DAMASCUS/ANKARA (BosNewsLife)– Tens of thousands of panicked-stricken people, many of them Christians, are seen fleeing north-east Syria amid fears that a brief ceasefire will not end a deadly Turkish invasion. They escape a region where over 100 people, including some Christians, were reported killed in recent fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces. Others were injured.
“Already one Christian home in a Christian neighborhood in the city of Qamishli has been shelled, with family members injured,” confirmed Christian aid group, Barnabas Fund.
“The mother is in a critical condition in hospital. Two other Christians in Qamishli have been killed and many wounded,” the group added.
Barnabas Fund said, “Christians are alarmed to note that the attacking forces include not only the Turkish army but also Syrian Islamist rebel factions whose extremist ideology makes them strongly anti-Christian.”
At least one Islamic rebel group, the Levant Front, seized Christian homes of those fleeing in the town of Tal Abyad, other Christian aid workers told BosNewsLife. It was not immediately clear how many houses had been taken over.
Barnabas Fund claimed that some of the Christian refugees were already displaced several times during Syria’s civil war. They “finally found stability in this region. Now they must run for their lives again,” the group explained in a statement to BosNewsLife.
As many as 100,000 people have already left their homes, according to the United Nations. The number of internally displaced persons could reach 300,000 in the area, warned Barnabas Fund citing local sources.
Turkey’s attacks, launched last week, target a part of Syria viewed as relatively secure in eight years of civil war. “But overnight it has become a battlefield,” Barnabas Fund complained.
The group noted that the region has strong Christian communities that are “often seen as a peace-keeping buffer between the Arabs and Kurds.”
Barnabas Fund said it is providing humanitarian aid such as food and shelter to Syrian Christians. Additionally, “We have also helped to support our brothers and sisters spiritually. That includes funding projects to strengthen church ministry and build them up in their faith through the years of unrelenting conflict, loss, and trauma,” it stressed. “As Christians, they suffered persecution for their faith in addition to all the normal suffering of the war.”
Christians have reasons to fear more violence. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey warned his troops would “crush the heads” of Kurdish fighters if they don’t withdraw from a planned safe zone area in northern Syria.
Turkey agreed on Thursday, October 17, to suspend an offensive for five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from the region.
But both sides have accused the other of violating the ceasefire, which was negotiated by the United States. American forces appeared unwilling Monday, October 21, to be drawn into the conflict. Reporters saw hundreds of trucks carrying American troops crossing into Iraq in a long military convoy Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump said last week that he would bring all American troops stationed in Syria “back home.” He rejected concerns that this could lead to the freeing of Islamic militants from prisons and more pressure on minority Christians and other vulnerable groups.
American troops fought the Islamic State terror group alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Most of these forces will move to western Iraq, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said. But he suggested that some would remain temporarily in Syria to protect oil fields from Islamic State, despite President Trump’s call for a full withdrawal.
- “I don’t believe in these two words [human rights], there are no human rights. But in Western countries, there are animal rights. In Australia they take care of frogs…. Look upon us as frogs, we’ll accept that — just protect us so we can stay in our land.” — Metropolitan Nicodemus, the Syriac Orthodox archbishop of Mosul, National Catholic Register.
- “Those people are the same ones who came here many years ago. And we accepted them. We are the original people in this land. We accepted them, we opened the doors for them, and they push us to be minorities in our land, then refugees in our land. And this will be with you if you don’t wake up.” — Metropolitan Nicodemus.
- “Threats to pandas cause more emotion” than threats to the extinction of the Christians in the Middle East. — Amin Maalouf, French-Lebanese author, Le Temps.
By Giulio Meotti (Gatestone Institute) Convert, pay or die. Five years ago, that was the “choice” the Islamic State (ISIS) gave to Christians in Mosul, then Iraq’s third-largest city: either embrace Islam, submit to a religious tax or face the sword. ISIS then marked Christian houses with the Arabic letter ن (N), the first letter of the Arabic word “Nasrani” (“Nazarene,” or “Christian”) . Christians could often take no more than the clothes on their back and flee a city that had been home to Christians for 1,700 years.
