Barnabas: Syria – Must make Christians’ plight known

October 18, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world


Aleppo has been left in ruins by months of fighting

Aleppo has been left in ruins by months of fighting

Syria, October 17, 2013: The plight of Christians in Syria continues to plummet to new depths, and we need your help to make world leaders realise the gravity of the crisis our brothers and sisters are facing.

My colleagues at Barnabas Fund have this week produced a sample letter to politicians, and we are urging our supporters to use this as a framework to write to their elected representative on behalf of Christians in Syria caught up in the brutal civil war.

The deliberate targeting of Christians by Islamist rebels within the opposition is an “angle” that the Western media has largely ignored, while Western political leaders, especially from the US, UK and France, are actually backing the side that is intent on destroying the Syrian Church.

The difficulty for both the media and political leaders is that they “bought” a particular line on the Syrian uprising that has turned out to be false, and they need to be persuaded to have the courage to change their narrative.

The Western “line” on the Syrian conflict is that it has been about the masses rising up against a cruel dictatorial leader in pursuit of democracy and freedom. But as the war has gone on, it has become increasingly clear that, while this may have been the goal of some revolutionaries at the beginning, the battle against President Bashar al-Assad is now largely being fought by jihadists, many of them foreign, who do not represent the Syrian people and want to create an Islamic state.

BESIEGED IN ALEPPO

The 400,000 Christians among the 2.25 million people trapped in the rebel-held part of Aleppo are experiencing the grim reality of this, and yet we do not hear about their suffering in our newspapers or on our TV news bulletins.

They have been completely cut off for many months. While Muslims are able to travel in and out freely, Christians trying to leave the besieged areas are stopped at rebel checkpoints. Christian men are kidnapped and/or killed while women and girls are forced to convert to Islam or else be raped and/or killed.

Last month, around 25 Christians were kidnapped. Many have been held with no ransom demand or news of their whereabouts; their families do not know if they are dead or alive.

Not only can the Christians not get out of Aleppo; very few supplies are getting in. Our key partner in the city, a Christian doctor, said that many people, especially children, are now suffering from malnutrition. He said that people have not eaten meat, chicken or fish for the last six to eight months, and the very few vegetables that are now available to buy – at highly inflated prices – are turning rotten. The cost of some essentials has risen an astonishing 1,000%.

Barnabas is distributing food to around 10,000 Christians in Aleppo, as well as many thousands more in other parts of the country. Formerly wealthy Syrian families who used to donate support for others are now asking to be added to the distribution list. One woman said last month, “Here is my last gift; next month add me to the list of people to receive help.”

Their physical hardships are compounded by a lack of fuel, electricity and medicines. Dead bodies and rubbish are piling up in the streets as the fighting stops normal services from functioning.

On top of all this, winter has come early to Aleppo and, with no heating and people weakened by malnutrition, there are fears that the elderly will die in the cold; the young too are expected to suffer.

Our partner said:

I don’t know how long this will last, but God will never let us be ashamed. He is our best supporter.

Some relief for this besieged Christian community is in sight, as government forces last week managed to reopen a road from Aleppo to Homs and supplies of medicine are said to be on their way.

CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES TARGETED

A church in Saidnaya, which has been attacked by Islamist rebels

A church in Saidnaya, which has been attacked by Islamist rebels

Elsewhere in Syria, targeted attacks against Christian communities by Islamist rebels continue unabated.

On 26 September, fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stormed two churches in the northern city of ar-Raqqah; they destroyed crosses and other Christian symbols and hoisted a black flag over one of the buildings.

Most of ar-Raqqah fell to the opposition in March. Where ISIL dominates, it imposes a strict version of sharia law on the population. Following the church attacks, ar-Raqqah residents took to the streets demanding ISIL leave their city.

Islamist rebels have also carried out raids on the historical Christian village of Saidnaya, north of Damascus. As in Maaloula, which was seized by al-Qaeda-linked rebels last month, a version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is spoken in Sednaya.

Two Christians have been killed in the attacks, which appear intended to frighten the population into fleeing.

One church leader said, “Today the people of Saidnaya are afraid of having the same fate as Maaloula.”

Almost all of Maaloula’s mainly-Christian population of 3,000 fled following the Islamist takeover, leaving it a ghost town.

Syria’s sizeable Christian minority is largely defenceless and unarmed; they are in danger of a full-scale genocide in a country where the Church has existed for nearly 2,000 years. This terrible prospect can no longer be ignored.

Please play your part in making those in a position of power realise what is happening to Christians in Syria, and urge them and their political parties to seek only those outcomes to the conflict that would allow freedom, equality and justice for all.

– dr patrick sookhdeo

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