Here is a statement released Wednesday by the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, regarding the continuing crisis in Syria.
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The painfully unfolding events in Syria reflec badly on the deterioration in the security situation everywhere.
For us in Aleppo, security issues are steadily going from bad to worse in all areas, in addition to severe shortages of electricity, water, fuel and basic food materials such as bread. If or when these essentials become available, their prices will rise alarmingly beyond the affordable range for a normal Syrian citizen.
This in addition to the fact that universities, schools, churches, mosques and most infrastructures have been paralyzed, deserted and lost function. Such a reduced state has become expected in Aleppo and most other Syrian cities.
The major and most dangerous phenomenon which has greatly affected the Christian presence in the city of Aleppo is immigration of Christians and seeking refuge in safer cities of neighboring countries, especially Lebanon. Many families have managed to reach Europe, particularly Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. With the current deterioration of security and employment, no one can predict when these families will ever return back to their homes and what we are experiencing is a one way exodus!
The emigration of Christians out of Syria is the most important issue that will affect Christian presence in the Middle East. We cannot confirm that what appears to be a systematic forced displacement, which is experienced by Christians in the region for years, is actually linked to any new geopolitical scheme for the region. Otherwise, Christians may have become a mere demographic surplus that had to be dealt with in such a ruthless manner. Palestine was the first to suffer from immigration of Christians, followed by Iran, then Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and now Syria.
Where can Christians go? Each country has a particular orientation. For Iraq, the United Nations and some churches have contributed to absorb the influx of Iraqi immigrants in North America and Europe, especially Sweden, then Germany, Holland, Austria and Belgium came second in welcoming Syrian families. However, the USA has imposed visa clearance on Syrian immigrants.
The Humanitarian Crisis of Christians in Al-THAwRA City:
The Recent development in our Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo, is that, a few days ago, hundreds of Christian families, who lived for years in the tranquility Al-THAWRA City on the bank of the Euphrates, suffered forced displacement under the fear and anxiety from the fierce fighting in this city. A few families are still trapped there as they could not leave their homes and manage to survive anywhere else for economic reasons.We have been informed by the priest in charge of al-Thawra city , that more than 80 families left the city overnight.
The Syrian Orthodox families have lived in al- Thawra city since its foundation in the 1960s as a service town for the construction of a major dam on the Euphrates. The government helped in offering cheap housing to those families whose members became part of the work force of the dam. Owing to the low salaries given to employees of the dam and the lack of employment in other industries of that city, these families could not develop themselves economically. Depriving those workers and their families from their livelihood and compelling them to immigrate is a major dilemma for these families and for the church.
The human crisis in Al-Thawra is heart breaking and causes us great anxiety and helplessness for two reasons: first, due to the hazardous situation on the road we cannot reach these destitute families, and due to battlefield conditions, sniping and kidnapping, it has become very difficult and dangerous to move within the same city let alone travel between cities. Adding to that, there are many difficulties in communication. As a result of the sporadic nature of communication by telephones, and internet, communication has become a time consuming, frustrating and futile task. Second: Most of these families are under great economic pressure because they lost everything they had: their humble houses, the schools they used to send their children to, the employment of their bread winner and their livelihood. Now, by no fault of their own, they have found themselves having to leave their houses overnight and became destitute, in need of food, clothing, medicine and shelter. There is a growing anxiety due to lack of security and the spiraling economic situation in the country which has never had a welfare system to cushion such calamities. Such burdens have all been left on the church’s shoulders. These are the escalating predicaments that we have found ourselves in because of this ruthless and seemingly endless conflict.
We are advocates of peace, and are working with all sides in order to keep this heinous war, that has flared uncontrollably in our homeland Syria, at bay. We cry loudly: “Enough is enough; we are totally exhausted and cannot continue.” Tragic events have relegated us to the ambiguity of the unknown, we cannot see a glimpse of a solution on the horizon coming from inside or from outside. Who should we turn our heads to? Who is going to be instrumental in terminating this mayhem, who is capable of lifting this conspirator yoke which is strangling us?
We are gratefully indebted to all those who have extended their kind generous hands to us, enabling us to help and assist our people in their hours of genuine need and support through our assistance to others. We appeal to you and hope that everybody, especially believers in God, will intensify their prayers to stop the war of attrition. We really are fatigued and all we wish for is to stop the bloodshed that is happening today in the streets of Syria, bring about security and peace, so that humanitarian aid can reach the population who is in desperate need for it all over Syria. Then we too can sincerely co-operate to reconstruct and restore our country in milieu of security, peace and stability.
Syria used to boast an exemplary co-existence between all religions and creeds, and we hope to keep this image in mind, and work to establish and regain that old order and re-usher Syria to its position among countries of the world where safety and stability is a common denominator.