MODE OF LIFE REFLECTS ON EVENTS IN MAALOULA
It is with a heavy heart and much suppressed anger, that we at Mode of Life look upon the developments regarding our fellow Orthodox Christian brethren across the Middle East and in Africa. Some of whom are either family or close associates, which amplifies that sorrow and anger that dwells within our hearts further. And that very fact is given greater weight in that quite a number of the locations of where atrocities against the region’s Christians are occurring, are personally known to us, for they were places of pilgrimage and residence to our humble persons.
And amongst these various locations which have become the sites of bloodbaths as Christians are being martyred daily, there are certain locations which loom prominent within the historical witness and conscious of Christianity. Such sites hold this place of honour, since they remain as living links with the past to those the very first followers of Christ, and their spiritual and liturgical customs and beliefs. Many of the inhabitants of such locations, can and often are, the direct descendants of those Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ, who pray in the very same churches founded by the Apostles. And as long-winded as this point may sound, it has to be a reminder to other Christians who dwell in comfort and peace in other lands; particularly those who dwell in the West, and whose “denomination”, “tradition” or “rite” came about only yesterday, must realise. For we are talking about communities which are pre-denominational, and have much to teach other Christians, as well as the world in general.
One of these places to which I am referring to, is the mountainous region just north of Damascus, the towns of Maaloula and Sednaya. These towns in question hold the unique honour of being the last remaining native speakers of the Western dialect of Aramaic, the dialect which the ancient Jews of Galilee and Judea spoke, prayed, read and wrote in, and it was subsequently the language in which Christ preached in. These towns were also the first places of refuge for the many Nazarenes (Jewish Christians) and their Gentile counterparts, who fled places like Jerusalem, Capernaum and so forth, in the face of the persecution and witch-hunts instituted by the Pharisees and supported by the Romans (employing the services of such figures as none other as Saul of Tarsus). In those early days, Maaloula and the surrounding region, were places of caves and caverns inhabited by the indigenous peoples, who lived in the extremes of heat and cold as farmers and as shepherds. (The earliest references to the region are to be found within the Old Testament regarding the trade of its fine wines, which admittedly are still produced and still remain of fine quality).
And this settlement of the early Christians within the environs of Maaloula and Sednaya, began a tradition whereby Christians could seek isolation and refuge from the dangers of persecution in order to live their faith. During the pagan and Jewish persecutions of the first three centuries after Christ’s ascension, the persecutions of Julian the Apostate, the Christological controversies, the Arab Muslim conquests, iconoclasm, the Crusades, or the Seljuk and Ottoman occupations, Maaloula and its environs have remained as a beacon of survival for Christians, both religiously and culturally. And it was this region that paid host to a number of Byzantine Emperors and aristocrats who journeyed through these lands either as pilgrims or on military campaigns, witnessing many miracles alongside the common-folk. And these lands were crucial to the overland journey from the Caucuses and Europe for the pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. It was a custom for pilgrims until 1948, to stop and pray in Maaloula’s Garden of Repentance as a spiritual preparation before journeying to Jerusalem.
Consequently, given this unique history, Maaloula, Sednaya and the whole region, contains many historical, spiritual and cultural treasures such as some of the world’s oldest Scriptural manuscripts, icons, churches and so forth. It is said that some of the earliest New Testament gospels in Greek and Aramaic, particularly of the Matthean tradition are to be found there, as well as the remains of some of the earliest Christian martyrs who were brought to the region for safekeeping, and enshrined in the foundations of the churches. It is where St Thecla (Takla) Equal to the Apostles, who is mentioned in the Book of Acts, fled to. And it was Maaloula one of the locations which relayed the news via a great bonfire, of the finding of the Holy Cross of Christ in Jerusalem. An occasion which has become permanently etched into the annual cycle of life, as the people of the whole region would light bonfires on the Feast of the Elevation and Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14th September).
In Maaloula, the unique tradition takes on a special significance, as the town lights a great bonfire upon Mt Maaloula from which at night, burning chars of wood would be cast down upon the town in marking the event. In the lead up to all the excitement, gangs of men would walk the streets singing and chanting lyrical poems and slogans, often accompanied by drums and other instruments. They would offer welcome to the returning sons and daughters of the town who dwell in other lands, they would offer drinks and hospitality to the strangers who came within their midst. All were welcomed to partake in the church services and the celebrations that would follow in the numerous church courtyards and streets. The Feast of the Holy Cross as it is simply known amongst locals, was and has always been a week of celebration and solemnity, a time of reunion and self-introspection that embraces this one day in September.
But alas, this year holds grave doubts as to whether, after 1500 years, the usual customs or the church services, that mark the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, will take place amidst the misery being wreaked by foreign jihadist mercenaries in the service of the Western and Islamist supported “opposition” to the Assad regime of Syria.
To Orthodox Christians, the fall of Maaloula to Islamist jihadists supported by Western governments and their Islamist allies like Saudi Arabia, on the eve of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is both ironical and disturbing, and recalls to memory the many betrayals that the Crusades brought upon the Christians of the whole Middle East and Balkans. It brings to memory that the appeal that the Christians of the Middle East and Byzantium made before the West in the hope that armies will come and restore the freedom that they had lost with the Arab Muslim conquests, and remove the ever-increasing tyranny with each passing generation of the imposition of sharia law and dwelling in dhimmitude. It evokes further memories of when in the dying days of Byzantium, the Papacy and the West sought to take advantage of Byzantium’s pleas for help as another opportunity to use Middle Eastern Christians as a form of leveraging, only to be willing to cut a deal with the Turks who were allowed to oppress the region’s Christians. This short sighted policy nearly costed the West its very existence, as the Ottomans reached the gates of Vienna in due time.
And in spite of this great folly, the West continued to turn a blind eye to the long nightmare of Ottoman oppression and genocide of its Christian populace, for it was far more profitable to support the Ottomans and do business with them. And this became even more so with the gradual rise to power of Russia, and its encroachment onto the Black Sea coastline in the 19th century along with its assistance towards Balkan and Middle Eastern Christians. Again, it was more important to keep Russia out of the Mediterranean, keep the Greeks weak through internal problems or crises, and encourage sectarian violence amongst the Arabs, so that the comfortable arrangements with the Ottomans remained in place. This was of course reinforced by further atrocities and genocides that the Ottomans committed, in the hope to maintain their power and control. That same spirit of Western short-sightedness followed through with the creation of the modern Middle East, when the Western powers had the opportunity to effect a better political and socio-economic outcome for the peoples of the region, and ensure the rights of the local Christians.
