Syrian Christian Leaders Call On U.S. To End Support For Anti-Assad Rebels

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SANA / Reuters

Armenian Orthodox Christians gather at their church of St Sarkis in Old Damascus for Christmas service, January 6, 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.

Given the United States’ increased support for non-terrorist rebel groups in the wake of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, the religious leaders’ mission is a long shot. The bishops are asking the United States to exert pressure on countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to stop supporting and sending terrorist fighters to Syria. “The real problem is that the strong military opposition on the ground is a foreign opposition,” Awad explains, arguing that US support of opposition groups means support for foreign terrorist fighters. “They are the ones killing and attacking churches and clergy and nuns and burning houses and eating human livers and hearts and cutting heads,” Awad says.

The Syrian Christian churches are not publicly calling for outright support of the Assad regime. Doing so would further endanger their followers and hurt the moral component of their case, given the regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians. Instead, they’re meeting privately with law makers, diplomats and think tanks. Sunday evening, they spoke with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) at St. John the Beloved Catholic church in nearby McLean. On Monday, they held court at the Heritage Foundation and Catholic University of America. On Tuesday, they met with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and then met with leaders of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Wednesday’s lineup included Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), State Department officials including Lawrence Silverman, Near East Affairs deputy acting aecretary, and Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and then a final stop at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

It’s been a difficult issue to gain traction on, if for no other reasons than that support for Christians and endangered minorities can appear as support for Assad and that an entire country is being destroyed by war, not just Christian communities. President Obama only briefly mentioned Syria in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. “In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks,” he said. “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve—a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.”

Traction in Congress has also been a challenge, but a handful of leaders are speaking out. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation in September, authored by Wolf and Eshoo, to create a special religious minorities envoy at the State Department who would work for policy options to protect faith communities, but the bill has yet to move forward in the Senate. “Meeting with the delegation of Syrian Christian church leaders this week provided a constructive opportunity to raise awareness and to discuss concrete steps that can be taken to help protect Christians and other religious minorities in Syria,” says Eshoo. “Christians in the U.S. should be informed by their leaders about the atrocities taking place in Syria. The history of violence against religious minorities must not be allowed to repeat itself.”

Wolf has championed the cause during his congressional tenure, but he is retiring at the end of this term. Newer leaders like Aderholt see it as a time to take a stand. “Most Americans do not realize that Christians across the Middle East are in grave danger and have often been forced to leave their home countries due to persecution and threats from radicalized Muslims,” he says. “If we want a true democracy to emerge from this region, Christians and other religious minority voices must share in the decision-making process, and certainly not be persecuted and fear for their lives due to extremist elements that are pouring in to Syria.”

The bishops’ stories are similar to other grim instances of violence against Christians during the war. Christian schools in Damascus were shelled in November. The next month, a dozen Greek Orthodox nuns were taken from Mar Takla Monastery in Maaloula. Rebel groups abducted two bishops near Aleppo last April. Jesuit priest Paolo Dall’Oglio, whom TIME wrote about in 2012 when he visited the United States on a similar lobbying trip, has been missing and feared dead since July.

18 comments
portoian
portoian

The USA is not a Christian State ... 

Don't care for sufferings for others ...

They care for politics and business

Let everyone die they must live ... 

Because they are "Second Hand Christian" 

Like the Turks they are"Second Hand Muslims" 

They destroyed in Turkey 2600 Churches, Cathedrals, Monasteries,

still...USA give them money to demolish more with thanks ...

Thus, Business comes first before any faith...


JanFearing
JanFearing

Elizabeth Dias - the Assad government DID NOT USE CHEMICAL WEAPONS! Nor have they committed the atrocities they were frame for again and again by the salafist rebels. See the MIT team (including a former UN weapons inspector  report: https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1006045/possible-implications-of-bad-intelligence.pdf  /  Seymour Hersh: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin  .  Even the UN report on cw's in Syria showed 5 verifiable cases of cw's and 3 of those were directed at Assad's troops by rebels and 2 were against civilians. TIME has consistently misreported this conflict and the media is culpable for many of the deaths you mentioned.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

Just now they found out that Syrians have only shipped out 4.1 % of the 130,000 tons of chemical weapons out. And the deal is already 8 weeks behind schedule. And they put their trust on this idiot to deal with the Iranians ?

jmac
jmac

While "government negotiators were in Geneva to talk peace, government forces in Syria dropped 20 deadly bombs on Daraya, a Damascus suburb."   (today's NY Times)   Indeed, it's tough to know where to point the fingers. 


