" I understood that if the Islamic radicals come to power in Syria, the first ones who would suffer would be the Christians. As already happened in Iraq, where 85% of the Christians were either killed or driven out of the country."
At the 1025th anniversary of the conversion of Russia, top leaders in the Orthodox Church requested that Russia save the persecuted Christians in Syria.
President Putin quickly answered their request. In the following clip (with transcript below) Patriarch Kirill discusses how these events unfolded and his personal trip to Syria.
"Already in 2014, it was clear that conflicts on the territory of Syria were being incited by radical forces which, if they came to power, would begin by liquidating the Christian presence in this country. That is precisely why the Christians actively supported Assad and his government, - because in the country a certain balance of forces was secured and that is very important. People felt they were being protected. In 2014, notwithstanding warnings about the danger, I nonetheless decided to travel to Syria.
I was in Damascus and led a church service there, and I saw what enthusiasm there was among the people. In conversations both with Muslims and with Christians, meeting with politicians, I understood that if the Islamic radicals come to power in Syria, the first ones who would suffer would be the Christians. As already happened in Iraq, where 85% of the Christians were either killed or driven out of the country. I visited Iraq still under the regime of Hussein, including in the northern regions, in Mosul. I visited the ancient Christian monasteries.
I saw the piety of the people and was overjoyed that in Muslim surroundings the Christian churches existed in peace. Now practically nothing of this remains – the monasteries have been destroyed, the churches were blown up. The same could happen in Syria. Therefore the participation of Russia was connected not only with solving questions about which I do not have full competence and about which I do not consider it possible to speak, relating to the stabilization of the situation, and not to allow…..military threats, not to allow power to be seized by the terrorists.There was a very important idea – to defend the Christian minority. Back in 2013, when Moscow was celebrating the 1025th anniversary of the Christian baptism of Rus’, the heads of the Orthodox Churches arrived. When they met with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, one of the strongest messages concerned precisely the request that Russia take part in the defense of Christians in the Near East. And I am happy that this happened. Thanks to the participation of Russia a genocide of Christians was averted.
Now there arises the question of restoring peace in this country, justice, security, solving a huge number of economic issues. And, what is especially close to us, - the restoration of churches, monasteries, monuments, including Muslim and ancient monuments. Our Church is participating in rendering humanitarian assistance. We are working both in our own name, and in addition we have a bilateral agreement with the Catholic Church to jointly provide humanitarian assistance. In other words, we are acting in various areas, - I hope they will make their contribution to real assistance to those who are still suffering in Syria.”