Yet again, the Middle Eastern Christians were betrayed in their hopes of standing alongside their Muslim neighbours as equals. With the rise of Arab secularist leaders, they saw new hope to live in harmony and not under oppression with their Muslim counterparts. However the West went against many of these leaders, as did Israel. And with this meddling in the region’s affairs, and the emerging threat of the Islamists, the proper development and functioning of civil society did not take root. Thus the secular leaders became the new tyrants, (some of whom tied their interests with the West and others who did not). And it is no secret in the region, that many of these Islamist groups were either established, financed or supported by Western or Israeli authorities in order to put pressure upon the secular authorities so as to secure vital interests.
But what was not counted on, was that some of these various groups would dare turn those same weapons upon the nations which supported them, while overthrowing the established secular order of the Middle East and North Africa. To the Middle Eastern Christian, and more specifically to the Maaloulan Christian, this turn of events seems to be a repetition of a historical trend that is ignored, which is the radicalisation of Muslims and the use of extremists to secure short-sighted short–term goals, which in time will eventually threaten to destroy both Islam and the West/Israel, and it will be the Middle Eastern Christian who will be stuck in the centre, to be sacrificed by all. Yet as one may make accusations of conspiracy theories, this is the reality on the ground, and the very feelings of many Christian Syrians who look upon the mess of Iraq as an example to what will become of them.
In saying that, one of the few steadfast leaders of the modern Middle East, the late King Feisal of Saudi Arabia, had made a similar estimation in speaking to Western journalists in Athens, during a tour of Europe some months before his assassination. In the interview that he gave, he observed and noted, that there was an unusual but close relationship that had developed between Western/Israeli authorities and businessmen, with Islamists who were infiltrating the various levels of power within a number of Muslim countries. In his opinion, he foresaw that this strange relationship may be an effort to keep the Russians out of the whole region, but the dangers of this arrangement would cause the radicalisation and fanatisation of the Islamic world, causing it to not only implode on itself, but also destroy the West with it. He then spoke about the formation of jihadist militia in a number of countries to accompany their political faction, who would begin to flex their muscle and exert a reign of terror on fellow Muslims, using the same weapons, training, technical support and financing which the West provided them. He went on to state that many Muslims will be led astray by such groups and that in due time, will turn these very means against the West, and it will be then that they will outlive their usefulness, and then the West will use it as a pretext to demonise or attack Muslim countries, intervening in their private affairs.
King Feisal then continued his interview by speaking about the emergence of a New World Order and other similar matters; but for us living today, in light of the last ten years, what he spoke about regarding jihadists, certainly expresses our present-day reality, of bad Western foreign policies, Middle Eastern crises and radical Islamists. This point seems to be echoed in the streets of many Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, whereby Israelis express the view that they do not wish to see the overthrow of Assad. But despite this popular view, Israeli governmental authorities and secret services are doing things contrary to the interests of the people or the long term security of their nation. This is not dissimilar to circumstances existing in the US, Britain and elsewhere, whereby people realise that intervention or the overthrow of Assad is certainly not a beneficial outcome for the Middle East or for their own nation’s long-term strategic interests.
Nevertheless we still hear the Western mass-media speaking about “opposition” or “rebel” forces fighting against Assad. But there is no serious discussion as to whom this opposition is, and whether they really are an opposition. The question one may have to ask, is whether this so called opposition is in the same sham likeness as that of the Iraq council prior to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which dwelt in European countries or the US, and were closely tied to those countries and their secret services. We see today the mess in which Iraq finds itself in as a result. But we are still bombarded with reports of atrocities of governmental forces, and that Syrians are calling upon American intervention in order to stop further bloodshed. Then in other reports in the media, we are told that Assad used chemical weapons against rebels. The first time this point was raised, it turned out that it was the rebel forces and not the government which employed sarin gas, and then there was three weeks of silence in the media, and so Assad emboldened, took the initiative and began defeating these terrorists.
But in any case the use of chemical and biological weapons is really quite unreliable as they cannot always be confined to one specific target, while their effectiveness is subject to many variables, particularly to changes in weather conditions and atmospherics. Furthermore, the fact that the “opposition” (or more aptly named, terrorist) forces rely heavily on recruiting foreign jihaidsts who are enflamed by the teachings of Islamist sheiks asserting that Assad is an infidel deserving of death, rather than recruiting from native Syrians indicates their real agenda. In addition to this, we must note that even opponents of Assad are willing to fight in governmental forces against these foreign funded and supported terrorists, which certainly speaks volumes in itself.
And what of Mr Obama and the West? Well, we still see a recalcitrant, unsound and stubborn disposition in approaching a matter which they had engineered in Syria, by supporting a vocal terrorist minority, who does not have the consensus of the Sunni majority, by supplying weapons and money through the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. Nations which we should note have certain vested interests in overthrowing Mr Assad, even if their populace disagrees with such a policy stance. Despite the fact that Assad is a secular pluralist, he is not well loved or received by the West since he has not groveled for their favours, and his close alliance with Russia whose naval base near Latakia is cause enough for his overthrow according to the prevailing political logic of Washington, (even though it would produce negative outcomes for Syria and the West).
But as it seems, it is more important to remove Russia from its only Mediterranean naval basin, thus maintaining this age old geo-strategic maxim of keeping Russia out of the Mediterranean at whatever cost to the region or its inhabitants. Meanwhile Middle Eastern Christians like the Maaloulans, as their forefathers erroneously had done, looked to the West in the hope of deliverance, only to be betrayed once again by the threats of intervention and continued support of terrorists who behead their family members, loot their homes, desecrate their graves and abduct their bishops (today we still don’t know the fate of the two missing Aleppo bishops!).
