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Qamishli, Syria (Agenzia Fides) – The funeral of an Armenian Catholic priest, Hovsep Hanna Petoyan [also known as Father Hanna Bidu], and his father, Hanna Petoyan, took place this morning in Qamishli. The two were attacked and killed on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019 by unidentified gunmen as they traveled southbound from Hasaka province to Deir ez-Zor, in the north-east of Syria. Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo told Agenzia Fides Boutros Marayati,
“For us they are martyrs. And what happened to them is a confirmation that the war is not over here, as we had hoped”.
The funerals of the priest and his father were celebrated in the Armenian Catholic Church of St. Joseph, in the presence of priests, religious, and faithful of all the Christian communities present in the area. Father Antranig Ayvazian, Episcopal Vicar of the Armenian Catholic community of Upper Mesopotamia and northern Syria presided over the funeral liturgy.
Father Hovsep, 46, was married and a father of three children, ordained a priest 5 years ago, was the priest of the Armenian Catholic community of Qamishli, in the northeastern Syrian province of Hassake. Archbishop Marayati to Fides,
“In the city of Qamishli, many Christian refugees also fled from Deir ez-Zor, when that city was devastated by war. He also carried out his pastoral work among them, and for a long time he also followed the projects implemented with the help of international groups to rebuild the church and the houses of the Christians in Deir ez Zor, destroyed by the war. For this reason he went to Deir ez Zor every two weeks to check the progress of the work. He had already carried out six trips to that city so dear to the memory of the Armenians, where there is the shrine of the martyrs of the genocide, also devastated during the conflict”.
At the time of the ambush, the priest and his father were travelling together with an Armenian deacon – wounded during the assault – and another person. The two killers had their faces covered and fled after the ambush. The priest’s father died immediately. Father Hovsep, wounded in the chest, was brought to a clinic in Deir ez Zor and then transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Hassakè, where he arrived already lifeless.
The city of Deir ez Zor is controlled by the Syrian army, but in the area there are also Kurdish forces and US military still operating. In the sub-district of al-Busayrah, an area where the ambush occurred, armed groups affiliated to the self-styled Islamic State (Daesh) are also concentrated, who yesterday claimed responsibility for the gunning down of the Armenian Catholic Priest and his father (but stating, erroneously, to have eliminated “two priests”). “The car in which the priest was traveling there was the inscription of the Armenian Church”.
Syrian state TV SANA called the killing of the Armenian Catholic priest and his father “martyrdom”, while the Kurdish media presented the resurgence of bloody attacks attributable to Daesh as an indirect consequence of the Turkish military intervention in Syria, which forced Kurdish militias operating in the area to review their strategies and suspend military operations against jihadist cells still present in the north-east of Syria.
According to the Kurds of the Rojava Information Center, Daesh jihadists allegedly carried out 30 attacks in the first ten days of November, with a 300 percent increase from their activity levels compared to the period prior to the Turkish military initiative in Syrian territory.
‘Shocking’: Cradle of Christianity on the Verge of Collapse as Turkey Turns Northern Syria into Deat
By Chris Mitchell—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to continue an assault that has turned parts of northern Syria into a death zone. Erdogan made his announcement just days before a scheduled White House meeting with President Donald Trump. Erdogan’s invasion, which he calls “Operation Spring Peace,” seeks to create a so-called “safe zone” completely free of the Kurds, a US ally in the fight against ISIS. — Dave Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers on the front lines and told CBN News that “there has been constant fighting since the invasion” despite reports of Turkey agreeing to a cease-fire.
“There’s never been a cease-fire, not one day. Airstrikes by drones, regular airstrikes, artillery, mortars, Turkish tanks. I mean shooting right at us,” he explained.
Eubank says the United States’ decision to leave the area left a vacuum on the battlefield.
“Once we stepped back – whom? – here came the Turks and the Free Syrian Army, most of who were jihadis. And they fled, they ran for their lives, there were 300,000. Massive ethnic cleansing that now America is a part of. And it’s not completely genocide because no one’s hanging around to be killed, because they know they will be killed,”
Eubank has watched Turkey’s NATO army work side by side with virtual terrorists. Read more
- “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
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
(World Watch Monitor) Yemen is the country where the risk of genocide, or mass killing, rose most last year, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in its 2017 Peoples Under Threat index, which also includes a large number of countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
Nine of the Index’s top 12 are also in the top 12 of Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List– namely Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Nigeria.