Two years ago, ISIS was defeated in Mosul and its Caliphate crushed. The extremists, however, had succeeded in “cleansing” the Christians. Before the rise of ISIS, there were more than 15,000 Christians there. In July 2019, the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, disclosed that only about 40 Christians have come back. Not long ago, Mosul had “Christmas celebrations without Christians“.
This cultural genocide, thanks to the indifference of Europeans and many Western Christians more worried about not appearing “Islamophobic” than defending their own brothers, sadly worked. Father Ragheed Ganni, for instance, a Catholic priest from Mosul, had just finished celebrating mass in his church when Islamists killed him. In one of his last letters, Ganni wrote: “We are on the verge of collapse”. That was in 2007 — almost ten years before ISIS eradicated the Christians of Mosul. “Has the world ‘looked the other way’ while Christians are killed?” the Washington Post asked. Definitely.
Traces of a lost Jewish past have also resurfaced in Mosul, where a Jewish community had also lived for thousands of years. Now, 2,000 years later, both Judaism and Christianity have effectively been annihilated there. That life is over. The newspaper La Vie collected the testimony of a Christian, Yousef (the name has been changed), who fled in the night of August 6, 2014, just before ISIS arrived. “It was a real exodus”, Yousef said.
“The road was black with people, I did not see either the beginning or the end of this procession. There were children were crying, families dragging small suitcases. Old men were on the shoulders of their sons. People were thirsty, it was very hot. We have lost all that we have built for life and nobody fought for us”.
Some communities, such as the tiny Christian pockets in Mosul, are almost certainly lost forever”, wrote two American scholars in Foreign Policy.
“We are on the precipice of catastrophe, and unless we act soon, within weeks, the tiny remnants of Christian communities in Iraq may be mostly eradicated by the genocide being committed against Christians in Iraq and Syria”.
In Mosul alone, 45 churches were vandalized or destroyed. Not a single one was spared. Today there is only one church open in the city. ISIS apparently also wanted to destroy Christian history there. They targeted the monastery of Saints Behnam and Sarah, founded in the fourth century. The monastery had survived the seventh century Islamic conquest and subsequent invasions, but in 2017, crosses were destroyed, cells were looted, and statues of the Virgin Mary were beheaded. The Iraqi priest, Najeeb Michaeel, who saved 850 manuscripts from the Islamic State, was ordained last January as the new Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul….continue reading this article here
SYRIA: A car bomb detonated outside of the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church near the northeast border with Turkey in Qamishli. Up to 12 were wounded with at least 3 are in serious condition. According to preliminary reports, the jihadists group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
The city of Qamishli, is currently controlled by Kurdish militias, has been the scene in recent years of various terrorist acts aimed at affecting Christian communities, reports Agenzia Fides. On June 19, 2016, Mar Ignatios Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrian-Orthodox survived a deadly attack in Qamishli. On that occasion a suicide terrorist had infiltrated a celebration organized to commemorate the “Assyrian genocide” of 1915 (Sayfo), perpetrated by the Ottoman army against Christian sire and Assyrian communities. The bomber had been blocked at the entrance of the place where the celebration was presided by the Patriarch, and it is there that he blew himself up, causing the death of three people.
Sharing of Thursday’s church attack, a Syrian Othrodox Christian posted on Twitter
(AINA) — Kurdish PKK authorities closed an Assyrian (Christian) school in Derbiseye, Syria after Assyrian school officials refused to adopt a Kurdish teaching curriculum. The Kurdish PKK prosecutor in Derik/Malikiye, Syria, issued the order on August 7, which is Assyrian Martyrs Day.
The Syrian government is expected to take control of all schools in the area in the upcoming weeks, but that did not stop PKK officials from attempting to impose the Kurdish curriculum on Assyrians.
The PKK has targeted Assyrian schools in the past. In November, 2015 sixteen Assyrian and Armenian organizations issued a statement protesting Kurdish expropriation of private property in the Hasaka province of Syria. The statement accused the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian wing of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), of human rights violations, expropriation of private property, illegal military conscription and interference in church school curricula.
The Kurdish-language primary school curricula introduced by the PYD-led Kurdish authorities in northern Syria in October, 2015 was heavily criticized for being too ideological and “prioritizing a single view over all others.”
