Interviews : “Our children get coffins for Easter”
In Aleppo the fighting is intensifying again – “If this continues, even more Christians will leave,” Aleppo’s Archbishop Audo fears.
The fighting between government and opposition forces is intensifying again in the former Syrian commercial capital of Aleppo, representatives of the Catholic Church have reported to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
“The fighting has gotten much worse again since last week. It has become especially bad since Saturday. The situation of the people is disastrous. There are so many dead and wounded. I hope that the violence will not escalate even further, but it is already quite severe now. If these battles continue, even more Christians will leave Aleppo,” the Chaldean archbishop of the city, Antoine Audo, declared on Tuesday during an interview with Aid to the Church in Need.
“Before the war, there were over 150,000 Christians of various denominations in Aleppo. Today, about two thirds have become refugees in their own country or have sought refuge in other countries, such as Lebanon, but also in the West.” He then explained that those who remain are the very old and the very poor. “We are largely able to care for them because Aid to the Church in Need has made this possible. Their situation is, however, alarming in every respect. Poverty and poor provisioning play a big role in everyday life.”
Archbishop Audo further explained that the rebel groups that control parts of Aleppo, which are dominated by jihadists such as al-Nusra, see the bombardment as a means to spead fear and terror. “These are groups that are being financed from outside of the country. They do not come from Syria. Here, the relations between Christians and Muslims were always and still are good. Of course fanaticism also existed in the past. But in general relations were good. We Christians were accepted. This continues to be the case in Aleppo. In fact, one could almost say it has even improved. This is because the Muslims respect us for our charitable work and our support of them. I very much hope that after this war we will have a Syria in which all people, also us Christians, will be able to enjoy full rights and equality.”
Cease-fire : We were mistaken
Sister Annie Demerjian also told Aid to the Church in Need about the intensification of the fighting in Aleppo. “It was especially awful on Monday. Seventeen people died during the bombardment, including six children. Many of them were Christians,” the Sister, who has been holding out for years in the city that is divided between the Syrian government and the opposition, said. “In addition to those who died, there are also wounded.
One of my helpers was shocked when she saw a conveyance full of severely wounded people. Furthermore, so many stores, houses and cars have since been destroyed through the bombardment. We had so hoped that the ceasefire of the last weeks would be the beginning of the end of the war.
We really were full of hope. But we were mistaken. It hasn’t been this bad for a long time. Hundreds of bombs and missiles are falling. The last time there was such severe fighting was Easter 2015.” She then said that the remaining Christians of Aleppo were just as distraught and exhausted as the other Muslim residents. “After so many years of war, the people are simply at the end of their tether. They have the feeling that everything is starting from the beginning again. This makes them sad and angry. One father asked me to pray for his children, that they make it home alive and well. I don’t know if it is possible to imagine the fears these people are being forced to suffer. And that not only since yesterday. I believe that we here in Aleppo are most affected by the war in Syria. And we simply cannot understand why innocent people have to suffer so much.”
Gifts for Orthodox Easter : coffins…
Sister Annie then said that the Orthodox Christians in Aleppo were anxious about their Easter celebrations this coming Sunday. “An Orthodox Christian just told me that children all over the world receive gifts on Easter. In Aleppo, however, they get coffins. Is it not immeasurably sad to have to hear something like this?” The Sister urgently asked for prayers for the war-battered people of Syria. “Please pray for us. God is our only support.”
Franciscan father Ibrahim Alsabagh also talked about the heavy fighting in Aleppo. “The bombardment has started again. Just recently a missile came down in our zone of Azizieh; one house was destroyed, others were damaged. The situation was very critical in a number of zones, such as Midan. The builders who work in our monastery came in with tears in their eyes and deathly tired because they had not slept all night,” Father Alsabagh, who works in Aleppo, said. “The dollar continues to gain in value while the people find it harder and harder to earn a little money for food. For us it is a never-ending race because all of the humanitarian work increasingly rests with us fathers even though we are well organised and have many volunteers and employees to help us. Every day, growing numbers of people are knocking on the gate of the monastery; however, more and more families and people are also praising God for the presence of us brothers because we have remained in Aleppo to help these desperate people.”
Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the Christians of Aleppo for years. Through local church partners, it supports programs to provide clothing, food and medicine, among others. It also provides aid for housing and education. Moreover, Aid to the Church in Need helps Christians in Syria and Iraq who have been displaced through war and terror and have found refuge in their own or in neighbouring countries.
By Oliver Maksan, Aid to the Churc in Need International
Adapted by : Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canada