Interview with the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Hassaké-Nisibi (northeastern Syria), Mgr Jacques Behnan Hindo, who speaks about the daily fears and anxieties they experience. He
criticizes the position of several Western countries, including the United
States, the United Kingdom and France in the Syrian conflict. For him, the commitment
of the rebels from abroad is contrary to the interests of the Syrian
people and should not be supported by international powers.
is critical of the “fake humanitarian sentiment” of John Kerry and Laurent Fabuis.Full interview in French here.
Article via Teheran based Alalam news outlet
A top Palestinian Christian cleric in Israel has likened crimes committed by foreign-backed insurgents in Syria to the Israeli regime’s racist policies and practices in the occupied land, describing them two sides of the same racist coin.
Addressing a group of Arab students at Haifa University on Friday, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia Theodosios (Atallah Hanna) further restated his support for Syria in the face of the foreign-backed war targeting it, SANA reported.
Archbishop Hanna went on to emphasize that it has become clear that the terrorist groups in Syria are an extension of Zionism and serve its racist projects and suspicious agendas in the region.
The Palestinian cleric further vowed to continue defending the causes of his native land, underlining that Muslims and Christians will remain united in defending the holy sites, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
He also condemned the Israeli regime’s racist practices against Palestinians.
Hanna then stressed that the targeting of Christians in the Middle East and dividing Arab communities into conflicting sects only serves the Israeli regime and allows it to implement its plots for the region.
The Archbishop also asserted that just as terrorists failed in Syria and elsewhere, they will fail to undermine the Christians' determination to remain in the Middle East, and that the Israeli regime will also fail to fragment and weaken the Palestinian people.
Article from the news outlet EA World View
The Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham in Raqqa has imposed conditions of “dhimma” on Christian residents of the area, according to a statement posted on various websites on Wednesday.
The statement says that ISIS had met with Christian representatives and offered them three choices: either they could convert to Islam, accept the system of Dhimma, or reject the Muslim rulers and be killed. A group of 20 Christian leaders chose the second option, according to ISIS.
Under the terms of the contract ISIS offered the Christians, Christian residents will have to pay the jizya, a special tax imposed on non-Muslim male citizens. ISIS demand that every Christian male pay a tax of up to 17 grams of gold, in return for which they will be allowed to continue practicing their faith albeit with certain restrictions, and will be offered some degree of protection.
Also under the contract, Christians are banned from owning weapons, selling pork or alcohol to Muslims, drinking alcohol in public, repairing churches, and must not display religious symbols outside churches, ring church bells, or pray in public.
The imposition of the jizya tax on Christians comes after reports that ISIS has changed the official weekend in Raqqa from Friday and Saturday to Thursday and Friday. Original article here
The Terrorist group ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Syria also referred to as Daash have live tweeted the images of a brutal act of mutilation inflicted on a male victim in the town of Maskanah, near Aleppo. The victim was sentenced to have his hand chopped off for an alleged act of theft. The large butchers clever used to commit this atrocity was unsharpened it took 6 complete blows of the clever and several sawing / cutting actions of the blade to completely sever the victims hand from his arm. Children were present to witness this act of brutality. Following the amputation one of the terrorists paraded the severed hand as the gathered crowd were encouraged to chant Allahu Akbar (God is great). An article about the incident can be read here in the British newspaper The Daily Mail.
Note: The United Kingdom government in concert with the United States, its NATO partners and its Gulf regime allies have assisted in the training, funding, arming and the provision of logistical and intelligence support to the opposition armed factions in Syria. Today the vast majority of these fighters follow a radical extremist ideology that principally originates with America and Britain’s ally Saudi Arabia.
WARNING: A video showing the graphic act of brutality by these terrorists can be viewed here.
