From January 26-29, 2014, the Westminster Institute and Barnabas Aid hosted a delegation of Syrian Christian leaders in Washington, D.C., in order to raise awareness of the humanitarian catastrophe that the Syrian conflict has become, and to explore concrete steps that can be taken by the United States to help end the crisis and to protect Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Syria.The delegation consisted of: Rev. Adib Awad, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. Rev. Dr Riad Jarjour, Presbyterian clergyman from Homs, Syria, formerly General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches (1994-2003). H.E. Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak, Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church. His Grace Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Primate of the Armenian Church of Damascus.
Extract from Time Magazine
January 30th 2014
The stories told by five top Syrian Christian leaders about the horrors their churches are experiencing at the hands of Islamist extremists are biblical in their brutality.
Bishop Elias Toumeh, representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, tells of the funeral he led ten days ago for the headless body of one of his parishioners in Marmarita. Rev. Adeeb Awad, vice moderator of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, explains how the rebels blew up his church and then pointed the finger at the regime. Bishop Armash Nalbandian, primate of the Armenian Church of Damascus, says he received word on Facebook from a fellow bishop in Aleppo that two congregants were traveling when opposition fighters stopped their bus, made them present their Armenian IDs, and then took them away. The fighters, Nalbandian recounts, returned to the fellow passengers a few hours later with a box, which they said were cakes. Inside were the two Armenian heads.
The bishops’ stories are difficult to independently verify, and the war’s death toll goes far beyond just Christian communities in Syria–more than 130,000 people have been killed since the fighting began, and at least two million others have fled the country. But they are emerging as part of a concerted push by Syrian Christians to get the U.S. to stop its support for rebel groups fighting Syrian president Bashar al Assad. “The US must change its politics and must choose the way of diplomacy and dialogue, not supporting rebels and calling them freedom fighters,” says Nalbandian.
The group is the first delegation of its kind to visit Washington since the crisis began three years ago, and its five members represent key different Christian communities in the country. Awad, Toumeh, and Nalbandian were joined by Rev. Riad Jarjour, Presbyterian pastor from Homs, and Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak, Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The Westminster Institute and Barnabas Aid, two groups that focus on religious freedom and relief for threatened faith communities, sponsored their trip. Read the full article here
Rebel Supporting Senator McCain Throws Tantrum at Syrian Christian Leader Meeting
Hell-bent on arming opposition forces in Syria—despite strong evidence that they’re run by Islamic terrorists—John
McCain displayed behavior unbecoming of a United States Senator during a recent meeting with Syrian Christian leaders touring Capitol Hill. The delegation of Syrian clergy came to Washington to raise awareness among lawmakers of the growing crisis among the region’s minority Christian community. Christians make up about 10% of the Syrian population and they are being targeted and ruthlessly murdered by radical elements of the rebel forces, according to the visiting church officials. They say the media and human rights groups in the west have been largely silent on the ordeal of the Christians in Syria.
A number of churches have been destroyed or burned, children were killed when rebels fired mortar rockets at an Armenian Christian school in Damascus and countless others have been abducted by Islamic fighters, the Syrian delegation reveals in a statement published by the research group, Westminster Institute, that brought them to Washington. Eleven nuns have also been abducted and are still in captivity and two bishops are still missing after getting kidnapped during a humanitarian mission.
But Senator McCain, an Arizona Republican, evidently doesn’t want to hear negative stories about the rebels he’s working to arm. So he stormed out of a closed-door meeting with the Syrian clergy officials last week. Held in the Senate Arms Services Committee meeting room, the reunion also included senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Graham is a Republican and the rest are Democrats.
McCain marched into the committee room yelling, according to a high-level source that attended the meeting, and quickly stormed out. “He was incredibly rude,” the source told Judicial Watch “because he didn’t think the Syrian church leaders should even be allowed in the room.” Following the shameful tantrum McCain reentered the room and sat briefly but refused to make eye contact with the participants, instead ignoring them by looking down at what appeared to be random papers.
