18October2017

NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION IN SPECIAL CONSULTATIVE STATUS WITH THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL OF THE UNITED NATIONS

THE REALITY OF SECTARIAN VIOLENCE IN SYRIA

16. St Mary s Church in Dair Al-Zor November 2012 International commentators have long argued that sectarian violence is not yet a reality on the ground in Syria. They pinpoint examples of violence which lack any consistent pattern. Yet the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (“WCA”) has evidence that the sectarian fighting is increasing across Syria and the target of such aggression and bloodshed is increasingly becoming the native Aramean (Syriac) Christians. They include those members of the largest Christian communities from the Syriac Orthodox and Greek (Rum) Orthodox Churches.

The fear by which the Aramean Christians live day to day is matched only by their resilience. They are aware of what took place in Iraq where 1.4 million Christians dissipated to a miniscule 400,000 after the war. They see the daily danger, fear and death which face Egypt’s native Coptic people. Now Arameans focus entirely on fighting for their lives in Syria or leaving death’s door by escaping the country.

plundering of churchesThe question of whether Syria’s Christians are being specifically targeted in this war is not yet settled in international political and human rights circles. Some writers suggest that attacks are more discriminate than deliberate. However, the recent escalation in violence against Christians now suggests otherwise. It appears that these devastating incidents mark the beginning of the end for all Christians in Syria.

The Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Matta Roham from the Hassake province believes that “Christians are more severely impacted by this crisis. After Homs, Aleppo and now Ras al-Ayn, I am not sure Christians will have anywhere else to go. Given recent activities in the north of Syria, we are afraid that Qamishli and Hassake will be attacked next. What’s left for the Christians? In the face of death they will likely try to leave this wonderful country and nobody can stop them from doing so.”

Some examples of sectarian violence in Syria have been described in the Attachment below. For example, in Ras al-Ayn, 200 Aramean families escaped into neighbouring cities, many making their way to Hassake. Some of the women from Ras al-Ayn have returned to retrieve valuables from their homes. The men do not dare to enter the city because they would likely be killed or recruited by either side to fight in the war. The newly built and renovated Aramean school in Ras al-Ayn is now occupied by rebel fighters because of its large basement.

In Derbasieh, rebel fighters had planned to enter the city but a deal was struck a few days ago between government troops and the city’s leaders, which lead to the Syrian army leaving the city in exchange for rebel fighters agreeing not to enter. The local community of Arabs, Kurds and Christians have joined forces here to police their own city and ensure that no one enters to wage a war. Despite this, the WCA has been informed that Christians see the writing on the wall and are beginning to leave Derbasieh.

8. Syriac Orthodox Church Orphanage HomsIn many cities across Syria, kidnappings have become prevalent, particularly of wealthy Christian families. Examples are numerous but just recent kidnappings include the 60-years old Mr Jan Fehmi Khabot and a girl 19-years old, Ritta Tony Ab-Alnoor in Hassake. Huge amounts of ransom are generally requested ranging from 5 million (US$70,000) to 750 (US$10,000,000) million Syrian pounds, depending on the wealth of the family and community. 

The Christians are now in self-preservation mode across Syria. Survival tactics for Christians include constantly moving cities and becoming one of the hundreds of thousands of IDPs across the country or leaving Syria and fleeing to Turkey, Iraq or Lebanon (not many Christians have made the trip to Jordan). Other options for those remaining in their cities include forming alliances with Arabs and Kurds to police their cities, creating armed forces and/or obtaining any form of identification showing they are Christians and not part of the war. In Hassake, the Syriac Orthodox Church is issuing more than 100 baptism certificates per day to parishioners to be used as Christian identification across the country. Moreover, the Archdiocese of all Christians in Hassake met recently and agreed to form a Christian police force to protect their local community after warnings that Hassake could be attacked next by rebels. The city of Derik has a similar Christian police force and there is evidence that more and more Christians across Syria are picking up weapons with the sole intent of protecting themselves, their families and their communities.

It is also noteworthy that Armenian Christians in Syria, including the thousands of new Armenian Christian converts, have the right to claim citizenship in Armenia and the WCA understands that Armenians are doing so in their thousands in order to escape Syria. For those who cannot leave the country, typically the poor, they have left their homes and goods and escaped to neighbouring cities, such as the more than 1000 Aramean Christian families who have fled to Hassake primarily from Ras al-Ayn and Deir ez-Zor.

3- St. Mary s Church Wall and other buildings of the Bishopric - 3 June 2012While the war in Syria escalates, it is clear that minorities across the country are fearful for their future. The most vulnerable members of society in wartime are typically those who cannot defend themselves. In this case, it is the Christian community. We have seen a recent upsurge in sectarian violence across Syria and this will only increase further if Qamishli and Hassake will become a new battle ground for the rebels and the Syrian government forces. As Christians attempt valiantly to defend themselves, the WCA asks the global community, rebel forces and the Syrian government to focus on protecting the indigenous Christians in Syria before it is again too late, as was the case in Turkey and Iraq.

