by Nabil Antaki*
Western nations block the offensive against jihadist groups in Idlib, for fear of an exodus of militiamen. The reconstruction is at a standstill and the difficulties increase, with queues for fuel. It is still a regime of emergency aid instead of employment projects and reconstruction plans. Fears for the future of the Christian community.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Damascus controls 70% of the Syrian territory, but peace is still a distant hope in the country. The terrorist groups are barricaded in the province of Idlib and the international community is hindering the regular army offensive, because then it would not know how to manage the exodus of the jihadists towards Europe and the West. This is what the Blue Marists tell us, in the 35th Letter from Aleppo recently published and sent to AsiaNews. In this state that is neither “war nor peace”, the reconstruction is at a standstill and difficulties increase: from unemployment to poverty, from the lack of fuel and electricity – long queues for a few liters of kerosene are the norm – while the flight of Christians continues. Among the reasons for the exodus, lack of work and prospects with a regime of emergency aid, rather than a program for regeneration and reconstruction.
Below a summary of the testimony. Translation from French edited by AsiaNews:
For some months now, there has been no more real fighting in Syria. Most commentators believe that the war is over and the Syrian state has won. Daesh [Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, IS former Isis] has been beaten and there is only a small patch of territory in the eastern part of the country still under their control. Today the Syrian state controls about 70% of the territory, including all the major cities.
Nevertheless, peace does not seem at hand.
On the one hand, all the armed rebel groups are now amassed in the province of Idlib. Al-Nusra, the local emanation of al-Qaeda, recognized as a terrorist group by the UN and the international community, is in the process of eliminating or engulfing all other movements, of Islamic inspiration, with the force of weapons. For months, the Syrian army has wanted to launch an offensive to free the latter province from the hands of terrorists, 30 thousand of them foreigners, but the Western powers, through the intermediation of Russia and Turkey, are preventing it. The reason given: The risk of a serious humanitarian crisis. The real reason, as has emerged from some voices of Western leaders: what to do with all the foreign terrorists who would flee to Europe, in case the offensive was launched. Elements that would end up terrorizing European citizens after sowing terror in Syria.
All of this cynicism angers us.
On the other hand, a war is unfolding on our territory and it is the one that pits Turkey against the Kurdish militias. Finally, the Americans who illegally established two bases in a sovereign nation, today want to withdraw following the decision of President Donald Trump. But his administration, like Congress, are incapable of reaching agreement on this strategy and try to sabotage it by all means possible.
This state, which is neither “war nor peace”, effectively prevents the reconstruction of the country, potential investors do not want to start projects until after a stable and lasting peace has entered into force. This has resulted in a languishing economy, poverty and unemployment have reached frightening levels, the cost of living has reached vertiginous heights and people continue to suffer. The rich have run out of money, the middle class is on its knees and the poor have become even poorer.
We are angry at the sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States against Syria, which only exacerbate the humanitarian situation without having any impact on the end of hostilities and the establishment of peace. The exodus of the Syrians, especially the Christians, continues. Moreover it seems to have increased beyond the levels of the dark hours of the war. The apostolic nuncio to Syria, Card. Mario Zenari, said during a congress in Hungary that Christians are now no more than 2% of the total population. That is half a million, out of a total of 23 million citizens. We knew this, but it is the first time that these figures have been revealed in public. My city, Aleppo, which had a population of about 150/200 thousand Christians in 2011, before the war, today does not count more than 25 thousand, at most 30 thousand.
Syria, the cradle of Christianity, is emptying of its Christian population. Since the end of hostilities, they continue to flee, both to avoid being enrolled in the army as reservists because they are already family fathers, and also because of the economic crisis and its consequences: unemployment and poverty.
During the difficult years of the conflict, our aid programs sought to nourish, dress, give food and shelter to displaced people and their families in need. Now, we believe that the priority is to guarantee work to people so that they can earn a decent living from the fruits of their labour and become independent, breaking free from the aid upon which they have depended for seven years now.
Unfortunately, our resources like those of all others are greatly diminished. With the end of the fighting, the donations of individuals have dropped considerably. And international charitable organizations refuse, in most cases, to finance development programs; some still intend to support outdated relief plans. As if we wanted to keep people in need forever, in a state of begging and dependence, rather than restoring their dignity and hope.
What can we say about Christian associations? Many of these adopt the same behavior: yes to food aid, yes to medicine, to the reconstruction of houses and churches, yes to pastoral care. No to development projects, to projects that could guarantee work to people. Yet Pope Francis has repeatedly urged Christians in Syria not to leave the land of their ancestors, the land of their Christian roots. However, the exodus continues; soon, we will be only a handful to fill beautifully restored, but empty churches.
March 15, 2019 is upon us. It will be eight years since the beginning of this unjust, absurd and atrocious war that has destroyed our country, which has killed 400 thousand people, which has pushed a million citizens into exile, which has created four million refugees in the nations of area and eight million internally displaced persons. People who have not lived in their home for a long time.
Yes, we are angry. But at the same time, we look to the future with hope for the war to end; we cherish the hope that, one day, we can enjoy true, stable and lasting peace.
* Aleppo Doctor and lay member of the Order of the Blue Marist friars