In saying that, we should return to our thoughts by noting that the most offensive element of the recent coverage of the Syria conflict is the reporting of current events unfolding in and around the town of Maaloula. There is much glossing over of the atrocities being committed there, which are being downplayed by an “interview” with Abbess Pelagia, who of course has to give a diplomatic response to the current events as she and others in the town are watched over by the coalition of Assad opponents carrying machine guns! One Maaloulan man in particular had summed up the feelings of his fellow town-dwellers over the recent events:
“What can be said? These people have sent scouts to our town on a number of occasions to recruit fighters from the town’s Muslim inhabitants. And most of the Muslim Maaloulans had declined these offers which were backed up with the promise of many riches, only to have some family member abducted and ransomed, or to be blackmailed into joining these foreign criminals. It is to their credit that they did not join, and thus preserved the tenuous peace and stability of our town which served as a refuge for Christians and Muslims alike, during this whole nightmare that they dare call in the West a ‘civil war’.
Yet this town does not hold any real strategic importance in toppling the government, rather it is a quiet agrarian community simply living off the land as it has done for centuries. To attack Maaloula, kill, rape or torture its inhabitants, desecrate and destroy its holy and historic places, pillage its residents, will not alter the cause of any struggle, and does not topple Assad from power. Rather it has galvanised the townspeople, irrespective of their religious faith or political convictions, including those who are anti-Assad, to rally behind the government in this fight. Consequently my own conclusions regarding this barbaric and unprecedented attack on our town, is not for strategic reasons, but symbolic, as it seeks to send a message to all Middle Eastern Christians that they are not safe anywhere and that they must convert to these mindless criminals’ brand of Islam or die.
To the stupid Westerners, all I can say is that today it is Maaloula that is being sacrificed, but tomorrow it will be you since it was your own governments and businessmen who unremorsefully created these disasters and did not bat an eyelid. But I know given the secular, materialistic, atheistic and somewhat anti-Christian rhythm of the West, they do not care that some Christians in Syria are being killed. However it was our legacy to the world through the Christian Gospel that they enjoy the comforts that they do, because it was here in the early churches that the world’s first public education systems were developed via the parish catechetical schools, or the witness of the holy unmercenary saints who provided free health care such as Sts Damian and Kosmas and much more. The West needs to re-learn the Gospel of Christ in order to rediscover its roots. Maybe then, they will send men to fight to defend our holy sites and protect our people, rather than support blasphemous scum who profane everything in their way, and leaving destruction or ruin in their path.
We have the example of Iraq close at hand on our eastern border as a constant reminder of policy failure, and lack of humanity. As for those stupid Protestant fools who stand around bashing Bibles and preaching to people on street corners and advocating for intervention and war in the Middle East, if you are true to your Christian Faith, come here and fight alongside of us to defend our homes and the very ancient manuscripts which gave you fools your Bible!”
The said man in question has taken up arms with other townsfolk, including some of the town’s priests, to fight against the insurgents and draw them away from the women and children of Maaloula. Yet the reporting of the recent events in the Western media attempt to make a distinction between the various “opposition” factions in order to downplay Maaloula’s occupation and reign of terror. This of course is only natural, for it alleviates the feelings of guilt and responsibility for what Western governments have done in Syria on behalf of their populace, but it also downplays the complete lack of credibility that US (and their allies) policy in Syria has.
Yet as we approach one of the most sacred days of the Orthodox Christian liturgical calendar, the question still remains as to what has survived of Maaloula’s rich heritage during this week’s onslaught by jihadists in the pay of the US and her allies? A heritage which is a legacy to all of humanity, and is both priceless and irreplaceable, or will this unique town disappear in the same manner as did Aleppo’s Orthodox and Syriac bishops did, never to see the light again? Will this living link with the past remain, and if it does survive what is occurring now upon the ground, what will be left? Will it be another testimony to the blasphemous conceit of inhumanity, to the assertion that certain persons of a particular race, religion or culture assert their false belief in their superiority, which they think is a God-given? How many more will continue to profane God by committing such heinous acts or railing against Him in defiance by professing nothing?
These are questions that our brethren in Maaloula now face, near the eve of Orthodoxy’s “second Holy Friday”; for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is not a mere remembrance of the Crucifixion of Christ, but is a repetition (especially liturgically), of that same sorrowful and joyous event of Christ’s Crucifixion. We only hope and pray that in Maaloula’s case, after weathering so many crucifixions over the centuries, it will reemerge in the light of the Resurrection.
ARAMAIC-SPEAKERS ATTACKED IN SYRIAN VILLAGE OF MAALOULA, NEAR DAMASCUS
The Australian – September 09, 2013
A CHRISTIAN village in Syria, one of the few remaining places where the ancient language of Aramaic is spoken, is under attack by government forces, rebels and al-Qa’ida-linked fighters.
The rebels and al-Qa’ida-linked fighters say they have gained control of the village of Maaloula, northeast of the capital Damascus. Government media, however, provides a dramatically different account of the battle, suggesting regime forces are winning.
It is impossible to independently verify the reports from the scenic mountain community known for being one of the few places in the world where residents still speak the ancient Middle Eastern language of Aramaic.
The village is on a UNESCO list of tentative world heritage sites.
The rebel advance into the area this week was spearheaded by the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, exacerbating fears among Syrians and religious minorities about the role played by Islamic extremists within the rebel ranks.
It was not immediately clear why the army couldn’t sufficiently reinforce its troops to prevent the rebel advance in the area only 43km from Damascus.
Some activists say that Assad’s forces are stretched thin, fighting in other areas in the north and south of the country.
Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Nusra Front backed by another group, the Qalamon Liberation Front, moved into the village after heavy clashes with the army late on Saturday.
“The army pulled back to the outskirts of the village and both (rebel groups) are in total control of Maaloula now,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
He said pro-government fighters remain inside the village, in hiding.
Initially, troops loyal to President Bashar Assad moved into Maaloula early on Saturday, he said, “but they left when rebels started pouring into the village”.
A Maaloula resident said the rebels, many of them sporting beards and shouting Allahu Akbar, had attacked Christian homes and churches.
“They shot and killed people. I heard gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old quarters of the village,” said the resident, reached by telephone from neighbouring Jordan.
“So many people fled the village for safety.”
SYRIAN WAR MAKES SUDDEN APPEARANCE AT CONVENT IN HISTORIC CHRISTIAN TOWN
By Liz Sly, Washington Post, Published: September 9
High in the mountains above Damascus lies a town so remote that Syria’s war had passed it by, so untouched by time that its inhabitants still speak the language of Jesus.
The violence ravaging the rest of Syria has finally caught up with Maaloula, renowned as the oldest Christian community in the world — and the last in which the same version of Aramaic that prevailed 2,000 years ago is the native tongue.
On Sunday, Syrian rebels, including some affiliated with al-Qaeda, swept through Maaloula for the second time in four days, after an assault a few days earlier in which the last of its few thousand residents fled and the specter of unchecked violence threatened to convulse the iconic town.
Only a couple of dozen nuns remained, cowering in fear as warplanes screeched overhead, shells exploded and al-Qaeda-linked fighters overran their convent, turning them into witnesses to what may be one of the more extraordinary encounters of the Syrian war.
The monks had fled from their nearby monastery months ago, and even the last two priests who oversaw the affairs of Maaloula’s ancient Mar Takla covent took buses out of town last week, leaving the nuns of Maaloula to fend for themselves as the fighters closed in.
With Congress poised to debate President Obama’s proposed military intervention in Syria, the arrival of war in Maaloula illuminates the complexity of a conflict that has defied all attempts at resolution for 21 / 2 years. The future of Christianity in the region of its birth is just one of the smaller issues at stake in the discussions expected to unfold.
The fight for Maaloula began Wednesday, when rebels of the Free Syrian Army launched an assault aided by a suicide bomber from Jabhat al-Nusra, which is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government because of its declared affiliation with al-Qaeda.
The bomber, said by other fighters to be a Jordanian, blew himself up at the Syrian army checkpoint commanding entrance to the town, killing seven government loyalists. Other rebel units, most of them less extremist, swarmed into the town, which in past years lured Christian pilgrims from around the world to explore its ancient sites and listen to the Christian liturgy preached in Aramaic in its churches.
Firing volleys of gunfire into the air, according to videos posted on YouTube, the rebels roamed through the town in pickup trucks and said they had “cleansed” Maaloula of supporters of the regime.
They also vowed not to attack Christians and proclaimed, “We must not harm any church . . . we target only those who shoot at us,” a commander told the camera. “These people are our families . . . these icons of the church and those people here and there, they should stay in peace.”
And then they departed Friday, almost as abruptly as they had arrived. They attacked the town, several rebel spokesmen said, only as part of an offensive to secure control of a major road between the strategically vital city of Homs and the capital, Damascus, both at the forefront of the broader battle for control of Syria — a battle that has been waged by the family of President Bashar al-Assad for 40 years.
But when the rebels moved in, the elders of the town “were afraid of airstrikes and shelling,” said Abu Shamso, an activist with the rebels, speaking by Skype from a nearby opposition-controlled village in the mountains northwest of Damascus.
“They wanted us to go, so we left,” he said.
Overnight Saturday, the rebels surged back into the town, including members of Jabhat al-Nusra. They surrounded the Mar Takla convent, which was built into mountains where persecuted early Christians found sanctuary many centuries ago.
The 27 nuns and the two dozen or so orphans they are caring for remained inside, huddled in an ancient cavern known as the Christmas Cave because it resembles the caves in Bethlehem where Jesus was born, said the convent’s mother superior, Pelagia Sayaf, who was interviewed by telephone and has been in charge of the nunnery since 1990.
The cave also offered protection from the MIG fighter jets that began dropping bombs on the town to dislodge the rebels and the shelling that routinely targets towns across the country that are seized by rebels.
Late Sunday, the Jabhat al-Nusra fighters entered the convent and asked the nuns to appear in a video to declare that they had not been harmed. Such videos serve as the chief medium of communication for all parties to the Syrian opposition.
There were 25 fighters in all, Sayaf said. The one who negotiated with her spoke with a Saudi accent, while others appeared to be from Afghanistan or Chechnya, she said. Several spoke no Arabic, and all of her comments were interpreted from Arabic into English by one of the fighters to the others, she said, leading her to suspect that some were Americans.
In the video, she told the fighters that she had not been harmed, which, she said, is true.
And then, she said, the fighters withdrew from the convent. The nuns remain, praying and expressing no opinions about their hopes for the outcome of a war that could soon engulf the town.
“If you had heard so many explosions in any other place on Earth, many people would be dead,” Sayaf said. “It is because of our faith that we are alive.”
And, she added, “Maaloula is a very special place.”
(Suzie Haidamous and Ahmed Ramadan contributed to this report.)
I received this information from Syria
Mother Belagia is the abbess of the monastery of Saint Thekla in Maalula. It’s only like a 20-30 minute drive north of Damascus. It had been occupied for 3 days (the town). The town is one of three where they still speak Aramaic–Aramaic which our Saviour spoke. The only 3 towns left in the world. The majority of the people in Maaloula are Christians–Orthodox Christians. There’s a smattering of Catholics there, and there’s also some Muslims there, and they live there in peace. The beginning of this week they were occupied by the Free Syrian Army. It turned out to be Al Qaeda, and they turned out to be Chechens–the same ones who abducted our 2 bishops. The nuns took the children there, orphan girls there of St. Thekla, and they and the nuns, many who are aging, into the caves of the village to hide for 4 days. They didn’t even go out to buy bread. The villagers didn’t leave their homes for 4 days. And if you’ve never been to the Middle East, they don’t shop like we do. They go every morning to buy their bread and food for the day. So they were locked in their homes for 4 days. Those who went out were shot, so they knew to stay in their homes. Saba called me on Wednesday. Mother Belagia, and they were ringing all the bells in the town’s churches–the Syrian Army, you know the one that we’re told is so bad. The Syrian Army finally came and drove Al Qaeda out. And what did they find? They found 2 churches in the village completely destroyed. St. Thekla, which is ours, the Orthodox church in the village, and St. Sergius, which is a Catholic church in the village–completely destroyed. On the inside, the icons, the holy books, everything had been desecrated. Not just ripped off the walls, but covered in urine. Real desecration by that wing of the Free Syrian Army.
The terrorists attack the village, kill 3 locals, break into houses, and Liz Sly has not one word about any of that? why not simply write up the press release from the Hariri Press Office in Lebanon? Sly is giving Anne Barnard at the Times a run for the money for most hacktacular correspondent at a national paper.
jeff bezos, please hire some actual reporters, OK?
Aren’t these Christian-loving, moderate, democratic rebels wonderful? They are if you base your reporting on propaganda from the Free Syrian Army.
According to a Maaloula resident who spoke to Asia News, a Catholic news outlet: “the Islamist insurgents are breaking into village homes. Yesterday they killed three people and took six young Greek-Catholic Christians prisoners. Bodies have been left in the streets as a warning to the population. Many families are locked in their homes and cannot even escape. Nobody knows their conditions.”
Another Christian resident “saw the militants grabbing five villagers and threatening them: ‘Either you convert to Islam, or you will be beheaded.’” It is also widely reported that one of the town’s churches has been torched and two others stormed and looted.
These, according to Ms. Sly’s reporting are the “less extremist” rebels. I guess you can tell them apart from the more extreme Al Qaedaists because they don’t blow themselves up, they only murder others.
This is quite sickening that in the eyes of Obama and his administration Christians are personae non gratae (non-welcome persons) hence he seems eager and excited to go and bomb Syria. Who is he fooling by telling the bombing to be limited and controlled. Total lie for bombing causes always, if not direct death, a lot of unlimited damage outside the direct hit, including crippling and maiming of persons and destruction of property!
There will be tons of innocent – Christians included – killed, maimed and crippled who have done nothing to hurt either side in the battle but tried to live their daily lives as normal to any human being except this has been now denied for them for at least 2 1/2 years. They have been on the run from their homes of the bombs dropping over their heads to which obama is eager to add his own. Very very sad!
This is nothing new, my brothers and sisters in South Sudan get bombed by the government in Khartoum daily just because they are black and Christian, they live in caves they have little food and water and some even have no clothing but that isn’t a concern to the US where we have everything. Their hospital has room for 300 there are 600 patients and they are getting amputations without any anesthetics. The only people that are concerned are Bishop Macram Gassis, the Vatican and a few hundred Catholics in Europe and the US.
Exactly – Obama was about to help these rebels by striking Assad. All around the Middle East, the countries where the dictatorship were overthrown, the Christians end up to be the ones that continue to suffer. Even as oppressed citizens, they were at least somewhat protected.
A historical note that should be added. A “high” point in Islamic expansion occurred with the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Up until that point, the West was loosing big-time. Fortunately, the West won. Though the west won, it essentially abandoned the Orthodox Christians who were left behind the “wall” of the Ottoman empire. WWI finally put an end to the Ottoman empire, but the West failed to use that opportunity to make Christians in the middle-east equal citizens. Unfortunately, the West continued to ignore the plight of the Christians. The remaining Christians in the Middle-East, realizing the possibility of genocide, are now undergoing a diaspora.
The Christians and Alawi and Druze in Syria will be in grave danger if the Islamists take-over.
The allegation is made by the former al-Qaeda member Sheikh Nabil Naiim, who has spoken out on a video, claiming that the principal force fighting against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, the one with strong links to al-Qaeda, is led by a CIA operative, Mohammed al-Jawlani.
“American” CIA contract operatives cooperating and “interpreting” for and with al-Qaeda. Jesus may weap, again.
A sad reality is that US power, (diplomatic,military, and economic) has been used to support Islamic regimes. This is cultural suicide for the West.
Many non-Sunni Syrians (Christians, Kurds, Assyrians, etc) tend to support the Alawite-based Assad regime because of fear they will be persecuted by the Sunni majority. And they have good reason to be fearful.
This is the conundrum which faces the Obama administration and the international community. It’s not a just a 2-sided civil war – there are many sides: uncomfortable and shifting alliances.
Other than an imposed settlement – requiring many thousands of ‘boots on the ground’ – there is little the world can do to stop it. Assad seems to be getting the upper hand militarily. Perhaps the survival of the regime is the ‘least worst’ outcome – with the country divided into zones of control – here Assad is in control, over there the Sunni majority, etc.
” The future of Christianity in the region of its birth is just one of the smaller issues at stake in the discussions expected to unfold.”
Yes of course the issue is “smaller.’ After all — the Christians of the Middle East do not control the oil in the Middles East, as the Muslims do, nor do they control the US Administration’s and Congress’ Middle East policy as the pro-Israelis do.
That the Christians in the Middle East are HUMAN BEINGS deserving of respect and protection is indeed a ‘small issue’ in the eyes of the arrogant selfish West.
Am I supposed to be proud of my country?
The Christians in the “East” have disappeared from the “West’s” consciences because the Orthodox Christians were overrun by the Moslems, which cut-off communication. The West should remember that as late as 1683 the Moslems besieged Vienna. Had the west lost, the Moslems could well have overrun all of Europe.
Sorry, but “cutt-off communication” is a bit silly. The “West” sacked Constantinople and precipitated the fall of the Byzantine empire. The “West” massacred the Christians of the holy land during the Crusades. And the “West” decided that exported european Zionists are a better ally in the Middle East.
If Islam is the real threat, then Christianity in the Middle East would have disappeared a long time ago – after all, Islam has ruled over the region for almost 1,300 years. Today, the only place in the region where the number of Christians has barely been increasing is Israel. Everywhere else our numbers have continued to grow.
@hilalDC: You have valid points, but no one is going to read a long winded narrative going into the minutiae of how the Western Christians essentially abandoned the Orthodox Christian.
Obama is full of faux outrage if he can show a video of dead children with demands fort “justice”. Christians get killed and Obama sweeps it under the rug as “irrelevant”. It is disgusting for Obama not to hold the rebels accountable for their atrocities. Is selective accountability an international norm?
MAALOULA: ARAMAIC FOR ‘DON’T SUPPORT THE REBELS’
I’m grateful to The New York Times for highlighting the Syrian rebel attack on the ancient Christian town of Maaloula. From the NYT’s report:
Some of the rebels, apparently aware of their public relations problem, said in interviews that they meant Christians no harm. They filmed themselves talking politely with nuns, instructing fighters not to harm civilians or churches and touring a monastery that appeared mostly intact. They said they had withdrawn from most of the town, posted videos of shelling there by Mr. Assad’s forces and argued that the government had given the fight a sectarian cast by sending Christian militiamen from Damascus to join in.
