[ed] helping them with the hospital, and camps,” Farzad said.

“You have to realize Christianity doesn’t have a very long history [in the area]. There were churches in Kobani, and a lot of descendants from Armenians that were forced to become Muslim still live in Kobani,” he said.

Kurdistan 24 said many Armenian refugees settled in Kobani around 1915 after fleeing the Armenian genocide. However, after IS attacked Kobani in 2014, some Muslims Kurds also converted to Christianity.

“IS encouraged them to find out about Islam, and see if it was true Islam or not.”

Ahmed Sheikho, a member of the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) told Kurdistan 24 that radical groups destroyed the previous religious co-existence in the region.

“Today, we opened the church in Kobani, following the principle of the democratic nation, we want every religion, ethnic group, national group to coexist together, pray together, and we will help them,” he said.