Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) - About 50,000 Syrian Christians have asked for Russian citizenship, fearing "banishment from our land" for "first time since the Nativity of Christ," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website where it published an appeal by residents of Qalamoun, an area of predominantly Christian villages, like Maaloula, which was recently targeted by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front. For the petitioners, the West is to blame for supporting "terrorists" in their attacks against Syria. By contrast, the Russian Federation is praised as "a powerful factor of global peace and stability".
"Since Syrian law allows dual citizenship, we have decided to seek citizenship of the Russian Federation if this is possible. Russian citizenship would be an honour for any Syrian Christian who wished to acquire it," the group said in its letter to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
"Our appeal does not mean that we have any mistrust in the Syrian army or government. However, we are scared of the conspiracy of the West and hateful fanatics who are waging a brutal war against our country," the letter went on to say.
Classified as a UNESCO heritage site, Maaloula lies 40 km north of Damascus. The village is famous throughout the world as one of the symbols of Christianity in the Middle East and is the only place in the world where Aramaic is still spoken. The village is considered a symbol of religious coexistence.
"It is for the first time since the Nativity of Christ that we Christians of Qalamoun living in the villages of Saidnaya, Maara Saidnaya, Maaloula and Maaroun are under threat of banishment from our land. We prefer death to exile and life in refugee camps, and so we will defend our land, honour and faith, and will not leave the land on which Christ walked," the letter said.
"The Christians of Qalamoun believe that the purpose of the Western-backed terrorists is to eliminate our presence in what is our native land, and with some of the most revolting methods as well, including savage murders of ordinary people," the letter read.
"We see the Russian Federation as a powerful factor of global peace and stability. Russia pursues a firm line in the defence of Syria, its people and its territorial integrity," the letter added.
The attack by Islamic extremists in Maaloula has become a symbol of Christian suffering in the Middle Eastern country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is connected to the rebels, has confirmed the presence of al-Qaeda affiliated groups among the fighters that invaded the town.
During their attack, the extremists defiled the monasteries of St Thecla and St Sergius, destroying the crosses on their domes and wrecking their ancient sacred furniture. (N.A./S.C.)