The Assyrian Bishop in Hasaka, Maurice Amsih, denounced the Kurdish curriculum in September, 2016
By Dan Wooding (Assist News) The Roman Colosseum will be illuminated by red lights later this month to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, and especially in Syria and Iraq.
On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. the Colosseum will be spotlighted in red, to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution, according to Crux.
Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lit, and in Mosul, the Church of St. Paul, where this past Dec. 24, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from ISIS.
The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) — follows a similar initiative last year, which lit-up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. In 2016, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit.
Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN, told journalists on Feb. 7 that the “illumination [of the Colosseum] will have two symbolic figures: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian condemned to death for blasphemy and whose umpteenth judgment is expected to revoke the sentence; and Rebecca, a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram along with her two children when she was pregnant with a third.”
“One of the children was killed,” he said, “she lost the baby she was carrying, and then became pregnant after one of the many brutalities she was subjected to by her captors.”
Once she was freed and reunited with her husband, she decided she “could not hate those who caused her so much pain,” Monteduro said. [Read Voice of the Persecuted’s (VOP) report: Held Captive For 2 Years By Boko Haram: Rebecca’s Story and the relief sent to them through VOP’s aid mission, Project 133 Nigeria here.]
Aid to the Church in Need released a biennial report on anti-Christian persecution Oct. 12, 2017, detailing how Christianity is “the world’s most oppressed faith community,” and how anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak.”
The report reviewed 13 countries, and concluded that in all but one, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms for the period 2015-2017 than during the prior two years.
“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.
China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”
The Middle East was a major focus for the report.
“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”
The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.
The departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo, ACN said. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.
Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence, according to the report.
ACN also discussed the genocide committed in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State and other militants. While ISIS and other groups have lost their major strongholds, ACN said that many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would likely not survive another attack.
A spokesperson for Aid to the Church in Need, said, “We invite everyone to attend, either in person or in spirit, on February 24, 2018 at around 6 p.m. in Largo Gaetana Agnesi, Rome.”
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 77, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 55 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan has written numerous books, and his most recent reporting trip for ANS was to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq.
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
VOP is on the ground helping persecuted Christian refugees from Nigeria and Pakistan. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope. Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!
The Prince of Wales has described his profoundly shocked at the suffering endured by Catholics in Syria.
Addressing the Melkite Greek Catholic Community in London, along with their hosts from the Anglican Parish of St Barnabas in Pimlico, and friends from other churches, he said it was “a particular privilege” to be able to celebrate the birth of Christ with a community that traces its origins to the very earliest Christian communities in the Holy Land.
“As someone who, throughout my life, has tried, in whatever small way I can, to foster understanding between people of faith, and to build bridges between the great religions of the world, it is heartbreaking beyond words to see just how much pain and suffering is being endured by Christians, in this day and age, simply because of their faith,” he said.
“As Christians we remember, of course, how Our Lord called upon us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute. But for those confronted with such hatred and oppression, I can only begin to imagine how incredibly hard it must be to follow Christ’s example.”
Before the war, Syria’s Christians numbered around two million. It is estimated that a disproportionately high number of Christians – more than 700,000 – have left over the course of the six-year conflict. In Syria’s second city of Aleppo, which until 2011 was home to the country’s largest Christian community, numbers dropped from 150,000 to barely 35,000 by spring 2017, representing a fall of more than 75 percent.
Resulting from this crisis, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, led by Archbishop Issam John Darwish, has helped provide food, housing and other essentials such as clothes and medicine for 800 refugee families, more than 6,000 people in total, who have fled Syria.
Earlier this year Prince Charles met Archbishop Darwish, the Melkite Archbishop of Zahle, Furzol and Bekka, who travelled to London to be at today’s service at St Barnabas. Prince Charles said he was “profoundly shocked” to hear from him about just how much the Melkite community in Syria has suffered and endured.
He said: “It does seem to me that in our troubled times, when so many Christians in the Middle East face such desperate trials, there is at least some potential comfort to be found in remembering our connections to the earliest days of the Church.” Read More