The outburst was so embarrassing that Senator Graham, also an advocate of U.S. military intervention in Syria, apologized for McCain’s disturbing outburst. “Graham actually apologized to the group for McCain’s behavior,” according to the source, who sat through the entire meeting. “It was truly unbelievable.” Read the rest of the article here
A discussion with Syrian Christian Leaders hosted by The Heritage Foundation an American conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.
We are a group of Christian leaders who came from Syria to Washington this week in order to tell the story of the suffering of Syria’s people. Newspapers and televisions have shown the images of bombings and destruction, but these cannot convey the depth of individual suffering. We came to tell the story of a young Catholic man named Fadi from the Valley of Christians (Wadi al Nasara). On his way home from work one day he was forced out of his car by an armed group and shot. They cut off his head and took it with them, leaving the body. His family had to bury the decapitated body. And we wanted the West to know what happened on November 11th, when rebels fired mortar rockets at the Armenian Christian Tarkmanchats High School in Damascus just as the children were leaving for the day. Their school bus was hit and four first-graders and the bus driver were killed. Just a few weeks ago, on January 6th, the day of the Armenian Christmas, 10 Kurdish Muslims and two Armenian Christians s on a bus leaving Aleppo were abducted by ISIS fighters. The two Armenians were taken from the room where the 12 were held; a few hours later one of the rebels came into the room holding two large cookie boxes, which they offered to the Kurds as gifts. They opened the boxes and found inside the heads of the two Armenians. On April 22, 2013, two bishops were kidnapped while on a humanitarian mission, and we still have no idea of their fate. Eleven nuns were abducted from the historic city of Maaloula and they are being held in captivity. Forty churches have been looted, burned, or destroyed. Nearly 500,000 Christians are internally displaced. Another 300,000 have had to flee from Syria altogether.
We came here to the United States, at the invitation of Barnabas Aid and the Westminster Institute, because we believe these stories and many others have not been heard. The media and human rights groups in the West have been largely silent on the ordeal of the Christians in Syria. But we have been greatly encouraged by the very powerful response of those we met with—members of the Congress and Senate, State Department, U.S. Institute of Peace, NGOs, academics, church leaders, media and interested citizens. All acknowledge the difficulty of the situation in Syria, and that there is no easy resolution to the war. However, all agreed that religious freedom and protection of minorities must be a part of any future in Syria. We must make every effort to preserve the mosaic of religions and ethnicities that have made up Syria for thousands of years, and Christians must be a part of this mosaic, in this country that Pope John Paul II called the Cradle of Christianity.
Syria has become the central battleground for Al Qaeda and other extremists from around the globe. According to CNN, Israeli Army Intelligence reported on January 26th that an estimated 30,000 foreign jihadists are now fighting in Syria. We believe the only solution now to ending the spiraling violence lies with the Geneva peace process and in stopping the influx of foreign fighters into Syria. We urge the American government to make sure that these two elements go side by side.
We ask the American people to pray for Syria, to pray for an end to the violence, and to tell their lawmakers that religious freedom and the protection of minorities are important to them. The situation of the Christians in Syria is a tragic one, both for those who have been able to stay in their homes and those who have been displaced, and we therefore also appeal for humanitarian support. The refugee camps are unsafe for Christians, and so they must turn to their neighbors and families for help, often placing a tremendous burden on families already strained by three years of war.
The calling of the church is to serve as a prophetic voice, challenging governments and societies for the building of communities where peace, justice and freedom prevail. We are now calling on the United States as a superpower with a moral standing in the world–its leaders and citizens alike–to seek wisdom and understanding in dealing with conflict, in accordance with the values of their Founding Fathers.
May the peace of God be with us all.
Rev. Adib Awad, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.
Rev. Dr Riad Jarjour, Presbyterian clergyman from Homs, Syria, formerly General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches (1994-2003).
H.E. Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak, Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
His Grace Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Primate of the Armenian Church of Damascus.