By Doreen Abi Raad
Catholic News Service
BEIRUT (CNS) -- The Syriac Catholic patriarch said events in Syria were the result of Western nations carrying out a geopolitical strategy "to split Syria and other countries" in the Middle East.
"It's not a question of promoting democracy or pluralism as the West wants us to understand of its policies. This is a lie, this is hypocrisy," Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan told Catholic News Service.
Western nations did not heed warnings and so "bear responsibility for what is happening in Syria."
"We were warning all those involved, the countries in the region and in the West -- that means the United States and some of the European Union countries, like the United Kingdom and France -- that this kind of violence would lead to chaos and the chaos to a civil war," Patriarch Younan said. "And at that time, two years ago, they chose not to believe that."
The patriarch spoke to Catholic News Service May 10, as Western nations gave contradictory reactions to the war between the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebel forces.
The United States and Russia were calling for an international conference on Syria in Geneva at the end of May, but U.S. President Barack Obama was said to be considering arming rebel groups as war intensified in certain parts of Syria.
"Since the beginning, they (Western nations) just stood against the regime, calling it a dictatorship, saying the dictatorship must fall. Now it's over 25 months, the conflict is getting worse, and the ones who are paying the price are the innocent people," said Patriarch Younan, leader of nearly 40,000 Syriac Catholics in Syria.
He said the morale of Christians in Syria is "very, very low."
Patriarch Younan, who served for 14 years as bishop of the New Jersey-based Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance for Syriac Catholics in the United States and Canada, was elected patriarch of the
Syriac Catholic Church in January 2009. He and other Eastern Catholic patriarchs in Lebanon have repeatedly warned against toppling Assad, calling instead for dialogue to solve the crisis in the
The patriarch emphasized that "we are not siding either with Assad or with his regime. We are with the Syrian people, and our concern is how can we get this country (Syria) back on its feet for the sake of the population.
"We are accused of siding with the (Syrian) regime. This is not the truth," he said. "Sure, we did say from the beginning, this regime has to make reforms, true reforms, both political and in the area of civil liberties."
But the patriarch said that does not mean ousting the regime is the solution, because it could then be replaced with fundamentalist groups, as church leaders had warned, citing Libya and Egypt and other countries of the Arab Spring.
"We are not politicians," the patriarch said. "We just want our people to be able to stay in their own country and to live peacefully with others, and we want true civil rights and religious liberty."
He said Western nations must look at what happened in Iraq, which still suffers from confessional conflicts, killings, bombings and kidnappings and has already experienced the exodus of more than 50 percent of its Christians.
The patriarch described the situation in his native province of Hassake as "very critical" and said Christians were being pressured to leave the area.
"People live in fear. They fear kidnapping and killing, and many of the Christians just want to get out in whatever way they can," he said.
"It's very sad to say that there is no hope for the future for the young generations, all because of the lasting conflict, and the West bears the responsibility of this conflict."
He said Western nations encouraged conflict in the Mideast "in the name of the so-called awakening of people, of democracy," adding that "the so-called Western democracy" cannot be exported to countries that still look at religion as a base for ruling their regimes or political life.
Those attempts over the past 20 years to bring so-called democracy in the region, he said, instead were not for the good welfare of the Christians in the Middle East and "were very much harming our very existence."
"And for us Middle Eastern Christians, the faith means a lot. For us, religious liberties come first, otherwise we would not have been surviving for centuries in this area. Western leaders don't want to understand this," Patriarch Younan said.
"Christians in the Middle East have been not only abandoned, but we have been lied to and betrayed by Western nations, like the United States and the European Union," he said.
"And I believe there will be a time coming when the Christians of the Middle East will no longer look to the West for support and perhaps to better strengthen their roots with the Eastern culture and civilization. They are better to look to the East, to ... Russia, to India, to China," he said.
The patriarch said he had no news of two Orthodox bishops kidnapped April 22, but said the United States was "very able to get the news if they want to."
When asked if he considered the bishops' kidnapping a message to Christians, the patriarch replied, "How can it be otherwise?" The incident, he said, makes Christians in Syria more fearful and desperate to flee.
"We keep praying for peace and the liberation of all kidnapped," he added.
The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon already is more than 1 million, equal to one quarter of Lebanon's population. Every day, Patriarch Younan said, Christian families from Syria who have left everything behind, come to the patriarchate in Beirut seeking refuge. Original article here.
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And why supporting Syria's rebels may extinguish Christianity in its oldest environs.
Article by Andrew Doran writing in The American Conservative
The recent dedication of George W. Bush’s presidential library in Texas briefly rekindled debate about the defining event of his presidency, the Iraq War. The visceral hatred of many for the war and the man having substantially diminished, a more sober assessment of both seemed to prevail in the coverage. In the same news cycle there appeared a seemingly unrelated event, the abduction of two Orthodox bishops in Syria. In fact, the conflict in Syria and the American invasion of Iraq are linked by a common thread: the failure of the U.S. to consider the effect of its foreign policy on vulnerable religious communities, especially Middle Eastern Christians.
In March 2003, on the eve of war in Iraq, Pope John Paul II dispatched Cardinal Pio Laghi, a senior Vatican diplomat, to Washington to make a final plea to Bush not to invade. Laghi, chosen for his close ties to the Bush family, outlined “clearly and forcefully” the Vatican’s fears of what would follow an invasion: protracted war, significant casualties, violence between ethnic and religious groups, regional destabilization, “and a new gulf between Christianity and Islam.” The warning was not heeded.
