Search

Chaldean priest: Christians in Syria are in desperate need of help

Rev. Nidal Abdel Massih Thomas, is a priest of the Chaldean Church and patriarchal vicar for northeastern Syria presently controlled by the Kurds. In an interview to Vatican News, he details the situation of Christians in the area under his jurisdiction, forcing them to flee the country.

Vatican News

The Jazira Region is in northern Syria, east of the Euphrates, on the border with Turkey and Iraq, and is largely controlled by the Kurdish forces. Almost all Christians, mostly Assyrians, have left their villages. There are many churches in these 38 villages, but due to migration, only two are still active. Out of 21,000 Syriac Orthodox present in the area before the war, only 800 remain today.

The causes of the exodus

This massive escape started after an incident that occurred four years ago when 150 Christians, including a Chaldean family of five, were kidnapped by ISIS islamists. After 15 days the terrorists asked for ransom and, because it wasn’t paid, they subsequently released a video of the execution of three of the hostages.

The same video showed three other hostages, including a member of the Chaldean family, who had to read out a message addressed to Chaldean religious leaders asking them to pay the ransom. This time it was paid and 146 of the 147 survivors were subsequently released. However, one woman was held back by an ISIS leader who had chosen her as his wife and fathered two children with her. After the fall of the Caliphate, the woman was given the choice to leave, which she could not do as she feared she would be killed by her own family, even though she had been forcibly detained by her kidnapper.

The "business" of kidnappings

Since that marking event and following other kidnappings, 80 percent of the Assyrians fled to Lebanon. “It was a business”, says Rev. Nidal Thomas, “They kidnapped Christians from Al-Hasakah, and collected the ransom money”. At the time none of the fighting parties in the region could protect Christians, the priest explains. Many others have left and continue to leave.

Today, many actors are present in the area. These include Turkey, who has occupied a strip of land just over its border, pro-Iranian Hezbollah, some French and Iranian soldiers, the Syrian army with its Russian ally, and the Kurds, supported by the US forces.  The Kurds control the oil plants in the area bordering Iraq.

In this context some Christian groups have allied with the Kurds, while others fight with the Syrian army. This makes it even more difficult for Christians to stay, as they are always be suspected of supporting one side or the other and be targeted, Rev. Thomas explains. In addition to this, the Kurdish armed forces are recruiting people, especially young people, among Christians too to replenish their ranks.

Seven Christians out of ten leaving

The situation of Christiansin the Jazira Region  (‘the Island’, in Arabic)  is consequently even more difficult athan in  the rest of Syria. This is why seven Christians out of ten have chosen to leave, especially Assyrians.

For those who have remained in the region, where the war is not over, either by choice or by force, there is a further complication: getting hold of the money sent by family members living abroad. This money is essential to survive, considering the lack of work, the ongoing economic crisis and inflation.

Cry for help

This is why Rev. Thomas implores for help: "Everyone needs to know about our plight" he says. "Everyone here can't wait to leave. They ask their refugee relatives to help them flee, because here they face all sorts of difficulties  and have no future ", concludes the Chaldean Patriarchal vicar for north-eastern Syria.

 

20 December 2021, 12:39