But if we look at Israel and the amount of damage the Christian community has done by meddling in the settlements by quoting scripture, we need to be careful what we accept coming out of the Christian community.    And would that policy option to protect religious faith being done by the House include ALL faiths?   What are the odds?  

vrome
vrome

The Syrian Christians want the US to stop supporting al-Qaeda too.

dingalingy55
dingalingy55

@JanFearing  You are crazy if you think Asssad stopped the relentless shelling on the district to allow the rebels to gas themselves. The bombardment lasted for months before and did nt stop (except for the chem attack) for five more days, preventing the UN from entering to get evidence. Why would he want to hide evidence of the rebels gassing thier own families?

dingalingy55
dingalingy55

@JanFearing  WHAT PLANET ARE YOU ON?? seymour hirsh piece relied on "Evidence" which had been debunked BEFORE it was published. NO EVIDENCE other than that supplied to Mr. Hirsch by the Assad regime points to the source of the rockets carrying the chems as anywhere but inside regime territory, with reams of supplemental evidence as well. Assad commits massacre after massacre and tries to blame the rebels every time. Fortunately, his crimes are being meticulously documented, and he and either uninformed callous people or shabbiha like you will have to answer for them. 

JanFearing
JanFearing

@ReneDemonteverde Assad has done what was required of him - its the west mishandling their part that is holding up the process.

avramcohen39
avramcohen39

@jmac the amount of damage the Christians community has done, are you some ignorant paid false propaganda moron? All this trumped up stuff is all for warmongering Zionist Israel while Christians die! Your a BAFOON

JanFearing
JanFearing

@jmac You have been misled. The army's '20 bombs' were against neighborhoods that had been cleared out of rebels and those buildings were bombed to eliminate the traps set by the terrorists. The Christians have always supported Assad because Syria under him was nothing like has been portrayed by media garbage like this article. Christians were a respected and welcomed part of society. Women have equal rights. All children had access to secular education thru college. Their health care system was one of the best in the region. This has absolutely nothing to do this a 'ruthless dictator'. It has everything to do with regime change for a puppet gov't intent on better relations with Washington than with Moscow and to accomplish said change vis a vis supporting the Saudi Arabian and Qatar's Islamist overthrow of secular Syria.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@JanFearing @ReneDemonteverde  Agreed. Seems like the deal is  8 weeks behind scheduled already. As Assad hemmed and hawed while Dear Leader dithers. The west mishandling. right. Oh, sorry. If you mean the red line of Obama yes, of course.

dingalingy55
dingalingy55

@JanFearing @jmac  If the place had been cleared why were you bombing it?? You know thousands of families in Homs and Aleppo have sworn  to die there before they will submit to the murderer of thier families, the slaughterer of their children, the raper of thier sisters and daughters. 

I also have plenty of material regarding Christian support of the revolution, statements of support of Christians by the revolution, and evidence of Assad regime destruction of churches and attacks on Christian civilians to try to blame the rebels. 

All you have is Mother Agnes of Lies the Hated. But trot her out - she leaves such a great impression! And such an awful smell. Like sulfur!

dingalingy55
dingalingy55

@JanFearing @ReneDemonteverde  

Jan you are such a liar all i can say in response is that these are the lies that the Assad regime pays its trolls to spread. None of it is true. It is all an attempt to get people not to care, because if you don't konw, you can't care, and if no one cares, Assad will kill millions.

dingalingy55
dingalingy55

@JanFearing @ReneDemonteverde  

The Houla massacre is included in the HRW report "Killed with Knives" a record of regime slaughter of civilians with knives. You are a shabbiha and a paid liar and an Assad troll and i call you and your lies out right here.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@JanFearing @ReneDemonteverde  My bad. Actually meant Dear Leader hemmed and hawed and dither. Dont get me wrong. I am on your side as well as Assad. If only for the survival of the Christians. I just feel and sympathize for them.

JanFearing
JanFearing

@ReneDemonteverde How did Assad hem and haw exactly? He responded within days. He hit his required deadlines in spite of his troops being a little busy elsewhere. The west has been trying to frame Assad from day one but none of its sticks. He no more used cw's in Ghouta than my dog did - anyone actually following the events could tell you that. The ONE move almost guaranteed to bring in the US military - when it wouldn't do him any good whatsoever and in fact he and his UN rep had been trying for over a year to get a UN team in? In fact the UN report on cw's showed that there were only 5 verifiable cw's attacks - 3 were against Assad's army and 2 against civilians. Way back in March 2011 we now know that Saudi Arabia had had mujahedeen in place in Syria months before the 'organic' uprising. We now know that its been Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood arming, supporting, and progandizing the 'rebels' into a pretend sort of freedom and democracy movement when all the power behind the uprising was Islamist fundamentalists. We now know that in Houla, the massacre was perpetrated by rebels against Assad supported. They are the ones who butchered entire families in order to frame gov't troops. We now know that Turkey had conspired with his Muslim Bro buddies to allow the stream of jihadists to cross his borders to support the Islamist revolution in Syria that the Bros had been working on since the early 1980's. This young woman reporter is dooming Syrian Christians and women to death and/or an intolerant and repressive life by her naivete and blind acceptance of the Obama administration's false narrative of Syria.