H.E. Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah the Secretary General of the Lebanese political and resistance organization Hezbollah, a political ally of Lebanon’s largest Christian party the Free Patriotic Movement, questions the international Christian community as to what they are doing for their Syrian counterparts, whose clergy are abducted and whose churches and sanctuaries are destroyed at the hands of extremist rebels.
Press TV (28/02/2014): Lebanon’s grand mufti says the United States is sowing discord in the Middle Eastern countries in an attempt to strengthen its regional ally, Israel.
“The US studied the instincts and ways of thinking of the groups that make up our communities and has succeeded in sowing strife in eight Arab and Muslim countries... and was able to trigger fighting among fellow citizens,” Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani said on Monday.
Lebanon’s top Sunni cleric also said Washington planned to divide the region into “weak, feuding, mini-sectarian states under the so-called foreign scheme ‘The new Middle East.’” Read the rest of the article here
The Times of Israel reported on 22/02/2014 that Turkish based Syrian opposition leader Muhammad Badie had praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for publicly voicing support for rebels wounded in the drawn-out conflict in Syria which is now entering its fourth year. The Image on the left shows Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting an army field hospital located in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights which is offering medical treatment to Syrian rebels.
Article from the Azeri-Press Agency
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Russia was seriously concerned with the fate of minorities, especially Orthodox communities in Syria and other regional states, APA reports quoting Russian media.
“We are witnessing a mass exodus of Christians from the region who have been an integral part of the Middle East mosaic for centuries,” Lavrov said at the presentation of a book titled “The Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem in the Policy of the Russian Empire” by Mikhail Yakushev, the first vice-president of the St. Andrew the First Called Foundation, on Tuesday. “Today, the Middle East is a top international priority,” Lavrov said.
“I believe that a wave of upheavals in the Arab world affects not only the interests of the region’s states but also of all leading international players. It can have far-reaching consequences, including in the context of inter-cultural and inter-religious relations,” Lavrov went on to say.
“Russia pursues a consistent policy aimed at transformation through evolution with account taken of historical and cultural peculiarities of people residing in this region,” the Russian foreign minister stressed.
“Efforts to reach a political settlement of various situations in compliance with international law without outside interference through recognition and respect of all ethnic groups and confessions are a vital element of our position,” Lavrov said.
“Naturally, we staunchly come out against any manifestations of extremism which threatens to undermine the basis of subsistence of this multi-confessional region,” Lavrov stressed. Original article here
The Orthodox Church of Sts. Constantine and Helen looted and burned in the town of Yabroud
In the Syrian city of Yabrud Islamist terrorists have ruined one of the country’s oldest Christian shrines - the church of Sts. Constantine and Helen. The building dates back to the first millennium BC, when the site was a pagan temple. It became a church in 331 AD. The Church contained a collection of priceless historical icons and church utensils. On February 21 first reports emerged of the desecration of the Church. Some locals report and the crime was committed by a group of people of European appearance who arrived under the protection of militants, and that they were armed with M-16 rifles and other small arms. For an hour they emptied out of the church of its valuables, and set fire to the building.
Interview with Majd Lahham by Brad Hoff courtesy of Levant Report
Majd Lahham, a resident of Damascus, agreed to a long distance interview with Levant Report this week. He is a member of the Antiochian Orthodox Church headquartered in Damascus and spent years as head of the program for Iraqi refugees in the Office of Ecumenical Relations for the Patriarchate of Antioch, and as local coordinator for International Orthodox Christian Charities.
As the conflict in Syria spread in 2011, he increasingly became involved in relief work for internally displaced Syrian refugees. In the Fall of 2012, Majd toured multiple cities throughout United States as part of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. He attempted to raise awareness among Americans of the plight of Syria’s two million strong Christian community, and shared his experiences of working with Iraqis and displaced Syrians. Sadly, the plight of Syria’s Christians is an issue that is still largely ignored in mainstream press, and by most Americans.
Majd currently teaches at a private college in the Damascus area. His views should not be taken to express the official opinion of the Orthodox Church of Antioch. He speaks as private Syrian citizen.
