THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT SYRIA’S CHRISTIANS REALLY WANT? -- WCA Official Position on Syria (18 February 2013)

a-church-in-homs-SYRIAThe battle for supremacy in Syria continues between the Government and Opposition forces. With no end in sight and so many Christians escaping the terror, it is the plight of Syria’s Christians in the country which has left many contemplating a future Syria without the native Christian Arameans (a.k.a. Syriacs, Chaldeans and Assyrians (Nestorians)). The World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (“WCA”) is a United Nations NGO which represents and seeks to protect the interests of the Aramean people in Syria. The present paper by the WCA closely reflects the position held by the majority of Syria’s Christians and other vulnerable minorities.

The Aramean Christians are the indigenous people of Syria and represent a large proportion of the 10% Christian population in Syria. This number is decreasing daily, as numerous Christians have escaped into Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. Ample evidence shows that other Christian IDPs have fled from cities like Homs, Aleppo and Idlib to other safer cities in or near Damascus or to the Northeast Jezireh region. However, as battles increasingly break out in cities like Deir ez-Zor, Ras al-Ayn and Hassake, the WCA believes that there are no longer true safe zones in Syria for Christian IDPs to flee to.

The crisis in Syria is becoming worse every day. The United Nations reported in January 2013, that 70,000 people have died. There are almost 700,000 refugees and more than 2 million IDPs. By June 2013, the UN estimates that the refugees will number 1.1 million Syrians. Food, shelter and medical care are in short supply regardless of the recent receipt of $1.5 billion by the United Nations and the efforts by the Syrian Government to re-establish social infrastructure in the country. Ancient historical centres, recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are in jeopardy all over the prehistoric country, notably in Aleppo, Damascus, Bosra, Palmyra and in a group of antique villages in northern Syria.

The standard of living in Syria has reached shocking levels, with hyperinflation, poverty, growing sectarian enmity, shortage of supplies in kinds of food and fuel, cold weather with no warmth, lack of security, revenge attacks, kidnappings for huge amounts of ransom, massive migration, days without electricity (and daily electricity shortages), risks of traveling anywhere in the country and frequent shutdown of internet access and telecommunications.

The situation in Syria’s cities is also in decline. Cities like Hassake and the Jezireh area have been in relative peace, but trouble is flaring up. Arabs, Kurds and Christians have joined together, socially and through localised self-defence groups, in requesting the opposition forces not to enter their city. In Ras al-Ayn, the rebels crossed the Turkish border and occupied the town. Approximately 300 Christian families escaped to other safer cities nearby; the village lord explained his refugee story in Lebanon to the WCA. In Deir ez-Zor, battles caused the entire Christian community leaving the city and taking refuge in Qamishli and Hassake. In mid-January 2013, the St. Mary Church and the al-Wahda Private School in Deir ez-Zor were destroyed. The disasters in the cities of Homs and Aleppo have been well documented. The Christian community has largely deserted Homs and we estimate that there are only 1300 Aramean families left in Hay as-Siryan and 800 Aramean families in Slemaniye in the Aleppo region. Sharia law seems to have been instituted in some cities, as an increasing number of Jihadist groups emerge in Syria, with full intention of turning the country into an Islamic State.


The WCA Position on Syria

Given the complexities and terror of the war in Syria, the WCA has always maintained that flooding Syria with more weapons is not and cannot be the answer. Instead, both a ceasefire and dialogue from both sides must be the only way to resolve this long drawn-out conflict.

The WCA supports all minorities in Syria, because they are the most susceptible to utter annihilation. In particular, the indigenous Arameans need the protection of the international community. They are in a dire position as they fight for survival – stuck, in many instances, between the ferocious warring Syrian army and opposition forces. The Aramean Christians now fear for the worst. They either leave their homeland or die protecting their homes, their women and children, their families and their future. These peaceful Christians watch hopelessly as Syria is infiltrated by Muslim extremists who aim to transform their relatively secular state into an intolerant Islamic state. The WCA opposes such demands and asks all parties involved to focus on a peaceful outcome. One that respects all minority positions, particularly those which acknowledge that the Arameans are the indigenous population of Syria.

There is no doubt that the Christians in Syria do not generally support the Syrian National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (“Coalition”), led by Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib. This 10% of the Syrian population has stayed largely neutral and attempted to maintain a peaceful position. More broadly speaking, the Arameans have always focused on democracy and dialogue, not on war and terror. Yet the underlying focus of the Opposition has exactly been to destabilise and terrorise not just the Government, but also the country and society. This position has received the strong support of the international community. It is clear that the Coalition does not represent the Christian voice or even the minority voice. The Druze, the Alevite and the Kurds have not joined the Coalition and only three nominal Christians are members. Two of these Christians represent their own nationalist ideology, while another admits to being a communist. It is clear that the Aramean Christians, who are the majority of Syria’s native Christians, are not represented at all.

To fill the gap in the discourse, the WCA has put forward its position to the global community and the Syrian Government about how to resolve the issues in Syria, thereby professing the position of Syria’s Christians.


