Action Needed As Kidnapping Of Syrian Archbishops Reaches 180 Days

One hundred eighty dreadful days have passed since the April 22, 2013 kidnapping of the two Metropolitans of Aleppo in Syria, the Syriac-orthodox Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and the Greek-orthodox Archbishop Boulos Yazigi, who were kidnapped by armed men on the road between Aleppo and the Turkish border. The kidnappers murdered the driver on the spot while a fourth person in the car managed to escape unharmed. To date there have been no verifiable signs of life from the two Metropolitans. The Greek-orthodox and Syriac-orthodox churches in Aleppo are now missing their leaders. In addition to pastoral work, the churches also operate schools and hospitals, and undertake charitable work for all persons in need. It is still unclear where the Metropolitans are, what is the state of their health, who holds them, and what the kidnappers want.

In July 2012, Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, an advocate of peaceful co-existence of all religions and ethnicities, published the “Roadmap for Peace in Syria,” advocating to ensure reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and reciprocity – seeking to safeguard the unique pluralistic fabric of Syrian society and national unity. He called for the immediate cessation of violence, immediate and effective humanitarian assistance, an all-encompassing dialogue, and a solution at the negotiating table in order to put an end to the Syrian tragedy. Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim said prior to his kidnapping: „I will stay here, I cannot leave Aleppo. I have to be with my people.”

In spite of the fact that this kidnapping case was recently declared a national matter of utmost importance for the Syrian Arab Republic, so far all efforts to secure the release of the Metropolitans have been fruitless. Moreover, the kidnapping of Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Archbishop Boulus Yazigi is critical for the minorities and the Christians in Aleppo and all of Syria where Christianity originated, as well as for all Christians and minorities throughout the entire Middle East. The immediate release of the Metropolitans would send a powerful, positive and encouraging message to all those men, women and children who have suffered from kidnappings and the deteriorating human security in Syria.

In the context of these developments, a Joint Declaration by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn together with Patriarchs Youhanna X (Greek-orthodox), Ignatius Zakka I Iwas (Syriac-orthodox), Gregorios III Laham (Melkite greek catholic), Louis Raphael I Sako (Chaldean catholic), Mar Dinkha IV (Assyrian), Nerses Bedros XIX (Armenian catholic) was published on the situation of Christians in the Middle East last September. It called upon all parties to refuse the logic of arms and violence and to adopt the logic of dialogue to end the suffering of the people and the conflict in Syria – which is also endangering the security and stability of the neighboring countries – as quickly as possible. The Joint Declaration was initiated by Prof. Wolfgang Danspeckgruber of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University, in collaboration with Pro Oriente, Vienna, and is available in nine languages. The unprecedented nature of this collective statement is testimony to the extreme situations in which Christians in the Middle East now find themselves.