The World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (“WCA”) and its Member Federation in Germany, Bundesverband der Aramäer in Deutschland (“BVDAD”), held an international symposium in Gronau, Germany, concerning the Fifth Anniversary of the Abducted Archbishops of Aleppo. There seem to be new lines of contact with a group that claims to hold them against their will.
On 22 April, the WCA and BVDAD hosted a symposium to reflect on the kidnapping, on 22 April 2013, of H.E. Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and H.E. Paul Yazigi, the Syriac and Greek (Melkite) Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo. A few hundred invitees, including the German press, attended the event for the exclusive views of high-ranking Arameans who have been closely following and working on this case since the first hour. The Aramaic satellite channel Suryoyo Sat presented a live broadcast that was viewed by many tens of thousands of viewers worldwide.
The program was kicked off by Mr. Shleimun Ego, the WCA Vice President, who first introduced the St. Jesaja Church Choir and then the two Archbishops and priests who joined in prayer and blessed the event. The first eminent speaker was H.E. Mor Philoxenos Mattias Nayis, the Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Germany. He spoke about the life and person of Mor Gregorios. Stressing his contributions to the church and academia, and his presence and role in the Syrian conflict, he noted: “Mor Gregorios is a man of literature who has published hundreds of books. One cannot put in words the amount of service he has offered our church, especially during the Syrian crisis when he acted as a brave ambassador of peace between the warring parties.”
A video message followed by Mor Gregorios’ Archpriest, Fr. Joseph Shabo, who highlighted other parts of his biography and further shared a few memories that prove how dedicated the kidnapped Archbishop has been to the Syriac Orthodox church, Aramaic literature and Aramean people.
The keynote speaker was H.E. Mor Clemis Daniyel Kourieh, the Archbishop of Beirut who was invited to deliver a joint paper with Cor-Episcopos Fr. Samuel Gümü? from Germany. On behalf of the Patriarchal Committee on the Abduction of the Archbishops, they gave a detailed account of the kidnapping on 22 April 2013, sharing the main efforts they have exhorted in the past five years and explaining their view of the kidnappers and their motives. H.E. Mor Clemis stated: “We would like to convey a clear message to the international community. Mor Gregorios was kidnapped because he has a strong voice. He saved thousands of people in the Syrian crisis. We are of the view that the kidnappers struck the shepherd to disperse the flock. As we speak, we have strong indications that Mor Gregorios and Monseigneur Yazigi are still alive. For security reasons, we cannot reveal any details, but we are in touch with certain countries and are hopeful about their safe return.”
Ms. Najah Khamasmieh, the secretary of Msgr. Yazigi, portrayed her boss as a humble servant leader and stressed: “On behalf of our Greek Orthodox Church, we are optimistic that the prelates are still alive and that, one day soon, God will reunite them with their Archdioceses and families.”
WCA President Mr. Johny Messo and BVDAD Chairman Mr. Daniyel Demir, who convened this crucial symposium, jointly presented speeches and a series of initiatives to enhance pressure on the international community to put more efforts in the release of the detained Archbishops. Mr. Messo emphasized: “This symposium aims to keep this neglected abduction case alive. We believe that the two Archbishops are still sound and well. God forbid, even if they might not be with us anymore, the WCA and its Federations keep searching for the truth. We will not close this critical file until we find out what happened, who can be held accountable for this war crime and be brought to justice.”
Enumerating a few of the numerous initiatives and efforts by WCA and its Federations, Mr. Demir continued: “The release of Mor Gregorios is central to the Syrian crisis. He is an artisan of peace with the capacity to encourage reconciliation efforts and mutual respect in Syria.” Before introducing a series of unique initiatives, Mr. Messo remarked: “This symposium mainly intends to look forward and to look at what all of us can do together to enhance our efforts in this respect.”
1. Postcard: The below postcard was circulated to the attendees. On 24 April, a few hundreds of these signed cards have been presented in Berlin by a WCA Delegation, including Mr. Demir and H.E. Kourieh, to Professor Helge Braun, Head of the Federal Chancellery and Federal Minister for Special Tasks in the Cabinet of Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel.
2. Post stamps: As another surprise, official post stamps were presented by the BVDAD. Two of them are dedicated to the case of the abduction and can be used to increase awareness and to persuade a more active role to be taken by the German government. Only WCA Members can get these unique stamps, so join us also in just one minute via www.SupportWCA.com.
3. WCA Report: On the same day, WCA presented its 10-page report on the neglected case of the Archbishops of Aleppo. It summarizes what reportedly happened five years ago, sums up noteworthy chronological developments, reviews the role of politicians and media, while concluding with some remarks and questions that still demand answers. The enclosed WCA Report, which was also submitted to Minister Braun, can be downloaded from www.wca-ngo.org.
4. WCA Coat of Arms: In light of the theme of 2018, namely Year of the Aramean People, a brand new WCA Coat of Arms was introduced and H.E. Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim was the very first person to be honored with this honor in his absence. This concept is an annual honor that is presented to esteemed, influential and inspiring individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the Aramean (Syriac) language, culture and identity.
5. Communiqué: Finally, the attached communiqué was signed by the Syriac Orthodox Archbishops H.E. Mor Clemis Daniyel Kourieh and H.E. Mor Philoxenos Mattias Nayis as well as by the WCA President Mr. Johny Messo and the BVDAD Chairman Mr. Daniyel Demir. This joint statement was also presented to Minister Braun, Head of Dr. Merkel’s Cabinet.
The live program was further enriched with moving songs and poems by the renowned singer Mr. Yusuf Saliba and the teacher Mr. Sabri Ozkan from Gronau, with videos recorded by the eminent scholar Dr. Assad Sauma Assad from Sweden and the renowned teacher with his angelic voice Mr. Lahdo Can from Germany. Video messages were also shown of Mr. Robert Halef, a distinguished Aramean Member of the Swedish Parliament, and Mr. Volker Kauder, the CDU/CSU group leader in the German parliament and often referred to as the ‘right hand’ of Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel.