At the heart of a Middle East soaked in blood, the Patriarchs of the East published a press release condemning conflicts and violence which overwhelm the entire region, and most particularly the persecution of innocents and Christians. The religious fundamentalism, and those who feed it through financing its armed movements, affecting the balance and stability in the region, is unequivocally denounced. The Patriarchs therefore send forth an urgency plea to the international community.
Following a brotherly invitation by His Beatitude and Eminence Cardinal Bishara Butros al Rai, Patriarch of Antioch and of the whole East for Maronites, Their Beatitudes the Patriarchs of Eastern Churches convened at the Patriarchal Palace of Dymane, on 7 August 2014. Among the attendants :
– Catholicos Aram Kshishian I, Catholicos of Beit Kilika for Orthodox Armenians ;
– Patriarch Gregorius Lahham III, Patriarch of Antioch and of the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem for Greek Catholics ;
– Patriarch Yuhanna Al Yazajee X, Patriarch of Antioch and of the East for Greek Orthodox ;
– Patriarch Mar Aghnatios Yousef Younan III, Patriarch of Antioch for the Syrians ;
– Patriarch Mar Aghnatios Afram II, Patriarch of Antioch and of the East for Orthodox Assyrians ;
– Patriarch Narcis Bedros XIX, Catholicos and Patriarch of Kilika for Catholic Armenians ;
– the representative of Patriarch Louis Raphael Sakko I, Patriarch of Babel for Chaldeans ; and Bishop Shlimon Wardouni, Patriarchal Vicar.
The Church leaders expressed their awe at the unprecedented, terrific incidents taking place in the area, by wars and internal fighting, in Irak and in Syria, by the religious fundamentalism which erodes the social fabric and its unity in our countries, by the emergence of fundamentalist armed groups and Takfiris who kill, murder, shatter and violate the sacred nature of the churches, scorching their heritage and manuscripts, and by foreign mercenaries who fight at the side of those who assault the citizens and their dignity. The prelates feel deeply hurt by the tragedies affecting their Palestinian brethren in Gaza in the wake of arbitrary air strikes by Israel, void of all human considerations, targeting innocents, violating all legal principles. They are also anguished at the bloody incidents taking place at Ersal in Lebanon where foreign terrorist groups have assaulted the Lebanese army and the internal security forces, killing several soldiers and kidnapping many others. The armed groups have beleaguered the inhabitants of the town, using them as human shields, ordering them to evacuate their homes.
After having assessed these horror events from all sides, and having considered the dangers which threaten all inhabitants of the region without exception, taking a cover of sectarianism never known before in history, and the effects which these conflicts may leave on the people living in the region, including their children the Christians who live in the midst of these turmoils, and believing in the role of the State in protecting these persons and their properties, the situation reaching a point where these persons are obliged to relinquish the land of their fathers and ancestors, without any valid reason, they published at the conclusion of their meeting the following statement :
I.Eviction of Christians of Mossul and Ninive Valley
1. Evicting Christians from the town of Mossul and of other cities in the Ninive Valley, cannot be considered an ordinary emergency incident which goes down in the annals of wars and conflicts, or as a voluntary immigration because of the fear which affect persons who look for temporary and secure shelters to escape from death : that’s the result of a decision by ISSI and other Djihadist groups which forced them to leave the land, because of their religious feeling and attachment to religion – which contradicts international law. This inical decision taken by people in the name of Islam is a new disaster which hits the Arab-Moslem region and co-existence between its inhabitants. After their eviction, the amed groups took everything away from them. It is a disgraceful act of racism which people reject and which international community condemns outright.
2. This alarming phenomenon it hits badly religious, cultural and human values which have shaped throughout the ages a rich heritage of coexistence between Christians and Moslems. We condemn and refuse with strength the expulsion of our Christian children from Mossul and from neighbouring towns/villages of Ninive Valley, which were indeed a model of Islamo-Christian coexistence, like many other ancient Arab towns. We ring the bell of alarm, asking everybody to support this condemnation, coming also from Moslems, who share with us the same destiny, with the aim of taking up initiatives to put an end to this situation which is a deviation from the rules of normal life provided by Islam. It is regrettable that the Moslem, Arab and International positions remains so weak, timid and lacking, which does not neutralize the dangers of such a phenomenon the consequences of which were dramatic for the historical and demographic diversity of peoples of this region. Rendering the situation yet more alarming, certain European countries urge Christians to emigrate, in order to protect them from human massacres and terrorism, which we condemn and refuse so strongly, for we remain attached to our mission in this East dear to every one. The international family, through the Security Council, should take a firm decision so that the land will go back to its owners the earliest possible. We do not ask for protection from anybody, but we have a duty ; we consider that it is the duty of international bodies to keep up their credibility and prevent any brutal demographic change, for us and for other religions.