But the damage was already done. Most of the town’s residents have fled, and Maaloula, one of the last places where Aramaic, the language of Jesus,is still spoken by Christians and some Muslims, has become a one-word argument against Western support for the rebels — at the worst possible time for Mr. Obama and the opponents of Mr. Assad.
Syrian-Americans lobbying against the proposed American missile strike flooded Congressional message boards with appeals for Maaloula. A common refrain was that Mr. Obama was throwing Syria’s Christians “to the lions.”
It was a powerful accusation in a region where a decade of unrest and rising sectarianism, from Iraq to Egypt, has threatened and displaced large sectors of the Middle East’s Christians, a population that had already shrunk significantly through emigration over the past century.
Note this, from the abbess of a Maaloula monastery and orphanage:
“If Maaloula survives, it will be a miracle,” Mother Sayaf said. “Maaloula is empty. You see ghosts on the walls.”
Why are the rebels targeting Maaloula, a town where Muslims and Christians have lived peaceably for generations, and a town where even Muslims go to pray at the monastery? There is no obvious strategic reason for the little village to suffer rebel assault. For one, the NYT article points out that the rebel faction leading the assault on Maaloula is foreign. For another, a knowledgeable Orthodox Christian source tells me that it’s well known locally that President and Mrs. Assad come to Maaloula every Pascha to spend time with the orphans.
Whatever. The Times is right that the assault on Maaloula has awakened some American Christians to the cause the United States is supporting in Syria. If the US throws Tomahawks at Syria, they may as well drop one on Maaloula too, because a rebel victory over Assad will almost certainly mean the death of Maaloula. If the Free Syrian Army cannot protect Maaloula from the hardcore jihadists in their own coalition now, they won’t have a chance at all to do so in the event of a rebel victory. From Bloomberg:
Christians “are right in their fears because under the present order, it was authoritarian but it was secular,” said Kamran Bokhari, vice-president for Middle Eastern affairs at the Austin, Texas-based consulting firm Stratfor. “We’re moving away from the order that we know to the unknown. The best we know about the unknown is that it will be dominated by a litany of forces that are radical Islamists.”
SYRIA CRISIS: MAALOULA RESIDENT TALKS TO BBC’S JEREMY BOWEN
9 September 2013
A former resident of Maaloula, an historic Christian town to the north of Damascus, has told the BBC her family was forced to leave their home after it was captured by rebels at the weekend.
Antoinette Nassrallah said she didn’t know if she would ever return after rebels “stole everything”.
She said the United States should stop sending weaponry to the rebels, and that any military action against Syria would be based on a “big lie”.
SYRIA: AL QAEDA LINKED FIGHTERS TAKE STRATEGIC TOWN OF MAALOULA
In Syria, heavy fighting is continuing in and around the strategic town of Maaloula which is only 43 kilometres from Damascus, close to the Lebanese border.
Syrian army troops took a group of journalists with them, claiming to have secured the area but latest reports say rebel fighters linked to al Qaeda have regained control.
Maaloula is an ancient Christian town and is on a UNESCO list of world heritage sites.
Concerns are growing for members of its Christian community which has in the past been attacked by Islamist fighters who accuse them of sympathising with the Assad government.
The town is strategically important as it lies on a communications and supply corridor with the Lebanese border.
CIVILIANS FLEE REBELS RE-TAKING CHRISTIAN TOWN OF MAALOULA IN SYRIA CIVIL WAR
Fernande van Tets – Sunday 08 September 2013
Rebels led by al-Qa’ida-linked fighters gained control of a Christian town north-east of the capital, Damascus, Syrian activists said on Sunday, while government media continued to claim that regime forces were winning.
Maaloula, strategically located in the mountains overlooking Damascus, is a Unesco World Heritage Site, hailed as a beacon of Christianity and one of the last places in the world where the ancient language of Aramaic is spoken. The Muslim population has grown in recent decades, and the two religions frequently wage a war of words over loudspeakers, Friday prayers from the town’s two new mosques competing for attention with hymns of nuns that reverberate through the valley.
Now, the town has fallen into a far more violent back-and-forth as government forces have battled to regain control from the al-Qa’ida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra rebels, who first overran government roadblocks and entered the town last Wednesday.
Most of the civilian population fled as pro-government news outlets vowed that the military would “liberate” the town.
Government forces entered the town on Saturday morning, leading to fierce clashes throughout the day, “but they left when rebels started pouring into the village”, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, a spokesman for the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He said that Jabhat al-Nusra was backed by another group, the Qalamon Liberation Front, which moved into the town after heavy clashes with the army late on Saturday. He said around 1,500 rebels are inside the town.
“The army pulled back to the outskirts of the village and both [rebel groups] are in total control of Maaloula now,” Mr Abdul-Rahman said.
Mother Pelagia Sayah, the head of Saint Tekla monastery in Maaloula, denied earlier reports that churches and monasteries had been attacked. But the recent kidnappings of prominent Orthodox bishops, plus the Christian peace activist Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, have raised disturbing parallels to the height of sectarian violence in Iraq, and fears that Syria’s Christian minority may not survive the war.
The siege of Maaloula comes as tens of thousands of Christians around the world gathered to pray for peace in Syria. The Pope led a five-hour prayer session in St Peter’s Square in Rome. In Damascus, too, hundreds followed his lead, while the Syrian clergy implored Christians to remain in the country. “I beg you to remain here,” the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham was reported as saying. “We’re staying. If you leave, we leave. So we beg you, stop coming to our priests asking for a visa. If you leave, who will remain? Only our brethren the Muslims.”
WAR COMES TO SYRIA’S QUIET CHRISTIAN HINTERLAND
World View: A rebel attack on Maloula is a warning for a minority accused of supporting government
Patrick Cockburn – Sunday 8 September 2013
At the end of last year I visited the ancient Christian town of Maloula in a deep gorge in the mountains 20 miles north-west of Damascus. It has been a place of refuge for 2,000 years, its cliffs riddled with caves and its buildings clinging to towering walls of rock. It is one of the few towns in Syria where Christians are a majority and the only place where Western Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken.