Full interview transcript:
LR (Levant Report): Thank you for your willingness to do this interview during a busy time. We understand that you maintain a full teaching schedule at a private college in the Damascus area – this is refreshing to hear about as it is a sign of normalcy and stability in the city. What is daily life like in Damascus right now?
M. Lahham: It is a very difficult life. Lots of necessary items are not available. Prices have sharply increased. What were once essential food items for families are now considered luxuries. For example, the price of one egg before the crisis was 5 Syrian pounds and now it is 30 Syrian pounds (in the U.S. this would be like a simple carton of eggs suddenly costing close to $15). If you want to go to your work, you have to cross at least three checkpoints. You will never know if you will come back home or you will be killed by a mortar or by a suicide bombing. Usually we lose electricity for 6 hours a day. However, if a terrorist bombs a fuel line, we lose the electricity for almost one day until the lines get repaired by the government. It is dangerous to travel outside the city of Damascus. Sanctions by the United States and Europe have made daily life even worse. Ten thousands of people are now starving. They eat only bread and some vegetables. Some people who are now under siege by rebel groups are out of food and they are boiling available spices like cinnamon to maintain even a little energy.
LR: Western media gave little attention to the rebel shelling of the Christian school in Qassaa on November 12, which killed multiple children and wounded many more. Have the rebels continued their attacks on the Christian districts of Damascus since November? What is the situation for Christians near the Old City?
M. Lahham: Yes, on daily basis. For instance, yesterday (Feb.12) a mortar shell hit the Bab Touma area near the Armenian church.
The Christians living near the old city of Damascus are protected by the government. They can go to work and study etc… But the mortars are still a major problem. I think the one million dollar question is this: why are Christians being targeted in all Syrian cities and villages in an organized way by the so-called “rebels”? We are a minority. We do not have any militia. We have a good historical relationship with all Muslims. There are even statements by their Prophet Muhammad that say that Christians have to be respected.
I think what is going now is an attempt to create a new Sykes-Picot Agreement and create new, smaller ethnic countries where there will be no place for Christians.
LR: We are all hoping and praying for the release of the nuns, but what can you tell us about the general situation in Maaloula right now? Have any Christian residents been able to return to their homes, or do terrorists still control the village?
M. Lahham: Unfortunately, the situation is bad in Maaloula. The rebels control this area. Our Christian heritage has been destroyed. Graves have been desecrated and icons were stolen or burned. The Christian people of Maaloula are now in Damascus with no money or property.
LR: What can you tell us about the situation in Saidnaya right now?
M. Lahham: Saidnaya finds itself in a different situation than Maaloula. The people in Saidnaya decided to defend themselves. They carried weapons and created a local group to protect Saidnaya. Surprisingly, those armed people are made up of simple workers and employees. They work every day in Damascus and then return to Saidnaya in the afternoons and evenings, whereupon they work in shifts to protect the village. I have a friend from Saidnaya who is working as a driver; he couldn’t pick me up because he had a shift in Cherubim Mountain at that time. Two weeks ago, hundreds of rebels from Yabroud (the village where the nuns are being held hostage now) tried to occupy Saidnaya, but the Christians successfully protected their village. Now, Saidnaya is considered a “holy castle.” All people are afraid of a second attack and the rebels have been defeated there and are trying anything to win. After the battle, the rebels shelled the village for almost one week just to prove that they are strong.
LR: You spent many years directing the program for Iraqi refugees under the Orthodox Patriarchate’s Ecumenical Relations office. We understand that there are over one million Iraqi refugees in Greater Damascus, all displaced after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. What can you tell us about the general plight of Iraqis in Damascus?
M. Lahham: The number of Iraqi refugees has sharply decreased. We still have Iraqis – especially those Christians who escaped sectarian violence in Iraq. Their situation is also bad. They are waiting for being resettled in the United States or any European country.
