May the peace of the Lord be with you!
I should like to give you an overview of the events that hit the village of Sadad in the course of a week of occupation by insurgents and terrorists of various shades and types, together with a brief introduction and description of the town:
1.Sadad is a Syriac and Aramaic town 160 km away from the city of Damascus, and 70 km from the city of Homs. It has an estimated population of fifteen thousand people and the town’s residents have spread out to various provinces of the country, such as Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Raqqa, and settled there because of their working conditions. With an eye to their children’s future some of them went to Europe and North America during the middle of the last century. So there remained a nucleus of an estimated 800 families whose living standards were financially acceptable.
2.In Sadad there are fourteen churches and a monastery with four priests, and five church halls for social activities.
3.Most of the inhabitants of Sadad are well-to-do middle class folk who rely on working for various government departments or who are employed in the private sector, as businessmen and craftsmen. They are cultured, neighbourly and peaceful people.
4.As they live in the middle of the desert and there is no rain due to the extreme climate, their livelihoods depend on their jobs and sporadic business opportunities.
5.Due to the tragic events that had befallen most of the country’s governorates, especially Homs and Aleppo, people escaped from the hot spots to Sadad after insurgents entered their homes, stole their property, destroyed their houses and stole their cars. So being able only to take a few things with them they fled to Sadad as a safe town. Some 600 such families migrated from those and other provinces to Sadad.
6.On Monday 21/10/2013 various insurgents and terrorists belonging to forms of the Al-Nusra Front invaded Sadad, occupied it for a week and were defeated on 28/10/2013. Following this, 2500 Sadad family members migrated from Sadad to safe places in Damascus and Homs, especially to Fayrouza, Zaydal, Maskane, and Al-Fhayle. Residents fled their town of Sadad with only the clothes they were wearing and as they were fleeing, the armed gangs stole with menaces their money and gold trinkets that they had scraped together and carried with them. Whole families remained besieged in the region occupied by the insurgents. About 1500 persons were used as human shields, including children and women, the elderly, disabled and sick. Some tried to escape on foot from Sadad to Al-Hafer, walking the distance of eight kilometres, despite having suffered every mental fatigue and physical abuse throughout the period of the siege.
7.During the period of the siege and under the impact of the exchange of fire between the parties some houses were brought down on the heads of their owners, killing members of four families. Militants killed a number of people who had been trapped in Sadad in a variety of ugly ways such as strangulation. Some 45 died as martyrs during this crisis, including both male and female civilians, and young people. We have lost 10 persons and remain ignorant of their whereabouts or who abducted them. Following clashes about 30 people suffered a variety of bodily injuries.
8.As a result of this crisis the occupiers of Sadad ransacked all the inhabitants’ homes and looted their property, cars, money and all electrical goods, stole electronic equipment from shops and all the equipment from the premises of the state hospital, post office and telephone exchange, schools and other institutions, as well as robbing the eparchy’s churches, church halls and stealing some books and church vessels and scrawling obscene words, defamatory of Christian belief and practice and insulting to Christianity. During painful conversations with our children I heard many stories of incidents of militants cursing the Christian religion and insulting crosses and icons and calling us infidels.
9.The results of these events led to the destruction of all government buildings, schools, the municipal telephone and communications centre, hospital, clinic and financial and agricultural buildings as well as about 370 homes of which 80 uninhabitable due to their virtually total destruction.
10.The insurgents who invaded Sadad had come through the village of Al-Hafer, which lies 8 km to the south, from the area Qalamun and following this the villagers migrated out of the town through tunnels, leaving their town which had suffered the theft of four cars, and the complete destruction of four houses. The village of Al-Hafer is an entirely Christian community where altogether an estimated 500 families live.
On Monday morning 28/10/2013 the militants withdrew from the village of Sadad towards Qalamun and the Syrian Arab Army entered and inspected the town, in case there were any hidden mines and improvised explosive devices. Then they called on the inhabitants of Sadad to go back and some 70 percent of the people responded and returned, though some had lost their homes. On the first day they gathered up and buried 20 bodies. The families cleaned their homes and refurbished them ready to settle there. We have to admit that the security officials are still very much afraid for us as we return to Sadad. Material damage in Sadad is estimated at about 65 percent and the state is trying hard now to repair the electricity grid and telephone, water and fund the repair of important buildings, such as the hospital and schools, which cannot be reopened unless the security situation in Sadad is stabilized for families. What has happened has led to the destruction of our children’s academic future this year.
These events that happened in Sadad are considered the largest massacre of Christians in Syria, and in the Middle East second only to the bombing and killing of the faithful in the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in Iraq on the same day and month in 2010. Will terrorists be eradicated for good, I wonder, or will there be still more massacres?….?Some 3000 people have been taken hostage already …. And forty have died as martyrs ….. And some 8,000 people have been displaced and ……
Though we have shouted an appeal to the world, people did not hear us. Just a few have worked with us and stood alongside us. Where is Christian conscience? Where is Syriac conscience? Where is human conscience? Where are our brother bishops, priests and friends? Where indeed? for they are not responsive. Yet perhaps, some of them may be. With a lump in the throat and a burning heart we remember everything that happened in our parishes and those poor suffering people who fled to Sadad and emerged empty-handed. After all this, where they will go I do not know.
Pray for us!
Silvanus Peter Alnemeh
Metropolitan of Homs, Hama and dependencies of the Syriac Orthodox Church