In 2013 Aleppo found itself under siege with most of its population sheltering in an enclave measuring some 100 square kilometres besieged by the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS who at the time were all fighting as part of the same rebel coalition.
Among those with the most to lose should the enclave have fallen were certainly Aleppo’s Christians who as far as the jihadist besiegers were concerned subscribed not just to the wrong politics but to the wrong faith.
Now if that were not traumatic enough the greater chunk of Aleppo’s Christian community was seeded there as the direct result of the mass homicidal persecution of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire — these were not people who needed to imagine what falling to ISIS and al-Nusra would have meant, they only needed to look back at their own history.
A tenuous and shaky link with other government territories was re-established by the Syrian Army (actually effort was spearheaded by the Tiger Force air intelligence militia) in late 2013. Soon thereafter ISIS and al-Nusra became foes and the Free Syrian Army slided gradually into obscurity.
In 2016 via a joint Syrian-Russian-Iranian effort the city was then finally secured and cleared of al-Nusra-style rebels — just in time for the city’s Christians to celebrate the first Christmas in years without a scimitar hanging over their heads.
A prominent role in the fighting on the pro-government side was also performed by the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah — and the Christmas revelers did not forget that. Hezbollah flags featured prominently during the celebration alongside Russian and Syria’s own. Overseeing the party were the portraits of Putin, Assad and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah.
It’s safe to say that when Hezbollah burst to the scene in the 1980s few would have predicted the Khomeinist outfit would ever win the gratitude of Christians, but between Hezbollah’s policy realism and the fact the Shia and Christians in Levant are both small minorities in the Levant in the sea of Sunni Muslims that is exactly what has happened.