Interview with Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Aleppo

  • Written by:

Led by Edgar Auth (Bonn)
Question: What do you think of the recent offer by the government Bashar Al Assad to negotiate?

Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim: That’s good. One should negotiate. There are three important issues. First, any agreement should come soon, and include a cease-fire. You can not move to a new level without truce. After a cease-fire, the second step should bring humanitarian aid to Syria. Many countries are willing to come and help. That would be good for the citizens, for Christians and Muslims. But the third question is how to establish a real negotiating table. The regime should know that the opposition is supported by various countries. There are on the one hand, the Americans, the Russians, the Iranians, the countries in the region, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. One can not solve the problem without them. So one should come together and negotiate. But in the end you should leave Syria to the Syrians. The Syrians are willing to live together. Because for many centuries, Syria presented itself as a model of co-existence in many ways, religious, ethnic, et cetera. I think this is the hope on which we build for the future. The regime says it wants negotiations without preconditions. But the opposition demanded that the prisoners should be released first. You should get together, talk and then decide on the future of Syria. This could happen very quickly. If they are in agreement on these two issues, they could negotiate a few weeks and come to an agreement, and Syria would be saved.
>>
>> Q: But at the moment Syria sinks into chaos and violence. Their home city of Aleppo is destroyed in large parts, many residents have fled. Is there any hope that the suffering of the Syrians can be terminated?
>>
>> MG: Yes, as a representative of religion, we should always live with hope and believe in solutions. This is not easy, but sometimes and in some situations we can see a little light at the end of the tunnel. Otherwise we could not live. It’s true, two thirds of the city of Aleppo are destroyed. Many residents have lost their faith and hope. But I think that eventually something will come that brings hope to those who are still there. Then those who have fled, can return so that at some point not only in Aleppo, but the whole district, the country draws hope.
>>
>> Question: Do you think there could be a solution with Bashar al-Assad?
>>
>> MG: It could be three steps to end this war in Syria:
>> First, back to the 1953 constitution. For there a limit to the power of the president is present. Second, you should have a new government that represents all sides and parties in and outside Syria. This government should control the whole Syria.
>> Third, it would be good to wait for the elections of 2014. When the Constitution of 1953 would be recognized and there would be a government that represents all sectors and parties, we could wait until then. If President Bashar expected that he would be elected, why not. It is the decision of the people, we do not need interference from outside. If the Syrians decide that President Bashar could come back, why not?
>>
>> Question: Do you support military intervention from the outside?
>>
>> MG: It is important not to bring three things to Syria: First, any military intervention would be a disaster. Any military intervention would mean that Syria is occupied by troops, who come from outside. And then you do not know when these troops would leave Syria. And we do not want that Syria is under control from outside the country.
>> Second, we should avoid civil war. Because that would mean that everyone takes a gun and people killing each other.
>> Third, we do not want a division of the country. For dividing the land would be another disaster. We have benefited from our unity. A military intervention could lead to a civil war and then the division of the country. I therefore oppose any foreign intervention.
>>
>> Question: What do you think of the proposal, the CDU politician Volker Kauder has done in Egypt to establish a no-fly zone and to check with the NATO missiles in Turkey?
>>
>> MG: I met Mr Kauder, a year ago. He was very keen to any proposal to bring peace to Syria. I do not know what was happening now in Egypt, but I think a no-fly zone would not have a negative impact on our existence. It might help a little to improve the situation.
>>
>> Question: Who are the forces that are fighting against each other in Syria. You hear about Islamic extremists and gangs. You can hear the struggle of ethnic groups, Alawites, Sunnis and Kurds against each other. What are the main forces?
>>
>> MG: I think there are only two major forces: one is represented by the Free Syrian Army. And within that, there are various groups such as the Muslims and others. But these are not very effective. The FSA is well organized and united, and she tries to control everything against the regime.
>> The second force is the regime. They have the military, they have everything and they fight on the ground. Certainly, the Kurds are part of the problem. I know that the (Kurdish) PKK now supports the regime and fights those who are against the regime. It may also be that part of the Kurds are on the side of the FSA. But that does not mean that ethnic groups are fighting each other. The Islamic fundamentalists who are fighting there, are indirectly controlled by the FSA. At the end, when there will be a solution, these fighters will come together under one umbrella. Non-regime and regime.
>>
>> Question: To the Christians of Syria are said to have allied themselves with the violent regime of Bashar al Assad. The church leadership is even accused of being bought by Assad. What is your position on this?
>>
>> M.G.: That’s not true. It is important to distinguish between two data. One is the March 2011. Before that, not only Christians, but many Syrians have praised the regime of former President Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar and supported them. It was something of a tradition for all ethnic and religious groups to say very nice words to the regime and the president. And among them were the Christians. The Christians were used to express themselves through their church leaders. Every Christmas and Easter, they said kind words to the regime and the president. Because by then the regime had protected the Christians in Syria. But after 2011, the regime has been accused of being involved in the killing of people. Both sides accused each other, to be responsible for that. The Christians formed their opinion. 80 percent of them were quiet. Of the remaining twenty percent there was a part who supported the regime and a part against the regime. If you come today to Syria, they have on both sides of Christians. This is a very small number, the majority is not happy and not willing to take part in the clashes. For them, the important thing is that every change will bring in the future for them full respect. Christians expect that every change will bring a new constructive and accepted constitution, in which their rights and dignity are guaranteed. Living together is important for Christians. You can not live in a ghetto. Live in a ghetto is to die slowly. We need to be dynamic and our participation in society must be like all other.