TWO ARCHBISHOPS KIDNAPPED IN SYRIA:
PRELUDE TO MASS EXODUS OF NATIVE CHRISTIANS!
On Monday 22 April 2013, two prominent Aramean (Syriac) Archbishops from the Syriac and Greek Orthodox Churches were abducted near Aleppo in Syria. Their car was intercepted and the driver was cold-bloodedly shot dead, either during or shortly after the attack. Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, and a number of Ministers are actively working on the case.
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, were captured 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. Following conversations with rebel leaders surrounding the Aleppo region, the WCA understands that the Archbishops are currently held in Kafar Dael and are safe and sound at this hour. However, this is a critical dangerous and volatile situation which could end very badly for both Archbishops. The WCA’s contacts near Aleppo have tried to head to the area in order to meet with the rebels to understand their demands, but they were forced back due to the perilous situation in the area.
The WCA and its Member Federations have contacted many Foreign Ministers, UN Ambassadors and other high-ranking officials. Among others, the WCA received a response from the personal assistant of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, that they – as well as the Greek Foreign Minister who is on top of the case – are doing all they can to get the two church leaders released from the hands of these terrorist gangs.
Many Syrian citizens, including Aramean Christians, have been abducted for ransom before during the two-year war. The WCA is aware of an earlier abduction of H.E. Gregorius Hanna Ibrahim by rebel groups back in January of this year. Thanks to the intervention of Turkish state officials, he was swiftly released. In this particular case, no ransom has been demanded yet. This leads one to believe that the kidnappers perhaps will request certain fellow rebel fighters to be released from Syrian prisons in exchange for the lives and freedom of the two innocent and peaceful clergymen.
There are reports that the kidnappers, who “certainly looked non-Syrian” to eyewitnesses, are of Chechen descent. However, this is yet to be confirmed. All indications are that this group is in any case a foreign group. If, however, the kidnappers are affiliated with or can be controlled by the Free Syrian Army, the WCA has been assured by rebel leaders that the two Archbishops will be released soon, if not before tomorrow evening.
Earlier this year, in February 2013, the abducted Archbishop wrote to the WCA among others (http://www.wca-ngo.org/humanrightsfiles/the-syria-crises/402-statement-by-metropolitan-gregorios-yohanna-ibrahim-christians-in-syria-facing-a-new-unexpected-tragedy):
“The Recent development in our Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo, is that, a few days ago, hundreds of Christian families, who lived for years in the tranquillity Al-THAWRA City on the bank of the Euphrates, suffered forced displacement under the fear and anxiety from the fierce fighting in this city. A few families are still trapped there as they could not leave their homes and manage to survive anywhere else for economic reasons. We have been informed by the priest in charge of al-Thawra city , that more than 80 families left the city overnight.
We are advocates of peace, and are working with all sides in order to keep this heinous war, that has flared uncontrollably in our homeland Syria, at bay. We cry loudly: ‘Enough is enough; we are totally exhausted and cannot continue.’ Tragic events have relegated us to the ambiguity of the unknown, we cannot see a glimpse of a solution on the horizon coming from inside or from outside. Who should we turn our heads to? Who is going to be instrumental in terminating this mayhem, who is capable of lifting this conspirator yoke which is strangling us?”
Johny Messo, the WCA President, condemned this cowardly and heinous terrorist act and stated: “This sad case reminds us of what our people in Iraq have experienced in the last decade when prominent church leaders were kidnapped, tortured, beheaded and murdered. Today’s abduction will equally prove to be a catastrophic blow to the presence of the Christians in the Middle East. If the international community does not act adequately, it will no doubt become a prelude to a mass exodus from Syria and spell the end of indigenous Aramean (Syriac) Christianity on its ancestral soil.”
Daniel Gabriel, the WCA’s Human Rights and UN NGO Director, also sharply denounced the terrorist assault and declared: “The war really must be brought to an end right away, as recently has been emphasized by certain UN organizations and political leaders worldwide. Let this be a wake-up call for the USA and the EU to reconsider their role in this conflict and stop arming the rebels with lethal and non-lethal military equipment. This case proves again that much of the rebel movement cannot be controlled and this continued war only brings death, destruction and terror to the formerly peaceful country. The West must also reassess its allies and its relationship with certain key partners who flood the country with Jihadist fighters or condone their infiltration into the country where countless innocent people, including women and children, are being brutally killed, injured, displaced or starved to death every day.”
The Syriac and 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. Now 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 continue to struggle for survival.
For more photos of the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, H.E. Gregorius Hanna Ibrahim, see our Facebook Page "World Council of Arameans [Syriacs]" https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.452596074816502.1073741831.349551665120944.