The WCA proposes the following

  1. An immediate armistice and the halting of weapons supply – a ceasefire is the only answer;
  2. Halting the recruitment of foreign mercenaries from crossing Syria’s borders and fight the war in Syria – this is a widely acknowledged yet neglected issue which is affecting all minorities;
  3. No pre-conditions to dialogue – forced and meaningful dialogue between the opposing parties;
  4. Agreed Peacekeepers by all parties to ensure peace and stability are reached on the ground – for only then the reforms can continue to take place and even be increased;
  5. The UN to agree a Resolution stating that vulnerable minorities must be protected as a priority by all warring parties – by working on the previous points, governments can ensure this decree, effectively prevent an Iraq 2.0 and hold accountable those who kill and/or supply weapons to merciless Jihadists;
  6. To immediately lift the sanctions against Syria – so far they only affect the innocent population;
  7. The Arameans and all minorities to remain in Syria, provided they are protected – we ask the global community and the Syrian government to aid them where possible to secure this crucial goal;
  8. Humanitarian aid to be provided to the stateless Arameans and all vulnerable groups in Syria who are in desperate need of immediate and targeted assistance in Syria – many Arameans in Syria continue to complain that very little, if at all, of the international aid is truly reaching them;
  9. UNHCR and Middle Eastern and Western countries to do everything in their power to secure the safety of Aramean refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, in accordance with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – many Aramean refugees report about human rights abuses; and
  10. Future democratic elections to be held and a new constitution to be created which takes into consideration the existence and position of all minorities, especially the Arameans who have a direct historical link to their indigenous lands in Syria – a future Syrian Government must espouse the ideals of secularism and the new Constitution must be based on such secular principles.

The WCA Expands on the Following Issues of Importance

  1. Dialogue with those Who Truly Represent the People – The WCA agrees with recent calls from President Assad for immediate dialogue between the Syrian Government and all Opposition parties who act for the people. It is clear that the Coalition and the Free Syrian Army are having huge problems unifying their own position and securing the support of the Syrian people in Syria. Recent calls by the Opposition leader to have dialogue without pre-condition were quickly reversed with a demand that talks begin only with President Assad resigning first. The WCA asks that real dialogue commences between all opposing parties if such groups can provide evidence that they represent the views of the people on the ground and that such talks take place without any pre-condition from both sides.
  2. Democratic Elections and Representation of Aramean Christians – The WCA also calls for full democratic elections to be held in Syria in the next 12-18 months. This will give all parties on the ground the opportunity to organise and run for electoral positions. Syria has always been a pluralistic and tolerant society. Syria is applauded for how it has always respected its minorities. The WCA requests that this situation can be ensured in any future Syrian Government. In order to have a truly representative government, the Aramean Christians must have seats in the newly formed Government. For example, in areas such as Hassake, Jezireh, Qamishli, Aleppo, Homs and Damascus, where Arameans have a large population, the WCA asks that a minimum number of seats be granted to such Christians in a future Syrian Parliament and Government. The WCA asks for a new Constitution built on a democratic and representative government, with reflective laws to be drafted and implemented in the country. The WCA requests a referendum to be held based on these new laws and Constitution, which is even in accordance with President Assad’s speech of January 6th 2013 at Damascus University. The new Constitution must be created after thorough discussions and feedback from all interested parties in Syria and it must reflect the will of the people. To this end, it would be preferable for the new Constitution to be established after a new Government has been put in place. However, the WCA can accept such Constitution being established sooner, provided that the Constitutional Draft is produced through a thorough consultative process and ultimately reflects the will of its citizens.
  3. Secular and Democratic Syria is Key – There is a real and present danger that the future Syria will become a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism or will turn into another Iraq where different ethnoreligious groups are still combating each other. The WCA requests that the future Syrian Constitution embed the fundamental principle of secularism at its core. We cannot have this tolerant country turned into an Islamic extremist State where Sharia law is imposed on all its citizens. The WCA calls for a truly democratic State which respects the needs and wishes of all of its people with a free press and equality for all women and minorities. We also ask for a just society which agrees a general amnesty between all warring parties and a “Reconstruction Conference” to be held soon after free elections have taken place. The aim of this is to establish reconciliation and peace between all parties and allow society to heal itself after such a horrific war period. Compensation must be paid to those who have lost loved ones and material goods in the war. This will be a long and expensive process, but one worth pursuing and resolving.
  4. Transition Phase – In the journey towards true peace and stability, the WCA does not demand that President Assad resign prior to any elections taking place. There must be no pre-conditions to elections taking place. Other Opposition voices have demanded that an interim government be put in place and that President Assad must resign. But the WCA believes that this unrealistic demand by Opposition groups will only result in more instability, death and destruction in Syria, thereby destroying the last chance for genuine reconciliation talks and a lasting peace. The WCA asks instead for the voice of the people be heard so that democratic elections result in the elected leader of choice. The outside world should never determine the will of the people in Syria.
  5. Indigenous Rights for Arameans in Syria – In recent talks between the WCA and the Syrian Government, as well as in August 2009, the WCA requested two matters be addressed:
    (1) the Arameans be recognised as the native people of Syria with their human rights implemented as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
    (2) to recognise Aramaic as the second official language of Syria.
    The Syrian Government Officials were not averse to these positions, but were willing to further consider and discuss these positions. The WCA requests that this position be reconsidered and reflected in a future Constitution and legal framework of the country.

Final Remarks
The WCA reiterates that peace and reconciliation cannot be realized through an increase of weapons or
mercenaries infiltrating and flooding the country. Rather, everyone must agree on an immediate armistice and a genuine dialogue to be held sooner rather than later.

The WCA will continue its efforts to ensure that the real voice of the people is heard, both in Syria and outside of the country. Thus far, the will of the Aramean Christians has not been considered, as external parties and Islamic extremists continue to push their own agenda. The WCA pleads with all parties concerned here to focus on the true will of the people. If all parties truly care about saving lives of all Syrians, especially innocent civilians, and if they are impassioned about a brighter future for Syria, then peace must commence now with dialogue and not a continuation of violence and terror.

World Council of Arameans (Syriacs)
Formerly known as Syriac Universal Alliance

18 February 2013







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