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Be fairer to Assad, Syrian cleric urges

27 May 2016


Stranded: a refugee in the camp in Idomeni last weekend, one of thousands held after the Greek border was shut

Stranded: a refugee in the camp in Idomeni last weekend, one of thousands held after the Greek border was shut

“ONE-SIDED” Western media re­­ports on Syria must be chal­lenged, to convey the suffering of Chris­­tians and the protection af­­forded by President Assad, the Presid­­ent of the Armenian Evan­gelical Com­mun­­ity of Syria said last week.

The President, the Revd Harou­tune Selimian, was speaking in London at a discussion hosted by the Awareness Foundation. There was a “segment of the truth which is missing” in reports, he said, and he sought to “bring the . . . whole truth, as much as possible”.

He was critical of the portrayal of events in Syria as part of an Arab Spring. “We have not seen the Arabs in the beginning of the war, and we did not see the spring. . . It is all about winter and autumn.” Al­­though some had described a “rev­olu­­tion” that would “improve the Syrian status”, there were people from 88 countries in Syria: “People are going just for jihad.”

Syria had become “like a jungle”: literacy rates and life expectancy were plummeting, and there was widespread reliance on financial aid. “Whatever we have achieved has gone down the drain.”

The position of Christians was precarious, and yet persecution was “not something new”. As a “very integrated part of Syrian society” which dated from the conversion of St Paul, they would remain.

Syria has historically offered ref­uge to Armenians, after the geno­cide of 1915 and at other times. Estim­ates of the number who have remained since the civil war began in 2011 vary. Last year, rebel shell­ing damaged the Armenian Catholic Cathedral in Aleppo. In 2014, the Holy Martyrs’, Deir ez-­Zor, which commemor­ated the geno­­­cide, was blown up by Islamic State fighters.

In some towns, “ethnic cleansing” had taken place, Mr Selimian said. He spoke of the seizure of Kessab, home to thousands of Armenians, in 2014. The attack had been timed to coincide with preparations to commemorate the genocide, he said. There was “no moderate rebel in Syria. . . All are bloodthirsty people trying to come and destroy history and civil­isa­tion.”

His account of the conflict echoes that of other Syrian Christian leaders (News, 16 October), and of President Assad, who has promised the country’s Christians protection (News, 25 April 2014). Mr Selimian complained that the Western press had presented the President as “a monster . . . But they never say the other side of the coin: that this regime and President is very pro­tective to Christians . . . and the rights of women.”

”I am not saying that everything was bright in Syria,” he said. “But it was always on the side of reforma­tion, and the Ba’ath party ideology of that party is a correcting move­ment; and maybe the correction from time to time does not meet our expectations, but there was always correcting movements, and before the war Syria was one of the best places in the Middle East, but now they have corrupted everything.”

Last week, Catholic Syrian bishops launched an online petition to end the European Union sanc­tions, which had “helped to destroy the Syrian society”, they said.

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