The Bravenhearts of Wadi Al Nasera, Syria
Wadi Al Nasera, (Valley of the Christians) Syria
Wadi al Nasera (Valley of the Christians) encompasses approximately 40 picturesque Christian hamlets in western Syria, located amidst the green plush rolling hills between Homs and the Lebanese border. Thirty of its villages are Christian, four are mainly populated by Alawi Muslims and one, Al Qalaa (aka Hosn village), just under the Crak des Chevaliers medieval fortress, was Sunni Muslim. It was literally pulverized by heavy and sustained government forces aerial bombardment once it became a supply base in 2013 for rebels inside the medieval crusader fortress.
This observer, spent the past week visiting some of the oldest Wadi al Nasara Christian villages which include Marmarita, Al-Hwash , Zweitina, Muzina, Nasra, Mqaabra, al Mishtiaya, Blat, Tanurin, Anaz, Joir al-Afes, Hab Nimra, 'Ash al-Shuha, 'Amar al-Husn, 'Ayn al-Barda, 'Ayn al-Ajuzi, 'Ayn al-Ghara, Kafra, Mashta Aazar, Al-Qllatia, Kayma, Masraa, Muklous, Bahzina, Joineyat, Al-Talla, Daghla, Amar, Mishtayeh and Rabah, agrees with many who come to Wadi al Nasera (Valley of the Christians) that the valley is most beautiful and welcoming area of Syria or of anyplace in the Middle East that he has visited. Its people who include Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics and Armenian Orthodox among others, add to its splendor. Some visitors come repeatedly, others annually for summer holidays or to experience one or more of the valleys seasonal cultural festivals that makes this part of Syria a major tourist attraction.
But Wadi Nasera has suffered much, as has most of Syria from the continuing conflict and the devastating loss of loved ones from terrorist acts. For a variety of reasons, the proportion of Christians in the Middle East has contracted from around 20 percent at the start of the 20th century to around 5 percent currently. Less than 1 percent of the world's more than 2 billion Christians currently live in the Middle East, and it is likely that number will decrease even further.
From the very start of the current conflict, history and religion have fueled passions on both sides in Syria. This has become more pronounced as the conflict drags on, turning bloodier and more vicious by the month. The main target of the most sectarian-minded rebels isn't Christians, but rather Alawites, the minority group who make up about 12% of Syria's population, about the same as Christians until recently. The Alawites are a heterodox sect that branched off from Islam, and are considered by Muslim takfiri extremists more heretical than Christians.
Approximately one quarter of the Christian valley's population have been forced to flee as refugees, according to Roman Catholic Priest, Father Hanna Salloum, owner of the Al Wadi Hotel in the village of Mishtayeh, who generously gave this observer his time and insites into have life has been like for Wadi al Nasara over the past few years. Soon the places of those who fled the valley were taken by other arriving refugees who correctly believed they would be welcomed in the Valley of the Christians. Father Salloum, a devout Christian and Syrian nationalist, insisted that all the rooms in his large 5-star hotel be made available without charge to refugees fleeing Homs and elsewhere. Arriving Christians, Muslims or non-believers were given shelter gratis on a first come first served basis. For more than one year his hotel was a teeming home to his countryman until jihadists were expelled from their stronghold less than two kilometers from his Al Wadi Hotel. Father Hanna Salloum is my kind of Christian.
Perhaps ten percent of those who fled from the more than 40 villages have returned and it is apparent to this observer that the Syrian army has now secured the Valley. Yet continuing hardships such as shortages of electricity, water, mazout (fuel oil), and general inflation persist. Additionally, this week's soaring temperatures have caused some 13 deaths, ignited two dozen brush fires and sent two foreign journalists attending this week's Al Wadi Festival in Homs Governorate to hospital.