by Rafic Greiche
The head of the Syrian Catholic Church, Mar Ignace Youssif III Younan, accuses Western governments of perpetuating an “endless conflict in Syria” out of regional interests. The terrorists who use Islam as an excuse for violence “have already infiltrated Europe, supported by money from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States under the supervision of Western governments.” Pope Francis “true defender of justice, is deeply pained by what is happening in Syria and Iraq.”
Cairo (AsiaNews) – The terrorists of the so-called Islamic State “have already infiltrated in European populations. For years they have received money, weapons and religious indoctrination from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, with the supervision of the West. To claim that the solution is to carry out air strikes [in Syria and Iraq ed] is a lie”, says the patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church Ignace Youssif III Younan in “Le Messager”, a magazine published by the Catholic Church in Egypt.
In a long interview, the patriarch accuses Western governments of wanting to “perpetuate the endless conflict in Syria” and of having “betrayed the Christians of the East. We explained from the beginning that our situation was different from that of other nations in the region, they were not listened to. And now we mourn deaths over the past five years. ” Below the full interview, Italian translation by AsiaNews.
Beatitude, what is the current situation for the Syrian people, and especially Christians?
At the moment the situation in Iraq and Syria is dramatic, and all the Syrian people are living in pain. We, as pastors, we must be close to our people and help them to the best of our ability. The Syrian Catholics (as well as other churches like the Chaldeans, Assyrians and Syriac Orthodox) have lived for centuries in eastern Syria, close to the River Rafi Din. But we had never moved west or to Lebanon as we have in these days. Our presence extended to Iran, Afghanistan and India. The hills of Afghanistan known as Tora Bora are named after a Syrian term which means ‘the darker hills ‘.
Today we are trapped in a terrible situation: Sunni and Shia, sectarian and ethnic problems, criminal gangs called Isis and other terrorist groups who use Islam as an excuse to “purify” areas under their control in the name of religion , and Muslims scholars who tell us that Islam is alien to these facts.
We Christians are not able to live in this chaos that produces militias, armed gangs, terrorist groups and Islamic parties. But when we maintain a firm stand against these phenomena, then the West accuses us of being dictatorial. Yet the story does not matter if there is a caliph, a king, an emir, a prince or a president of the Republic; at least until these can guarantee peace and security to the minorities.
When chaos broke out, after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, we understood the horror of this situation. Western democracies that have conspired against Syria and have produced the destruction of the nation’s infrastructure, the demolition of houses, towns, villages, monuments and archaeological sites. This is the result of a foolish politics and of a conspiracy, under the pretext of bringing democracy to the region
Our nations do not easily accept democracy because there is no real separation of religion from the state. Minorities beg to be represented in front of the Muslim majority, and they feel like immigrants in a foreign land. We Christians have been in these lands for thousands of years, long before Islam. The politicians of the West – and in particular those of the United States, Britain and France – are in favor of an endless conflict in Iraq and Syria. This has produced groups of terrorists and ‘takfiriin’ [those who condemn others with apostasy-ed] and Western media are silent, cowardly and complicit. This is not defending the truth and justice: this is bowing down to those who pay and remaining silent.
All Eastern patriarchs, including myself, have spoken out clearly to the West from the very beginning: “Be careful, the situation in Syria is not like the Egyptian, Tunisian or Libyan. It is much more complex, and conflict will create only chaos and civil war. ” They listened and responded: “No, the Assad regime will fall in a few months.” Something that has not happened, as I predicted. And five years after an innocent people, and especially Christians, have no support. The West has betrayed us.
What is your view of the flow of migrants to Europe?
More than two months ago, the world was moved by the photograph of the little Aylan, who died on the Turkish coast with his brother and mother. But Western governments have another agenda, in particular Turkey has changed its policy towards immigrants once it realized that the United Nations and the European Union would not have helped sufficiently. And then Mrs. Merkel announced that Germany would accept 800 thousand migrants.
In this way the flow of migrants has increased, as well as the number of those traveling with false documents or other illegal ways to reach Germany or other European countries. It is not just the Syrians: even the number of those from other nations has increased.
Today the various parts of the world have become much closer to each other. It is inconceivable to think that Daesh [Arabic term for the Islamic state ed] can be defeated with air raids: this is a big lie. Because their supporters have infiltrated the population, they are financed and have access to weapons and religious indoctrination. For years these terrorist groups were supplied by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries under the supervision of the West. Now the Syrians are asking Russia to intervene on the basis of an agreement of military co-ordination. The Syrian government is the legitimate government recognized by the United Nations. We must be practical: only 1% of Iraqi citizens is now Christian. If these flee, our presence will fade. We do not need words but of deeds.
Have you any hope in the Vienna talks?
There is hope, but I do not know for how much longer. It is easy to destroy, but it’s hard to build. In the last five years we have had only destruction and forced migration, and it will take time to restart. I hope that these talks will conclude in the best possible way.
You participated in Rome at the Synod on the family. His Holiness Pope Francis is saddened by what is happening to Eastern Christians …
yes, His Holiness the Pope – as Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter, head of the Catholic Church and the leader of the largest religious community in the world – is full of sorrow for what is happening in the East. And as the “father” of the Synod he has issued an urgent appeal for solidarity with the Christians of the Middle East. His Holiness is a defender of justice, and suggested that the Vatican could host the next conference on the future of Eastern Christians. It’s a shame that the West has abandoned Christians to this situation.