LR: President Obama, multiple congressmen, and mainstream American media, have all consistently presented the U.S. position on the Syria conflict as one of desiring “democracy and freedom”… American foreign policy claims to have the best interest of Syrians at heart. What are your thoughts on this?
M. Lahham: With all due respect to American people, we do not believe in Mr. Obama’s intentions. If you live in Syria, you are able understand the whole picture. The problem is not whether we have democracy or not. This is a clash between Russia and the United States – and the battlefield is Syria. Even worse, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are also players in the game. We do believe that when the Americans and the Russians reach any possible agreement about the investment of gas and oil in the Middle East region, and especially in the coastal area, everything will be solved.
Mr. Kerry, the U.S. secretary of foreign affairs announced that Congress approved of providing the rebels with lethal weapons during Geneva II Convention. It is clearly evident that this American administration does not want to work in the interest of the Syrian people.
And I would add the following: I think the American administration is not working in the best interest of the American people as well. They work in the best interest of the “imperial businessmen” in the oil and weapons industries. Original article here
Video from the British newspaper The Guardian
The historic city of Raqqa in north-east Syria on the banks of the Euphrates is now under the control of the al-Qaeda style group knowen as The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (the Levant) (ISIS), an extremist Islamist faction which has imposed a brutal Taliban like Sharia law on the city. Women are now forced to wear the full veil, Friday prayers are mandatory, smoking is forbidden and music is banned.
“If it had been your Lord’s will, all of the people on Earth would have believed. Would you then compel the people so to have them believe?” [Sûrah Yûnus: 99] Koran
On 5 February 2014, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations DECR, received representatives of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. The meeting took place at the request of the representatives of the Syrian opposition, who visited Moscow on 3-5 February 2014. As Metropolitan Hilarion noted, the fate of the Christian population of Syria causes particular concern. “We are deeply worried over the radicalism which leads to numerous deaths, to the abduction of Christians and destruction of Christian churches. We see the full-scale persecution of Christians in Syria. Many Christians had to leave the country, many have been displaced within Syria. What is going on is a humanitarian catastrophe of the enormous scale,” the DECR chairman said. Full article here.
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.
Article by Brad Hoff from the blog Levant Report
Saidnaya has, until recently, managed to stay quiet and relatively peaceful for most of the nearly three years of the Syria conflict. Its 5 active monasteries, dozens of churches, and large convent orphanage for girls, have continued life as usual as they have over the past many centuries living under multiple regimes - from the Byzantines to the Ottomans to the Ba'ath.
The mostly Orthodox Christian population tends to be presented as "pro-regime" in Western media reports -- this perhaps because Syria's most well-known political prison is located in Saidnaya. But the city's Christian population believes that its very survival is dependent on the government checkpoints, tanks, and soldiers that protect it from the thousands of foreign-backed insurgents that are hunkered down in the surrounding Qalamon Mountains.
Unlike the very politically involved Maronites of Lebanon, Syria's Christian population tends to keep a low-profile, and has enjoyed the historical toleration shown by the secular pan-Arab Ba'athists and socialist nationalist politicians that have led the country for much of Syria's modern period.
Timothy Heckenlively, a Classics professor at a major central Texas university who has lived in the Saidnaya/Maaloula area, published a brief report in October titled "Saidnaya: another Maaloula in the making?". After the initial successful insurgent entry into Maaloula, he expressed the following concern:
It appears that the Islamist opposition forces who wrecked [sic] havoc in Maaloula may be preparing for a similar assault on the equally important Christian village of Saidnaya. On Oct. 1, Fides (a site of the Vatican news network) reported that raids were now commonplace and that one man was dead after clashes the previous day.