We call upon all regimes and countries which support, arm or finance, directly or indirectly, terrorist groups to stop what they are doing. Religious extremism, no matter where it comes from, will hurt any person who takes it upon himself and affects negatively the one who does not counteract it.
The forced eviction of Christians from their homes, the seizure of their properties, the killing of unarmed civilians, the assaults on religious minorities, churches and worshipping places in Mossul, Sadad, Maaloula, Kassab and elsewhere is certainly a crime against humanity, a violation of human rights and humanitarian international law. The Attorney of the International Court of Justice should launch a counter investigation in order to bring citizens back to their homes, to restore their belongings and rights.
II. The Syrian conflict
3. The bloody events in Syria have become more of a foolish war which brings about more destruction, killings and displacements. The Patriarchs condemn all these events and urge the parties and the States, which supply them with arms, to put an end to this bloodshed and to find peaceful solutions for the sdake of just, global and durable peace, with the possibility of bringing displaced Syrians back to their homes and on their lands, extricating them from the misery they live in, at a time they are innocent, and to free them from every political, confessional or terrorist abuse.
4. After 1 year and 3.5 months, we are still looki9ng forward in Christian faith the return of our brothers the two bishops : Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim, kidnapped since 22 April 2013. We underscore the fact that the reaction of the international community is lacking. Of course we are thankful for all the sympathy and condemnations, but at the same time stand amazed at the indifference which wind up this matter. Consequently, we appeal to the whole world, in the East and in the West, to translate these words into acts, so that we can reap the immediate release of the two kidnapped Bishops.
III. The events in Gaza
5. The events in Gaza afflict the Patriarchs, at a time when Palestinians pay the price through their lives, homes, institutions, following brutal Israeli air strikes. They ask for an end to this aggression, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the lifting of the blockade on Gaza and its inhabitants, the release of prisoners, the end to fighting which have over the three last weeks killed close to 2000 Palestinians. This amounts to a crime against humanity. The Patriarchs appeal to international legitimacy to solve the Palestinian issue altogether, approving a State for Palestinians with Jerusalem as its capital, on the basis of a 2-State solution and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Arab occupied lands in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon.
IV. The events in Arsal
6. Events in Arsal afflicted the Patriarchs very sharply, because of fierce assaults led by foreign terrorist groups, taking advantage of the reality of the town and of Syrian refugee camps, preliminary to a wide scale terrorist scheme. The Patriarchs feel thankful to the Providence which has protected this land dear to everybody, and also to the armed Lebanese forces which stood against these attacks and worked firmly to help civilians come out of this painful situation despite their losses in human lives. The Patriarchs express their full support to armed forces and to Lebanese security forces, and pray for their protection and their success. They commend the unified Lebanese position which supports the army and which does not tolerate terrorists or extremist groups. That was expressed in a statement by the Lebanese Cabinet, interpreted by its Head, three days ago.
V. Experience of coexistence
7. The history of the region has known periods of turmoil and violence, the price of which was paid by ordinary people whose prime ambition was to live in dignity and genuine citizenship. These periods were often the consequence of actions by tyrannical leaders whose hearts have never known known neither Christianity nor Islam. We have put aside all this painful past. And we have worked together to undo the memory of those past events. We have also opened a new page in cooperation, based on mutual respect and recognition of high spiritual values respected by the two religions. That urged us, Christians and Moslems, to consider these as positive initiatives through which we should cooperate to start a better cooperation between faithful of two religions everywhere in the world. Subsequently, dialogue between Christians and Moslems has gone junder way, for the sake of a mutual cooperation and contribution to overcome the inconveniences of the past, and to pave the ground for a new future on the basis of truth, justice and charity among all.
Would we accept that the progress in relations between Christianity and Islam be exposed to such regression which, through eliminating all positive elements, threatens to draw us generations backward ?
VI. The outrage of religious extremism and the duty to stop it
8. The observers of events in present times see in religious extremism a disease which threaten the entire Middle East, in all its components, and consider that more time is needed before this region heals from this disease. Many victims fell as a result of these repercussions. It is therefore imperative that we, Christians and Moslems, unite in order to avoid such complications and to spare our region and children all these horrors, by stirring both spirit and conscience , to hold firm to what is genuine and basic in religion, and not to use it for personal interests or to realize wider regional or international interests. We turn on to States, to local and international media, in order to seize the gravity of the discourse which fills screens and social websites, so that they might – through the moral authority they now enjoy – stand up like dams and shed light on points of agreement and cohesion, leaving to Almighty God the good judgment of hearts.