Two weeks after the Bush-Laghi meeting, on March 19, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced. Shortly after combat operations concluded on May 1, the real conflict began. Amid the chaos and sectarian violence that followed, Iraq’s Christians suffered severe persecution. Neither the military nor the State Department took action to protect them. In October 2003, human rights expert Nina Shea noted that religious freedom and a pluralistic Iraq were not high priorities for the administration, concluding that its “diffidence on religious freedom suggests Washington’s relative indifference to this basic human right.” Shea added, “Washington’s refusal to insist on guarantees of religious freedom threatens to undermine its already difficult task of securing a fully democratic government in Iraq”—more prescience that would be likewise disregarded.
Iraq’s diaspora Christian community in America had also foreseen the danger, and quickly took action, helping thousands of refugees with humanitarian assistance. The Chaldean Federation’s Joseph Kassab, himself a refugee from Baathist Iraq decades before, advocated zealously for their protection. Kassab’s brother, Jabrail, a Chaldean archbishop, helped organize relief in Iraq during the sanctions from 1991-2003, doing “all that he could to help the Iraqi people—Christians and Muslims together.” His brother remained at his post until October 2006, when a Syrian Orthodox priest, Fr. Paulos Eskander, was abducted and beheaded, after which Pope Benedict ordered him to leave Iraq. Fr. Eskander’s murder was part of a campaign that targeted the most conspicuous of Christians—the clergy.
In February 2008, Archbishop Paulos Rahho’s vehicle was attacked after he finished praying the Stations of the Cross in Mosul. His driver and bodyguards were killed. Rahho, wounded but alive, was put into the trunk of the assassins’ car and taken from the scene. He managed to pull out his cell phone and call his church to tell them not to pay his ransom, saying he “believed that this money would not be paid for good works and would be used for killing and more evil actions.” His body was found in a shallow grave two weeks later.
During this campaign of systematic violence, the U.S. military provided no protection to the already vulnerable Christian community. In some instances, the clergy went to local American military units to beg to for protection. None was given. As Shea noted two weeks later, the administration and the State Department—whose record on Christian minorities and religious freedom leaves much to be desired—still refused to “acknowledge that the Christians and other defenseless minorities are persecuted for reasons of religion.”
A month after the murder of Archbishop Rahho, President Bush addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Joseph Kassab had been invited to pray the Hail Mary and Our Father in Aramaic following Bush’s remarks, an act of solidarity with the Christians of the Arab world. “I had two or three minutes with the president behind the curtains,” Kassab said in a recent interview. “He said he thought you had to fix the whole picture before coming to the other elements. It was disappointing. He knew it was a failure and his administration refused to acknowledge that.”
Rosie Malek-Yonan, an Assyrian Christian who testified before Congress, would call the Bush administration a “silent accomplice” to “incipient genocide.” Anglican Canon Andrew White of Baghdad’s Ecumenical Congregation captured the reality with blunt precision: “All of my leadership were taken and killed—all dead.”
Those Iraqi Christians who fled to America would fare little better in seeking asylum. Many Chaldeans and Assyrians were detained, until their cases were heard, in what an attorney familiar with Chaldean-asylum cases describes as “prisons,” adding that she “never worked on a case where a Chaldean was granted asylum, but I heard that it happened.” Throughout these deportation proceedings, the administration and the State Department steadfastly refused to recognize the conditions—which the U.S. had helped to bring about—as “persecution.” In consequence, most were deported.
Ironically, hundreds of thousands Iraqi Christians would find refuge in the quasi-autonomous republic of Kurdistan in the north. “They arrived,” Kassab would note, “with nothing on their backs and the Kurds came to the rescue.” Traveling to the region to assist with resettlement efforts, Kassab observed a Kurdish government willing despite inadequate resources to help the fleeing Christians. The Kurds went to the U.S. government, which they believed was partly responsible for the refugee crisis, to ask for help. “This fell on deaf ears,” Kassab recalls.
Today Iraqi Kurdistan is assimilating refugees from another neighboring country torn apart by sectarian violence: Syria. Among the refugees are more Iraqi Christians, who originally fled to the relative freedom and tolerance of Syria, only to find themselves again fleeing persecution, often hunted by Syria’s rebels. Many of these rebels are members or affiliates of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. The Obama administration, bewilderingly, has chosen to support Syria’s rebel groups without any apparent thought of the consequences. The extent of covert support remains unclear, though reports suggest it is significant. As in Iraq, the insurgent campaign in Syria targets priests, the most visible symbols of the Christian faith.
The protection and perseverance of minority religious communities—indeed, of religious freedom—continues to be a low priority for the Obama administration and the State Department. The U.S. fails to recognize that the Islamist-Wahabbist commitment to eradicating Christian minorities today will result in the extinction of diverse modes of Islam tomorrow, a fact that is not lost on moderate Muslims.
The objective of the Iraq War—to democratize the Middle East—may yet be realized. But democracy in the Middle East is proving less tolerant than the regimes it has succeeded. Unless swift action is taken, these democracies will evolve into bastions of intolerance and violence beyond our comprehension. These democracies will not march ineluctably toward liberty and pluralism, as some naïve optimists continue to forecast despite the evidence, but will end in the ordered barbarism of Saudi Arabia, where punishments include beheading and crucifixion, according to Amnesty International.
When he came to office, President Bush famously scribbled in a report on the Clinton administration’s inaction during the Rwandan genocide, “Not on my watch.” Clinton today admits that inaction in Rwanda is his greatest regret. One day, Bush may look back on the neglect of the Middle East’s Christians with similar regret. Cardinal Laghi would recall that Bush “seemed to truly believe in a war of good against evil,” that his work was providential. “You might start, and you don’t know how to end it,” the prelate warned. In this sense, the Iraq War continues, and with it the deliberate extinction of Middle Eastern Christians.
Andrew Doran served on the Executive Secretariat of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State, where he has since worked as a consultant. His views are his own.
Original article here
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