April 24, 2013

Bishop Boulus Yazji, of the Roman Orthodox Church in Aleppo and Bishop John Abraham of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo were kidnapped earlier this week by unknown perpetrators. The Syrian National Coalition said in a statement that “initial investigations” implicate the Assad regime, but did not release proof.

“The Assad regime was angered by Father John’s latest statement, in which he stated that the survival of Christians in Syria is not linked to the survival of the regime,” the Coalition said. The FSA has denied any role in the kidnappings.

A report in the Lebanese daily An-Nahar indicated that the bishops were released, but without any corroboration. The independent Aleppo Media Center cited a lack of evidence to hold any party directly responsible.

Sam Ghanoum, 29, is an Orthodox Christian university student living in Aleppo. He spoke to Ahmed Kwider about the Christian community’s fears of Islamist rule, the regime’s fear tactics and the FSA’s inability to provide security.

Q: In your opinion, is there a party ["hand"] responsible for this operation, and why?

A: The only news circulating about the bishops is that they are in good health, and we are awaiting the announcement of their release to a safe place. We don't deny that there are spies [regime operatives] present in the liberated areas working as informants for Assad, but blame falls on the FSA, which did not protect these pro-peace individuals undertaking humanitarian work, regardless of their affiliation.

Q: Do you believe that this [kidnapping] was carried out by a paid gang or was it an official regime operation?

A: Following the massacre conducted by Al-Assad's thugs, this is a news story that will draw significant media attention [away from the massacre in Jdeidat al-Fadl] and towards the thugs, in their estimation.

Q: Sam, what do your family members and relatives in Aleppo think and feel about the increased pace of violence and killing?

A: In general, Christian society is opposed to violence in all its forms, as well as to the fear that the regime's militias have instilled in their hearts - that we, in the regime's absence, will be killed and our women will be raped, that we will be forced to abide by [Islamic] law. There is a large contingent of people fearful that this might happen.

Q: Will most Christians remain with the regime or neutral after this incident, as well as the increased killing?

A: There are many factions/contingents who support the regime, some of whom fear and some of whom are brainwashed, and among them some are silenced, because after all that has happened that this is a sectarian war created by the regime.

I hope that my Christian brothers see these events for what they are, and expose the tricks of the criminal leadership that have produced this sectarian conflict among the people. I urge the leadership in the liberated territories to educate their forces in the necessity of freedom for the people, and respect for the affiliations and spectra of convictions among the people. This will reduce problems and accidents.

Q: In your opinion, is it time for the international community to move to stop the killing and protect the minorities (Christians, for example)?

A: The international community turns a blind eye towards the regime, exacerbating the situation, so we will have to complete the work of restoring what is right, but it is necessary that the many factions, sects and forces cooperate.

Q: How do you know that the international community turns a blind eye in this way?

A: It is as clear as day that the international community uses us as kindling in the region. But we, as a minority, are able to join hands with righteousness and become the pillars, the most abundant force, for the elimination of this injustice, an ally of Satan, which means to instill in our hearts the hatred of our Syrian brothers and a fear of [Islamist] beards.