On Monday 22 April 2013, tomorrow precisely 150 days ago, two prominent Aramean (Syriac) Archbishops from the Syriac and Melkite (Greek) Orthodox Churches were abducted between Kafer Dael and Mansura, in one of the most dangerous areas in Syria known as the frontline between the Free Syria Army and the Syrian Government Army. Their car was intercepted and the driver, Mr Fatha’ Allah Kabboud, was cold-bloodedly shot dead, either during or shortly after the attack.

150 days have passed, and the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, H.E. Gregorius Hanna Ibrahim, and H.E. Boulos al-Yazigi, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo and Iskenderun, are still missing. Despite contradictory reports and rumours which have been circulating since their abduction, the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (“WCA”) affirms that there is still no clear information about the identity of the kidnappers, their motivation and demands, their whereabouts or, most importantly, the condition of the two Bishops.

WCA  150d bishops 180913

In order to find answers to this shocking kidnapping case, the WCA has met with the Syrian government, opposition leaders, other government leaders across the world, human rights organisations and leading media outlets. In earlier discussions with the then interim president of the Syrian National Coalition, Mr George Sabra, it was revealed that (a) the opposition knew where the kidnappers were; (b) the opposition was still negotiating with the kidnappers for the release of the Archbishops; and (c) the kidnappers were in fact a local Syrian rebel group over whom the opposition and the Free Syrian Army had no control. Recent reports circulating at the US State Department held that the Archbishops were relocated into Turkey. When asked by the WCA, however, the Turkish government subsequently denied these reports.

The facts evidently prove that the responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of the two Archbishops lies with the Syrian opposition, particularly given that they were in military and civil control of the area where the abduction took place. Daniel Gabriel, the WCA Human Rights and UN NGO Director, notes in this regard: “The disappearance of these spiritual leaders has shocked and frightened the Christians in Syria. We ask the global community to address and prioritize this case, especially with the rebel groups, in order to prevent yet another mass exodus of the Christians from the Near East, as we have witnessed before in the last decades in Turkey and Iraq.”

“This abduction case,” declares the WCA President Johny Messo, “sends out a twofold message. First, it tells Aramean Christians that they must abandon their homes and succumb to this politically motivated act of terror, aimed at driving Syria’s native people out of their ancestral homeland. Second, it signals to the extreme Islamists that threats, kidnappings, rapes and killings can be perpetrated with complete impunity before the eyes of an apathetic international community.”

The WCA and its Member Federations continue to meet Ministers, UN Ambassadors and other high-ranking officials in an effort to get the church leaders released from the hands of the terrorists. We will persistently ask the international community and rebel forces to step up their efforts to intervene in this case until the spiritual fathers have returned home safe and well.

The WCA requests that the media, which strangely is not giving the case the attention it deserves, to give this crucial issue which reflects the survival of the Christians in Syria and the Middle East the amount of attention it deserves. We ask for further investigations and support of all governments, religious leaders of all faiths, NGOs and media outlets in order to help the Aramean Christians locate their Archbishops. Finding these church leaders will send the right message to all Christians across the Middle East to not lose hope in their struggle to survive in their indigenous Aramean homelands in the Middle East, particularly in Syria.
The Syriac and Melkite (Greek) Orthodox Churches belong to the largest Christian communities in the country. Until the war started, the Christians constituted 10% (2,3 million) of the national population. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Aramean (Syriac) Christians are fleeing war-torn Syria. The Syriac Orthodox have retained their 3,000-year old Aramaic mother tongue, which is famously known as the language of Jesus, and are indigenous to Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. However, in none of these countries they are officially recognized as a distinct people where they consequently continue to struggle for recognition and survival. Thus, your voice and support are very much needed and appreciated.