People in Maloula were nervous when I was there, wondering just how long they would remain immune or at least largely unaffected by the violence that had engulfed the rest of Syria. Already, they were feeling its impact, mostly in the shape of criminal attacks on well-off Christians.
Maloula’s uncertain immunity from the civil war in Syria lasted for another nine months. But, at 5.40am last Wednesday, a suicide bomber in a vehicle packed with explosives blew himself up at the checkpoint, killing some eight soldiers. Then, 20 pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted in the back stormed into the town, firing into the air. They took over an ugly white-washed hotel on top of a cliff as their command post and told people to stay in their houses. There was no resistance and fighting only started when the Syrian army arrived later in the day, government aircraft bombed and the rebels finally retreated. Heavy fighting around Maloula was reported yesterday.
What happened during the capture of Maloula is revealed in convincing detail by Matthew Barber in the online newsletter Syria Comment. He has rapidly combined film and statements by the insurgents with phone interviews with local people. The result is that, unlike most episodes in the Syrian war, it is possible to follow events with a fair degree of accuracy.
Going by their own declarations, the rebel units were mostly from jihadi groups led by the al-Qa’ida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and including the Ahrar al-Sham, the Baba Amr brigade and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) commando unit. Local people say they were aided by Sunni Muslim refugees from the militant town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus.
This is not a story of sectarian bloodbath, but the Christians in Maloula must have worried that it could turn into one. One rebel group called the operation a case of “an eye for an eye” in retaliation for the poison gas attack on rebel-held Ghouta on 21 August. There are postings with quotes from the Koran saying “Allah give us patience and victory over the infidel”. Pictures taken by the insurgents show the bodies of Syrian army soldiers killed by the suicide bomber. The insurgent fighters finally retreated, but not before they had demonstrated that they considered Maloula a stronghold of government supporters. As with other such clashes, the government sent aircraft to bomb rebel positions, a tactic that has done so much to turn millions of Syrians into refugees inside and outside the country.
The occupation of Maloula illuminates other developments in Syria that differ markedly from what is being reported by the media or said by the Obama administration in an attempt to win Congressional assent for air strikes. On 5 September, the very day the al-Nusra stormed Maloula, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, told a Congressional hearing about the rebels: “I just don’t agree that a majority are al-Qa’ida and the bad guys. That’s not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists… Maybe 15 per cent to 25 per cent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.” Rebel commanders have been happily assuring American newspaper columnists that the supposedly moderate FSA is dominant around Damascus, unlike northern and eastern Syria.
The attack on Maloula is evidence of another aspect of the war: after its successes in the early summer in the battle for Qusayr, government forces have not been as successful on the battlefront as many expected. They have made some advances in Homs but still do not hold the whole city. If they did use poison gas against rebel-held suburbs in Damascus it may have been frustration at the army’s inability to capture them by other means and its lack of manpower to sustain the casualties inevitable in street fighting. Maloula is not far from the main Damascus-Homs road, emphasising that this crucial highway could be cut by the insurgents if they are prepared to take the losses.
Maloula used to be one of the safer places in Syria for Christians, who once made up 10 per cent of the population. Many have already fled from Aleppo and northern Syria. Their priests and bishops have been kidnapped and murdered. In their part of the Old City of Damascus they are under mortar fire from rebel districts leaving no doubt that they are being punished as government supporters. Those with money have mostly left the country. Even a previously secure place in the mountains such as Maloula, where persecuted Christians once sought refuge, is safe no longer.
Suppose US missile strikes take place, will they tip the military balance decisively towards the insurgents? It looks unlikely, though elimination of the Syrian air force would enable the rebels to gain ground. The stalemate will continue. Syria has a failed government and a failed opposition. Both still think they can win if they get enough outside support but have few ideas other than to fight on. The only good news here is that government and rebels have become so much the dependent proxies of foreign powers that the US and Russia could force them to negotiate at least a ceasefire. But this may come too late for Maloula.
The lie on the part of John Kerry is the degree of separation, the FSA attend planning meetings with the al Qaeda linked groups, who are inevitably assigned the difficult part of any given operation, because it often involves suicide. Thus it has been the case with the Christian town of Maaloula.
how dumbed down Americans can be when most important thing for them is who gets the new Iphone first rather than what their government is doing to the rest of the word,reminds me of a primate experiment where you give a cookie to a monkey ,monkey will always obey. Because of their stupidity, and ignorance their government freely bombs what and who ever it wants ,knowingly that there will be no reciprocation.
Syria was a pluralist state, the price of which was the repression of Islamists. If President Assad’s father had been in charge the crisis would have lasted a week. Two days of warnings, and five days of killing every last one of the people failing to take heed of the two days of warnings. The difference between the two is striking.
A proper ‘legal’ analysis of the war would be to look at the POW circumstances for all the combatants. The USA isn’t at the same podium as the International Committee of the Red Cross, because NATO are on the side of the sectarian death squads. The Christians by default are on the side of a pluralist state and are therefore the mortal enemy of the insurgents. The successful initiatives are the work of Islamists, the FSA isn’t a military with a very significant capability.
With the media now reporting the ever increasing number of attacks on Christian churches and communities by Islamofascists, there can be little doubt that a programme of religious/ethnic cleansing is underway, not simply in Ararb lands, but in any country where Islam is the predominant Religion. For this cause to be furthered by US aid is almost as stupid as arming the Taliban in Afganistan in the 1990’s has proved to be.
More proof that Kerry is a liar and the west is supporting these Islamic extremists and making enemies of Christians
worse he goes to other middle east countries and then tells us they want america to attack worse america wants to attack safely out to sea so no american blood is spilled only syrian by the missiles and then by the jihadists when they attack the american used the same tactic in afghanistan ?
If the US and their ‘useful idiots’ get there way the Christian minority, stretching back thousands of years , will be totally destroyed or ethnically cleansed from the Area, it will be like Smyrna ( look it up, some filth now call it Izmir), the Copts of Egypt could be next. This war is terrible, there are no prisoners, only murdered fighters on both sides, one long war crime, not just last week.
