Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, head of the Syriac Catholic Church, at the 134th Knights of Columbus convention in Toronto. Younan says Western policy regarding Syria are machiavellian and hypocritical Photo by Michael Swan

Middle East bishops demand Western aid for Christians

  • August 4, 2016

TORONTO – Most Western humanitarian aid is failing to reach the thousands of Christians who have fled their homes as Daesh (or Islamic State) fighters have swept through Iraq and Syria, three Middle Eastern bishops charged at the 134th Knights of Columbus convention in Toronto.

“It’s time for election (in the United States) and also it is time to rethink American policy in the Middle East,” said Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. “Call on the government to direct the help directly to the people affected.”

Aid sent to refugee camps in the region never reaches the Christian minorities who do not feel safe inside the camps. The only aid reaching Christians in the region comes from churches. Western governments need to get over their reluctance to directly fund Church organizations, he said.

“The governments send their money to the people in the camps and to the fighters and nothing to us,” said a visibly angry Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo.

Jeanbart argued that aid is needed as a way of keeping Christians in the region and ready to reclaim their homes when the war involving thousands of foreign mercenaries in Syria is over.

“Syria is a holy land because millions of Christians have shed their blood in this land — fathers of the Church who preferred to die than leave their faith,” he said.

The destruction of ancient Christian communities in Syria and Iraq is a loss to the world and a fundamental change in a once pluralistic and multi-ethnic society in Syria, said Jeanbart.

“It is our country. We were there before the Muslims and the Muslims know it,” Jeanbart said. “It is very important to keep this relic of holy history... We are sons of Abraham effectively, not theoretically.”

Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, head of the Syriac Catholic Church dismissed Western policy regarding the Syrian civil war as machiavellian and hypocritical, driven by global strategic interests and the price of oil.

“We and other minorities have been abandoned and also we can say we have been betrayed,” said Younan. “We don’t have a nation who will defend us. We don’t have this oil to bribe anyone.”

Americans have a moral responsibility to protect the minorities they left vulnerable after the 2003 invasion by a U.S.-led coalition to topple President Saddam Hussein, Younan said.

“The superpowers are so hypocritical,” he said. “You can’t export democracy to countries where you don’t have the basics of democracy…. Chaos is the biggest enemy of minorities in the Middle East… We want a democratic, lay system of government. But they (Syrian and Iraqi Sunni Muslims) don’t.”

Younan urged Western journalists to stop using the acronym ISIS for the terrorist organization known in Syria and Iraq as Daesh. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for “al-Dawlah al-Islamīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām.” This acronym is often used by those who oppose the self-declared caliphate because it sounds like the Arabic word Daes, meaning "one who crushes, or tramples down, something underfoot."

Some North American newspapers have adopted Daesh, but the United States government still uses ISIL, which stands for Islamic State in the Levant. The Canadian government has begun using “ISIL/Daesh” in some press releases.

“It’s better not to use this ISIS as (if it were) a perfume for a lady,” Younan said. “It’s better to use Islamic State or Daesh. We have to say the reality as it is.”

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