9. A spirit of responsibility should prevail in all Arab and International spheres in order to restrict this aggressive extremism which obstructs the road between Christianity to Islam, whether in the region or across the world, and to put jointly an end to its dramatic consequences. If certain circles some stealthily finance these extremist trends and spend money to send forth corruption across the earth, it is necessary to expose them before the international public opinion and forces of moral actors of the world. The only way to achieve stipulates that Arabs and Moslems should rebuild an image of cohesion among themselves and discover the advantages of diversity which is a characteristic of our East. It is also necessary to accept one another mutually, to live together on the basis of general respect, equality and citizenship everywhere. It is an plea deep from the heart to all the world, as we search unity with our Moslem brothers, an integration in the same fate binding us today and tomorrow, as it did yesterday, carrying thus abundant fruits. We call upon Moslem authorities, Sunnis and Shiites, to issue official and clear worded “fatwas” which prohibit attacks against Christians, against innocent people and belongings. We call upon all Arab and Muslim Parliaments to issue rules which urge towards such an opening, setting aside clearly all shapes of exclusion and rejection of the other, making those who do it accountable before law for their errors. We turn also to all sister-churches throughout the world to show solidarity with our pleas and prayers, in order to protect the salvation message of Christ in the Middle Eastern countries, swept by a wave of wide-scale persecutions.
VII. Solidarity with our brothers and children
1. On the basis of this belief and principles, we declare our unlimited solidarity with our children and brothers, deported from their homes and properties. We do our best in order to bring them back to their homes with honour and dignity in an atmosphere of reconciliation and brotherhood among peoples of all nations in their native countries. Thus they will restore the unity of their country and also a life in dignity to everybody. We send forth an appeal to international community not to relinquish its responsibilities regarding the painful political, human and social reality affecting the peoples of the East, and not to transform the cause of our people, injured in his dignity, rights and existence, to a purely humanitarian cause which draws just compassion and charity, to be settled by securing the fostering of deported from their land and culture, which stands for a most valuable treasure. We also ask the countries to stop handling this cultural diversity with a minority logic, as if the human presence was only a reunion of individuals forgetting what each person can contribute through talents and gifts granted by Almighty God. For that we shall by all means plead for this cause with the highest international bodies, starting with the Arab League, reaching the Security Council, the General Assembly of the UN, and the International Court of Justice, hoping that everybody will rise up to the level of civilian responsibility, above tight political interests which affect their owners every time they betray their conscience and values of justice and law prescribed by Heaven.
2. The most important feature is the help which we should provide to our displaced children, living in distress as a consequence of these assaults. We call upon all International bodies to provide for their fundamental needs and secure the basics of a decent life, in order to facilitate their mission to remain steadfast over the land of their ancestors. Once the danger is gone, they can go back to their homes and enjoy the coexistence which they had lived since centuries back.
VIII. The pleas
2. At the end of this statement-appeal, the Patriarchs of Eastern Churches declare that :
1. Christians of the Middle East suffer from a serious persecution. They are expelled from their homes and properties seized by extremist groups and “takfiris”, under the guise of a world silence. It is a shame for humanity. As if our times go back to what they were before any law and human coexistence.
2. The religious components and faith-linked values, whether of humanitarian, cultural and ethical nature, are also at stake, menaced in a very dreadful manner.
3. The terrorist extremism and “takfiri” in the name of religion is a major threat for the region and the entire world.
3. That’s why the Patriarchs insist on :
4. All church leaders adopt a common position, clear and strong, against this persecution and menace.
5. The Arab league, Conference of Islamic Cooperation, UN Security Council, International Court of Justice, the International Community, react immediately through an efficient and massive relief work.
6. All states and parties which finance, directly or indirectly, through arms and money, fundamentalist groups, terrorists and “takfiris” for political and economical purposes, to stop this financing, this support.
4. The Patriarchs ex0press their support to their Christian children ousted from their homes by force and disdain, assuring them that they remain close to them in prayer ; that they will do everything possible for them to find a secure shelter, before getting back to their homes and properties, and restoring their rights.
They also approach their children spread all over the five continents of the world to show solidarity with their brethren of this East in suffering, to help them materially, spiritually and morally, to enable them to hold on to their country in a a firm Christian hope, and to carry on their mission, by announcing the Gospel of brotherhood, justice and peace which the Lord – Man and World Saviour – has entrusted them with, who repeats in these difficult times “ Do not be afraid little flock … In this world you will have trouble. But take heart ! I have overcome the world.” (Luke 12:32 ; Jn 16:33)
5. We pray together for the repose of the soul of those who were killed during these tragic events, for the consolation of their parents, for the healing of the wounded. We pray also that security and peace prevail in the world, and in particular in our beloved countries, imploring the Lord to inspire leaders and persons of good will, so that they could jointly put an end to this dark and dreary juncture of our history, in order for our region to troubled region to restore its life and stability.