by Simone Cantarini
For Ignatius Joseph III Younan, a Christian presence in Syria is essential for confessional reconciliation between Alawis and Sunnis. Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for Aleppo university blast that killed 87. The violence of Muslim extremists and government forces could wipe out Syria forever. Patriarch calls on young Christians to stay in the Middle East to be witnesses of peace.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – “The United States, the European Union and the Gulf states have a great responsibility in this war, which began as a peaceful Arab spring,” said Mgr Ignatius Joseph III Younan, patriarch of Antioch of the Syriacs since 2009. “By backing the rebels, who are not united, they stirred hatred among the people. We Christians are disappointed by the behaviour of these countries; their money and oil bought the world’s conscience, justifying violence.” For the head of the Syriac Catholic Church, “the Christians left in Syria are the only ones who can bear witness through their lives and values to the possibility of reconciliation, now virtually excluded by both regime and rebels.”
For the patriarch, syria is very close to a point of no-return. As planes continue to strike, its very existence is at stake. “The situation is getting worse and more heartbreaking by the day. This is no longer an Arab spring; it is a sectarian conflict between the Alawi minority and the Sunni majority.”
In the areas controlled by the military, suicide attacks by al-Nusra militants continue. The terrorist organisation is linked to al-Qaeda, and is responsible for an attack at Aleppo University two days ago that left 87 people dead and hundreds wounded.
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up in Idleb, the main town in north-western Syria, killing 22.
In and around Damascus, Syria’s military has responded with an iron-fist, cracking down with everything it has, including cluster bombs, to regain control of the province.
In Darayya,southwestern Syria, witnesses are reporting an unprecedented offensive by the army. Before the start of the civil war, the city had a population of 200,000. Now most residents have fled. Only a handful of residents remain, and they are in danger of dying from air strikes.
Colonel Maher al-Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, “has given orders to take control of Darayya even if that should mean destroying whatever buildings remain in the town,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The army is moving ahead relentlessly in Homs, where it “carried out a new massacre on Tuesday claiming 106 victims, including women and children,” the Britain-based watchdog said.
In the past, the Church called on the regime to change from totalitarian to democracy. “I personally expressed this opinion on Syrian state television,” the patriarch said. “There must be change, but not through violence; the impact of sectarian hatred will last for decades after the war is over.” For this reason, the right path is true reconciliation with members of the old regime.
“There cannot be an agreement with preconditions,” he explained. “Should the rebels take over, they’ll demand Assad’s head, the Alawi community will disappear and perhaps other minorities as well. There are also risks with the conditions imposed by the president who wants to throw out all the Sunnis from the country.”
“Given what happened in Iraq, and at the consequences of the Syrian war in Lebanon, we Christians in the Middle East are facing the greatest challenge of our history, that of remaining in our cities and convincing our youth not to flee. Our role is fundamental for the reconciliation between peoples divided by hatred. As the pope put it, we must pray and work for peace, dialogue, reconciliation and the defence of human rights present in Syria.”
Syriac Catholics are present across the Middle East. Most live in Iraq (42,000) and Syria (26,000), especially in Aleppo.
Like other Middle Eastern Churches, the Syriac Catholic Church has suffered from emigration. According to some estimates, 55,000 Syriac Catholics have found refuge in Western countries.