Since October, insurgents have mounted multiple unsuccessful attempts to capture the mountaintop which overlooks Saidnaya -- a strategic place from which they could destroy the city below. At the highest point of this mountain sits Cherubim Monastery -- an active monastery and retreat center which has an important cultural heritage site: a church which dates to the third century. One of the tallest Christ statues in the world was recently erected on the monastery grounds - a towering 39 meters tall bronze sculpture that was years in planning with the help of Russian benefactors.
During the spring and summer months, Cherubim Monastery hosts Christian youth camps and church schools. The monks recently had to leave the monastery due to the frequent rebel incursions around the mountain; they are now sheltered in St. George Monastery in the village below.
In an October 2013 Christianity Today article entitled Latest Stop in Race for World's Tallest Jesus Statue: War-Torn Syria, the reality of an ongoing religiocide in this historic Christian region was noted:
Saidnaya has recently faced sectarian attacks similar to Maaloula, another Aramaic-speaking pilgrimage destination just 15 miles north. In addition to displacing tens of thousands of people, the attacks have prompted 50,000 Syrian Christians to apply for citizenship in Russia, reports Interfax. "It is for the first time since the Nativity of Christ that we Christians of Qalamoun living in the villages of Saidnaya, Maara Saidnaya, Maaloula and Maaroun are under threat of banishment from our land," reads the group's appeal to the Russia Foreign Ministry.
The parallels between Maaloula and Saidnaya are all too evident: both are iconic Christian cities that have done their best to prevent conflict from entering their sleepy countryside environs; both contain Syrian cultural and UNESCO heritage sites valued by all Syrians; both have convent-run orphanages for girls and charitable centers and retreat centers; and both are overlooked by mountains from which rebels can wreak havoc and terror on a vulnerable population. Sadly, Maaloula now sits liquidated of its Christian inhabitants (some were kidnapped, some killed, and most fled to Damascus).
Our Lady of Saidnaya Convent and Orphanage is significantly larger than Maaloula's St. Thekla Convent. It was the very first target of rebel insurgent attack on the city as it was struck by mortar fire back in January 2012. Note that in spite of current opposition and media claims that Saidnaya is primarily a government/military target, this first target of attack was a community of elderly nuns and young orphan girls.
We all know the story of Maaloula. A reluctant international press picked up on the terror attack after it was too late -- and even then major outlets like the New York Times did their best to protect the reputation of the rebel insurgents involved in the takeover and brutal cleansing of the city's Christian population. Maaloula was of no real strategic value to the rebel insurgents -- their own actions in the aftermath of the assault testify to the fact that the town's religious identity had everything to do with it.
Levant Report's sources, which have a close affiliation with Maaloula's St. Thekla Convent, confirm that the ancient monastery church and side chapels were stripped completely of their priceless religious icons, and other religious objects were urinated and defecated upon. Christian villagers who were caught in the midst of the rebel assault had their throats slit, or were shot execution style at close range.
According to Matthew Barber, Syria analyst and administrator of the hugely influential Syria Comment site, the Free Syrian Army and allied groups played a central role in the assault and takeover of Maaloula:
The video and photographic evidence available after the attack indicates that the operation was a coordinated effort between (at least) the following groups: Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Baba 'Amr Brigades (a rebel group possibly affiliated with the SIF -- Syrian Islamic Front), FSA Commandos Unit, and Soqour al-Sham.
It is important to remember that the United States and other governments officially finance and supply weapons to some of these very groups. Though the FSA continues to be sold as "moderate" -- it routinely conducts joint operations with Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups. A clear dividing line between "extreme Islamists" and the FSA is a myth sold by the United States and Western governments.
The 12 abducted Maaloulan nuns and 4 young women from the orphanage are still the objects of uncertain on-and-off hostage negotiations. Shamefully, multiple Western mainstream media outlets uncritically reported opposition claims that the nuns were actually "rescued" from Syrian Army forces as a result of the rebel takeover of Maaloula. See National Public Radio's outrageous December 20 report -- Rebel Leader: Nuns Were Led To Safety, Not Seized, In Syria:
"He decided to kill you and blame us," he recalls pleading with the sisters, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad, after a surface-to-surface missile shattered the convent's thick wooden door on Dec. 3
But Abu Majid says local rebels were protecting the women from the regime shelling on an ancient Christian town.