Yes, there is a very good chance that if their community is not destroyed now, it will be forcibly evacuated and the Christian holy places raised when Jihadists come to rule Syria which is the NeoCon desired option. In the West populist Neo-Conservatism is the new religion amongst many and the fate of a few boring Christians who are Dummkopf enough to follow the Prince of Peace will not be noticed, and anyway, a lot of Christians are against Gay marriage which puts them beyond the pale….
It seems to me that the case for a Syrian government chemical attack lacks any logical sense whatsoever. Without any independently verified evidence to the contrary, we must follow Occam’s Razor and assume that it’s the rebel’s handiwork. I’ll go a step further: Even if it were the Syrian government’s handiwork….SO WHAT! It occurred in THEIR territory! What do we have to say about it! At any rate, I’m a bit shocked that the current narrative allows the rebels to do as they do.
The problem is a lot simpler than it’s made out. For as long as anyone can remember, the West has set an example of crushing opposition with military force. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan. Half a million children have been born in Vietnam with appalling, grotesque deformities because of the West. Compensation? No. Apology? Not at all. A million children died in Iraq from our sanctions. The half a million figure was kids under 5. We didn’t bother counting older ones. Collateral damage. So, after arming the planet, we’re now bombing six countries by remote control, two of which we occupy by force. After cosying up to dictators so we could kidnap and ship people there for medieval torture, we still have black prisons where people disappear into. Guantanamo is only one of them. We cheerfully allowed Israel to crush Palestine and even bulldoze houses with occupants still inside. Criticism? Not so much. We sell weapons all around the world – and we overlook the most brutal dictators when it suits us. Blair makes a packet giving cosy after-dinner speeches – paying no tax, by the way. How’s that for loyalty! It was we who installed Saddam, and the Shah, and gave weapons to both sides in the Iran-Iraq war. It suited us to do so. Now when other countries follow our example, we get all up in arms and say a line has been crossed. If we want to be a war mongering nation, kidnapping and torturing (rendition, black prisons), invading, massacring, and making a fortune selling weapons, then so be it. We can’t then go crying to mommy if dictators follow our example. And by the way, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have promised to cover the full cost of the invasion, as long as they can run a gas pipeline through after Assad is got rid of.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the priciple backers of the Jihadi rebels. They have turned this into a secular war. Even if we were to stick to a concept of non-invention the Islamists would continue until they made the world Dar al-Islam. The Arab league is begging the infidel west to bomb a muslim country !!! When has that enthusiasm ever been for that before. !!!! If we must bomb then lets take out the Islamic Jihadists
I agree with you 100%. This Pre-Paid war main beneficiaries are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Turkey. Saudi Arabia main interest as you stated is run the gas line and further more they wanted to divide Syria so 3 other countries Israel, Jordan and Turkey can have a piece of Syria apparently rest other 3 countries already guaranteed Saud Gas line rights. Israel also happy for getting a peace of Syrian land also right to use Saudi Arabia air space when wanted to attack Iran.
the us government is running wild with an agenda clearly visible to all and sundry – stoppable? not unless you have some serious missile defenses/bombs etc so they are going to war no matter what, no matter what the world at large thinks. any attack on Syria without the express approval of the United Nations must be considered a crime against humanity and be brought before the International Criminal Court. Obama must answer for his evil deeds!
The Christians of Syria, or at least most of them, do strongly support the Assad government — they know their situation and their interests. And they are under no illusions about what government by Ihvan or al Qaeda will mean. Dave Cameron and President Obama’s notions of democracy and human rights seem to be indistinguishable from the propaganda of the extremist Muslim goups. Their Syrian policies are moral and strategy insanity and perhaps also selective blindness. If there is a moral issue in politics today, it is to oppose Western interference on the side of the rebels in Syria, whether military and overt or covert. It also happens to be in our interests.
We can only thank the demented policies of Obama and his utterly incompetent and useless “strategists” for creating an UNSTOPPABLE MESS by accelerating completely out of control the internal revolts of the entire Maghreb, and now Syria. With the end result, more and more clearly towards a creating of a NEW Iraq-like situation, with total misery for the population and – contrary to the b.s. of the Pentagon – ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL OVER INTERNAL INFINGHTING AND FUNDAMENTALISM The only thing that can happen next, is a direct involvement of Turkey in a “Neo Ottoman” – Iran crisis, with the very likely scenario of direct Russian intervention … I wonder how the US will react WHEN Russia will start fomenting internal unrest in Poland and the rest of former east block …
I am English and not religious but can we have a little more balanced reporting from the British media please ?
‘..balanced reporting from the British media..’ Which island/planet have you been marooned on for the past few decades?
Like the P*ssy Riot reportage, 85 percent of the total reportage on Russia for three months was seemingly about a male lead VOINA project derived from pornographic art and the gasoline bombings of police cars, and named after an incident in a fast food restaurant which had stolen cats thrown at fast food workers. The FEMEN reportage was of a similar pattern. The useful point of this article is illustrate joint operations between al Qaeda and the FSA attacking Christians at a time the USA is pretending the FSA is a secular opponent of al Qaeda. The FSA is the Hamster, and al Qaeda is the Rat. The smart money is on the Rat being the primary game in town when the Chief Hamsters are in exile in Paris on NATO stipends writing columns about how it went wrong.
the matter in brief is the Islamist countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey and other Arab league countries consider Bashar Al-Assad as infidel and must be punished and killed according to holy jihad, i don’t know why Mr Obama intervene himself with this sectarian war.
Obama is demonstrating with FACTS that he IS either very stupid or a pro Moslem fundamentalists… I have no idea if he is CRYPTO FANATIC or only very stupid, hopefully the latter so he will be impeached out of office soon.
Why aren’t these stories reported daily by the MSM in the west? THESE Islamofascists are the ones who that snake Obama and that pygmy Hollande want to help out indirectly as part of their aspirations to strike Syria. It’s funny, because Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups are targeted in Afghanistan and Pakistan, yet are treated as a non-issue in Syria. These aren’t rebels. They are murderous, genocidal fanatics who would be 1000 times worse than Assad. How the hell don’t the neocons recognise this???
I think they know it very well, though. It is about divide and rule and the most expedient way to achieve immediate objectives, as Empire always has.