May 1, 2013
By Nuha Shabaan and Ahmed Kwider
AMMAN: One week after two Christian bishops were kidnapped at a checkpoint in the Aleppo area, a pro-regime Syrian satellite station is reporting that the government knows where they are and says that they are being held by Chechen rebels.
The Al-Samaa channel reported on Tuesday that Syrian authorities have pinpointed the location of Father Boulus Yazji, bishop of the Roman Orthodox Church in Aleppo, and Father John Abraham, bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church. They were kidnapped at gunpoint on April 23, with their driver killed during the incident.
“We understand from this operation only one clear message to the Christians: That we are ordered to leave this country or [our] fate will be a similar one,” the Orthodox Church of Syria said in a strongly worded statement shortly after the kidnappings.
“We ask the Syrian regime to end the disastrous situation the country is in, hand over leadership to the United Nations to move to the interim level,” the statement added.
The Syrian Coalition was quick to blame the regime for the incident, saying that “the Assad regime was angered by Father John’s latest statement in which he [said] that the survival of Christians in Syria is not linked to the survival of the regime.” The Coalition did not provide evidence of the regime’s involvement in the bishops’ disappearance.
Even if the government staged the kidnapping, says Sam Ghanoum, 29, a Christian student from Aleppo, “blame falls on the FSA, which did not protect these pro-peace individuals undertaking humanitarian work.” While Ghanoum noted that pro-Assad informants operate in the region, the bishops were reportedly stopped at a checkpoint in territory under full FSA control.
The Orthodox Church called on the FSA to take responsibility, as blaming the regime and other parties for the kidnappings “is just a way of escaping the responsibility of this incident, especially as it happened in place controlled by the armed opposition.”
The FSA has denied any role in the dual kidnappings.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited “several sources” confirming that the bishops were taken by non-Syrian fighters who spoke classical Arabic.
Aleppo-based Sham News Network reporter Mohammed Nour said FSA leaders told him that Chechen Islamists were responsible for the bishops’ disappearance. The information could not be independently verified, but Samir Sattouf, a Christian member of the Syrian Coalition, said that the Chechen battalion behind the kidnapping is one that has been banned from operating under the umbrella of the FSA.
“It is clear to everyone that the Chechens work for the regime,” Sattouf said. “The regime has promised to release the bishops – how else could they get them back if they had truly been kidnapped by extremists?” Sattouf said.
The kidnappings play on Christian fears of Islamist rule, Ghanoum said. It is not uncommon for Syrian Christians to believe “that we, in the regime’s absence, will be killed and our women will be raped, [and] that we will be forced to abide by [Islamic] law,” he said.
For these reasons, Ghanoum said, many, but not all, Christians support the regime; “some of whom are brainwashed, and some of whom are silent, because after all that has happened, what we have now is a sectarian war created by the regime.”