MRG calculates its annual index based on a number of indicators directly linked to the level of freedom of religion and expression, including democracy and governance, conflict data, and displacement.
Yemen, for instance, ranks 8th on the MRG Index and 9th on the WWL. The civil war that erupted there in 2014 has caused chaos and lawlessness, creating a climate where oppression can flourish.
Radical Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State have exploited the power vacuum in Yemen to gain significant influence. Christians have been killed and abducted, including 16 people killed in an attack on a Christian care home for the elderly in March 2016.
According to MRG’s index, which lists the top 70 countries most at risk of genocide, mass killing or systematic violent repression, two-thirds of the countries where this risk has risen are in Africa.
Also, an increasing number of people are living at “deadly risk” in a growing number of “no-go zones” around the world. MRG says its reports shows “how a lack of access from the outside world allows killing to be perpetrated unchecked in disputed territories, militarized enclaves, and in some cases, whole countries… International isolation is a known risk factor for genocide or mass killing”.
Syria, for example, leads the list for the third consecutive year and, according to the report, UN human rights officials have been “granted no access to Syria since the crisis began in 2011”.
Meanwhile the civil war in Yemen has so far killed more than 8,000 people and injured over 45,000 civilians. The fighting between Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the north and the Saudi-backed government in the south has furthermore displaced more than 3 million people – over 10 per cent of Yemen’s population – reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
OCHA says these figures are most likely lower than the reality because of the lack of reporting capacity and people not having access to health centres.
Those who have not been killed or injured in the fighting might still lose their lives in the largest ever recorded cholera outbreak in a single country in a single year, aid agencies warn. With a crumbling health system, with less than half the country’s hospitals operational and a lack of available medication, nearly 2,000 people have died of cholera so far, with an estimated 5,000 Yemenis becoming ill every day. More than 600,000 Yemenis could have cholera before the end of the year, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned.
(World Watch Monitor) Three years to the day since the Islamic State group took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul, a new report estimates that 50-80% of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
The arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”, according to the report, produced by Christian charities Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern.
The report also notes that for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several interviewees saying “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians”.
“There is little incentive to return, with several interviewees saying the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”
In a policy paper released alongside the report, the three charities call on the EU to help establish an “accountability mechanism” to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria.
“Creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities,” the charities write.
They urge the EU to “advocate for the establishment of the mechanism through its contacts with the Iraqi and Syrian governments” and to provide funding, technical support and monitoring. The mechanism, the charities add, “should be transparent and inclusive, ensuring all key stakeholders at all levels (government, community leaders, civil society and the public) are represented adequately”.
The report, ‘Understanding the recent movements of Christians leaving Syria and Iraq’, acknowledges the difficulty of producing definitive figures, as it estimates that the overall Christian population of Iraq has reduced from “well over 300,000” in 2014 to 200,000-250,000 today – “many” of whom are now displaced internally. In Syria, meanwhile, the charities estimate that the Christian population of around 2 million in 2011 has “roughly halved”.
“Factors for leaving included the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities,” the report notes. “While direct violence, such as the movements of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, was the tipping point for displacement, the ultimate decision to leave the countries was portrayed as an accumulation of factors over time.”
A greater number of Christians are thought to have left Syria, but only because the initial population was higher, according to the report, which adds that a greater proportion of Iraq’s Christians have left the country.
The Christians have emigrated via a range of routes, including resettlement programmes through churches, formal refugee registration and “illegal routes” – though the deaths of Christians trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have reportedly “dissuaded some”, while “the high price of these routes have made them unavailable for others”.
Lebanon has reportedly taken in the most Christians, while thousands more have resettled in Jordan and Turkey, and a smaller number in European countries such as Sweden and Germany. However, “recent policy changes, as well as living conditions, have made arrival or staying in many of these countries, such as Sweden, incredibly difficult”, the report concludes, adding: “There were reports of returns [home], but many expressed the sentiment that Christians have given up hope of returning.”
However, the charities note that “many” of those who remain “want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria. They want to be seen as Iraqi or Syrian citizens, enjoying the full rights of citizenship, such as equality before the law and full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship, practise, teach, choose and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority.”