Similar propaganda has already begun regarding the ongoing insurgent raids on Saidnaya. In a recent January 24 CNN exclusive report from Saidnaya, the CNN correspondent declared that "Cherubim Monastery is not a civilian target these days" -- this because Syrian Army tanks and soldiers are protecting the monastery and the city below. Yet the report also acknowledges that most of the fighters protecting the mountaintop and monastery are simply local Christians who desire to keep the Islamic insurgents from entering. It is unbelievable that a reporter would brazenly declare that a historic Christian monastery that housed elderly monks and was home to summer youth camps is now a legitimate military target for the opposition.
A recent PressTV report, also with camera crew on the ground in Saidnaya, bothered to include an interview with one the monks affected by the rebel shelling. Fr. Isaac Zeina, part of the monastic community that inhabited Cherubim Monastery, said in the interview "we pray to God for an end to the war." These are hardly the words of "pro-regime militarism," yet the CNN report branded Fr. Isaac's monastery and home as "not a civilian target."
Just last week, Al Monitor online news published an in-depth report on the Saidnaya assaults. The Al Monitor article is significant in that it's currently the only instance of a major international news outlet exposing the clear the intentions of the area's rebel insurgents:
The city rings its bells whenever danger is imminent, as was the case when mortar shells hit the Cherubim Monastery and the Convent of Our Lady of Saidnaya during the fourth attack [against the city] on Jan. 19. The city's citizens are now "wanted" by armed militants.
Being from Saidnaya is enough reason to be killed by the militants who have suffered heavy defeats there, the most recent of which was the fourth attack. What's more, the city's people are also guilty of being nasara, a derogatory term used by armed groups to refer to Christians.
"You will be next, after Maaloula," recounts one of the city's dignitaries.
The Al Monitor article also confirms that the orphans at Our Lady of Saidnaya are still in residence as rebel mortar shells continue to rain down. These girls are orphans with nowhere to go, and the convent is their home. The article further confirms that Al-Nusra Front is circulating a video declaring a genocidal war against all Christians.
Sadly, major media will on the whole continue to be silent about acts of genocide and religiocide committed by rebels in Syria. Some of the world's most influential and visible reporters are close enough to events on the ground to know the truth, yet they continue to willfully distort, and commit acts of omission in their reporting.
Anne Barnard is perhaps the single most influential reporter when it comes to shaping American and world perceptions of the conflict in Syria. She is the Beirut bureau chief in charge of covering the Middle East for the New York Times. Anyone who knows her work can easily perceive that she consistently and almost exclusively relies on rebel opposition sources in her reporting.
Joshua Landis, widely regard as the foremost Syria expert in the U.S., tweeted a LevantReport.com article on October 8 of last year that systematically took apart Anne Barnard's NYT reporting of the first rebel attack on Maaloula. The critique included the following:
Soon the propaganda war began. The FSA posted videos to YouTube claiming that the Assad regime was shelling churches in Maaloula and started promoting them on Twitter using various aliases. This was soon followed by a video in which a wahabi-bearded "liberator" gave a tour of the supposed damage. Their efforts soon met with the desired reward. On September 10, the New York Times ran an article by Anne Barnard giving credibility to such videos and portraying public outcry about Maaloula as potential misperception. Eight days later, Lina Sinjab of the BBC used such materials to portray the whole event as an unfortunate scuffle with few deaths and no particular damage to local churches.
The article tweeted by Landis named Barnard as a propagandist attempting to cover up the crimes of the Syrian rebels. Surprisingly, in perhaps a sarcastic or playful acknowledgement of the critique, Anne Barnard "favorited" the article on her Twitter account. This "winking" acknowledgment from Barnard lends credibility to those who say that major media institutions such as the New York Times are willfully distorting the true and full context of the Syria conflict.
