Project Description

Until 2014 Raqqa was inhabited by thousands of Armenian and Syriac Christians a tiny community in the predominantly Sunni town. But that year, ISIS seized Raqqa. In the escalating conflict that followed, thousands of people were displaced including most of the Christians. Those who stayed faced the choice of converting to Islam or paying the Jizya tax. In the first year of ISIS occupation this was 55,000 Syrian pounds (c. $100) per person; the following year it increased to 66,000 pounds (c. $120), finally rising to 166,000 pounds (c. $300) per person. Christians could have still tried to escape, but to do so would have risked their lives. ISIS started to destroy religious symbols by burning the churches. There were four churches in the Raqqa area, two in the city: Annunciation of Our Lady, Holy Martyrs and two others in nearby Tabaqa and Tal Abiyad; all four were ravaged by jihadists.

According to ISIS philosophy, burning churches is an obligation based on fatwas stating that places of worship in conquered cities must be burnt and other religions’ symbols removed. As for cities that were subordinated peaceably, churches and temples of other faiths are permitted to remain and non-Muslims can continue to practice their faith, albeit not publicly. However this did not apply to Raqqa which was conquered by violence, so Christians were not entitled to safety. Christians felt devastated by the churches’ destruction. Being trapped under ISIS occupation, Christians have not prayed in the church for years, but they keep hoping that one day they will do so once more.

Built in 1998, the compound of the Annunciation of Our Lady in the Sheikh Maksoud district of Raqqa (considered a slum area) was composed of the church surrounded by 34 flats, a parish hall and a play area for children. Inside, the church walls were damaged and exhibited traces of fre, all furniture and decoration were destroyed completely, only the rubble of the altar remained. Jihadists attacked this impoverished neighbourhood, where more than 50 poor families lived, taking everything: furniture, fridges, washing machines and electrical wires and water pipes.