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ATTACHMENT: EXAMPLES OF SECTARIAN VIOLENCE IN SYRIA

Aleppo

In Aleppo, the humanitarian crisis has permeated every part of society. After more than four months of intense fighting, we have seen this typically frenetic commercial centre of Syria turn into a desolate ghost town. Most people are without electricity, water, fuel and food. Schools, universities and shops are closed. Very few people attend services in churches because they fear going outdoors. With the colder winter months fast approaching and the clear lack of heating, medicine and other supplies, there is a justifiable fear that bad health, illness and death will become rampant. Examples of sectarian violence are as follows:

1. The Armenian Orthodox Church Surup Kevork (Saint George) and its school in Midan District were damaged by a fire caused by clashes nearby.
2. Syriac Orthodox School Bani Taghleb I in Suleymaniye attacked by a self-made rocket, the building is damaged, no victims – October 2012 (source here).
3. Car bomb explosion in front of Beth Hesda, a Syrian-French health centre, nursing home and private school in New Syrian District. The building is owned and managed by the Syriac Orthodox Church, no information about victims or injuries, most likely the building was empty. – October 2012 (source here and here).
4. Hadeel Kouki, a Christian activist imprisoned for more than 50 days and tortured after she was arrested once for distributing pro-democracy fliers and twice for joining demonstrations, left Syria, stayed in Geneva, now USA. – March, August & September 2011 (source here).
5. Attack and robbery against the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church; Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart took refuge to Lebanon after being threatened by Opposition fighters because of pro-government statements – August 2012 (source here).
6. Damaging of a Christian Museum and an office at the Maronite Church, no further information – August 2012 (source here and here).

Homs

7. Syriac Orthodox Church of St. Mary destroyed by shelling. No deaths recorded but the Bishop in the city and many members of the congregation took shelter in the Monastery for some time – May 2012 (source testimony of H.E. Archbishop Matta Roham).
8. Syriac Orthodox Church orphanage destroyed by shelling. Children had already been sent to other villages by the Bishop in January 2012  - May 2012 (source personal testimony from H.E. Bishop Matta Roham). 
9. Anti-government militants have expelled 90% of Christians and confiscated their residences by force – March 2012 (please note that this “90%” figure has been discounted by some commentators but the WCA believes in its authenticity) (source here). 
10. Death of last Christian in Homs: Greek Orthodox Christian Elias Mansour (84 years) refused to leave his home because of his mentally disabled son and was killed – October/November 2012 (source here and here).
11. Kidnapping of 150 Greek-Catholic Christians in the village Rableh, Homs Province, no further information about impacts – September 2012 (source here).

Damascus

12. Car bomb explosion killed 10 people in the historical Christian quarter – October 2012 (source here and here).  
13. Abduction and murder by torture of Greek Orthodox Priest Fadi Jamil Haddad and blackmail for €550,000, his naked body was found on Oct. 25 2012 – October 2012 (source here and here).
14. Bomb explosion during the funeral of abducted and killed Priest Fadi Jamil Haddad in the church of St. Elias in the Damascene suburb Qatana, 2 dead civilians, few soldiers (number Unknown) – October 2012 (source here).
15. Minister of defence (Christian) Daud Radjiha died in a suicide bombing – July 2012 (source here and here).

Deir ez-Zor

16. St. Mary Monastery Church in Dair Al-Zor; no victims, entire Christian community left the city and took refuge in Qamishli/Hassakeh- November 2012 (source personal testimony from H.E. Bishop Matta Roham and here).

Hama

17. Christian village of Kafarbohom, near Hama, killing of two people and wounding two others. Abduction of 20 women and blackmail for a ransom of €150,000 – October 2012 (source here).


Qamishli

18. There are over 400,000 inhabitants of Qamishli, with at least 20% of them being Christian. There is a genuine fear among families of different communities that rebels will enter into Qamishli through the Turkish border just as they recently did in Ras-Al-Ayn. Confirmed reports to the WCA, show that many Christian families are preparing to leave Qamishli and cross the border into Turkey or Iraq. The railway stations along the border facilitate the transportation of the opposition forces to cross the border into Qamishli.

Unconfirmed Reports

19. Muslims extremists have been known to rob churches and kidnap, rape, or even kill Christian women (source here)
20. Christians trying to leave Aleppo by bus have been stopped, women have been raped and then sent back to the city to “die together with Al-Assad” after the Opposition will win (source: Numerous written statements from Syria to the WCA). 
21. Abduction and torture of three young Christians and one Alawite Muslim by Islamic terrorists in Aleppo and asked for ransom. The Franciscan fraternity paid it. Before they released the boys, they were tortured and abused (source here).
22. 12,000 Christians trapped in the village of Rableh, Homs Province. The opposition prohibited medical provision and supply of food, snipers killed people who tried to leave the village; the city has been freed by the governmental Syrian Army (no confirmation yet) – August 2012 (source here).
23. Plundering of the churches in Homs and humiliation of Christian faith, pictures of FSA fighters with priest robe and stolen cross – August 2012 (source here and here).

 

 

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