Saidnaya's Christians, and all religious and ethnic minorities currently being targeted for genocide by the Syrian rebels need true and accurate reporting of their plight now more than ever. If real and lasting peace, the goal claimed by the Geneva Conference, is ever to be established in Syria, it must begin with a realistic assessment of not just the regime's crimes and brutalities, but of the unambiguous intention to commit genocide on the part of the rebel opposition.
Brad Hoff served as a Marine from 2000-2004 at Headquarters Battalion, Quantico. After military service he lived, studied, and traveled throughout Syria off and on from 2004-2010. He currently teaches in Texas.
Fr Georges Massouh is an Antiochian Orthodox priest and the director of the Christian Muslim Studies Center at Balamand University, Lebanon. This reflection on the kidnapped nuns of Maaloula by Fr Georges Massouh is courtesy of Notes on Arab Orthodoxy
The farce of keeping the nuns of Saint Thekla as "guests" with the pious gunmen who practice their slogans daily continues. This after they have added to it things that do not fit with
what we have become accustomed to in the Levant, in historical Antioch, from our Muslim partners over fourteen centuries. However, they must be thanked because they have given us proof that the nuns
are still breathing, something that the "hosts" of Metropolitans Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim and other priests have not given us until now. That is, indication of their fate.
It is true that Christ the Lord said, "Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matthew 5:39) and we do what we are able to follow this commandment of the Lord's with faith and firm conviction that "evil does not resist evil." However, He also commanded us not to lie, so why do you force the nuns to lie? Is it in order to pile more sin upon your sins?
Reverend Mother Pelagia Sayyaf of St. Tekla’s Convent in Maaloula, one of 11 nuns and three lay women kidnapped from the convent in December of 2013. In the videos made of the nuns by their Islamist captors it appears that the nuns have been forced to remove their pectoral crosses.
The Lord also said, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Be sure that the
nuns have not departed from this commandment. They pray for your sake even as you consider the prayer to be outright disbelief. You have made yourselves their enemies, those who curse
them, those who hate them, those who do harm to them, in addition to your having expelled them from their holy monastery unjustly.
Does your book not command you to treat Christians in your lands well, where it asserts, "And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe to be those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud"(Surat al-Ma'ida 82). The nuns of Maaloula were not proud and they did not bear arms. Rather, they armed themselves with love and mercy. And we saw their frightened eyes well up with tears not because they heard "what was revealed to the Messenger" (Surat al-Ma'ida 83), but because they witnessed your heinous deeds.
Does it not also command you to justice and fairness when it asserts, "Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers" (Surat al-Mumtahana 8)? Where is the justice in your kidnapping nuns who did not fight you and who did not drive you from your homes? How can God love you when you go against what you consider to be the ruling of the revealed verses of God?
Then I hope that my Syrian brothers will understand that my words about the nuns here do not mean that I have no concern for what other Syrians are suffering through-- Sunni, Alawite, Druze and atheist. I have written in previous articles that the Syrian Christian is not more precious than others, that a church is not more precious than a mosque, and that Maaloula is not more precious than the neighborhoods of Homs and Aleppo... We are all equal before the merciful God who loves mankind.
The Holy Apostle Paul says, "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). You ripped the cross from the nuns' necks-- go ahead and rip it off! We do not depend on external appearance. But know that the cross is engraved upon the heart of each one of them, upon their flesh, their blood, their nerves, their bones, their minds and their pores... No one can to rip it off or efface it.
The message of the two bishops and the nuns and their companions is that Syria belongs to us, just as she belongs to all her people and that we are called to bear witness there to our Lord and Redeemer and we will not fail Him. The hour is coming when she will hear us say, "We heed your call, O Lord of Glory, here we are." Original in Arabic here