Tag Archives: Aleppo

Rebuilding Syria: Can you volunteer?

“My time in Syria began with an assignment in the Christian village of Maaloula, at the heart of the mountains in the north of Damascus. This is a charming village with an incredible cultural heritage, and I was struck by the beauty of the surroundings. The village is made of old houses painted in blue near churches with some of them built more than 1600 years ago and a great statue of Mary is contemplating the valley from the top of a hill……..

After Maaloula, I went to Aleppo to work on another assignment for three weeks. I felt so privileged to be able to discover this city that I always dreamed of. It has a profoundly rich cultural heritage and is considered as one of the oldest cities of the world……..

Finally, and to finish my time in Syria, I was sent to Homs, third biggest Syrian city. Here again, I discovered entire neighbourhoods shattered by the war with broken glass still paving the streets. Every week we went to the Qara monastery to offer our help for the many works that had to be done. We also spent quite a lot of time in Sadad, a small Christian village in the desert where we visited the elderly and gave French classes to adults and teenagers. My Syrian adventure ended on a high note with the Pentecost pilgrimage near Tartous with all the French and Syrian volunteers of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient. ”

Read more here about Vincent’s charitable working holiday, and Join the volunteers in Syria. 

Wahhabi/Salafist-destroyed cathedral re-consecrated

“The Forty Martyrs Armenian Cathedral in Aleppo was re-consecrated on Saturday, four years after the jihadist rebels ransacked the building.

His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, visited the historic church after its reconstruction meant it could be opened again after Jabhat Al-Nusra razed parts of the compound back in April 2015.”

View the video at Al-Masdar News

What Really happened in East Aleppo?

Church of England vicar, Rev. Andrew Ashdown, meets the refugees from east Aleppo to find out what is really happening in Syria (first published 14th December 2016).

http://talfanzine.info/blog/2016/12/15/aleppo-the-truth-that-the-western-media-refuses-to-report/

ALEPPO: THE TRUTH THAT THE WESTERN MEDIA REFUSES TO REPORT

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This morning we visited the main IDP Registration centre at Jibrin, for Internally Displaced Persons from East Aleppo. They are registered here for humanitarian reasons and access to services, before they go either to relatives in other parts of Syria if they have them (many do), or to other reception centres where they are provided with accommodation, food and other services. During the past two weeks they have registered 95,000 refugees, but estimate there may be a further 10,000 who have not registered. There were thousands of people there who have arrived within the last couple of days. Let me make clear that we visited in a taxi without Government or Army accompaniment, and without prior notice. We were not expected.

idp10The Centre is well organised. The Syrian Red Crescent have tents available that offer information about all social welfare facilities available, and offer free medical attention. In cases of emergency, ambulances are on hand to transport patients to hospital. Free food is being distributed by the Syrian Red Crescent and the Syrian Army, and we saw a convoy of Russian lorries providing aid. There is also a Russian field hospital on site which offers immediate medical treatment.

The sense of relief amongst the thousands of refugees is palpable.idp16 All were keen to talk, and we interviewed several who had arrived only yesterday and today. They all said the same thing. They said that they had been living in fear. They reported that the fighters have been telling everyone that the Syrian Army would kill anyone who fled to the West, but had killed many themselves who tried to leave – men, women and children. One woman broke down in tears as she told how one of her sons was killed by the rebels a few days ago, and another kidnapped. They also killed anyone who showed signs of supporting the Government. The refugees said that the ‘rebels’ told them that only those who support them are “true Muslims”, and that everyone else are ‘infidels’ and deserve to die.

idp3They told us they had been given very little food: that any aid that reached the area was mostly refused to them or sold at exorbitant prices. Likewise, most had been given no medical treatment. (A doctor who has been working with the refugees for weeks told me last night that in an area recently liberated, a warehouse filled with brand new internationally branded medicines had been discovered.) Most of the refugees said they had had members of their families killed by the rebels and consistently spoke of widespread murder, torture, rape and kidnap by the rebels. They said if anyone left their homes, their properties and belongings were confiscated and stolen.

idp23One old man in a wheelchair who was being given free treatment in the Russian Field Hospital said he had been given no treatment for three years despite asking. He said: “Thank God we are free. We now have food. We can now live our lives. God bless the Syrian Army.” They all said they were glad to be out and to be free. All the refugees without exception were visibly without exception clearly profoundly relieved and happy to be free. One woman said: “This is heaven compared to what we have been living.” We asked if the Syrian Army had ill-treated anyone. They said never. One woman said: “They helped us to escape and they provide us with food and assistance.”

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I therefore have two key questions:

1. It is now only the Syrian Red Crescent, the Syrian Army, and the Russians who are providing humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands who have fled East Aleppo. Why are none of the international agencies offering to help them now?

2.  Why is it, given that stories about massacres by the Syrian Army are headline news worldwide, and several international media units are in Aleppo, that there is not one international media agency actually at the Registration Centre talking to the refugees themselves? We were the only ones there. Here are people who have lived through it who are keen to talk, yet the media take at face value unverifiable claims by highly dubious sources. The collapse of any form of reliable investigative journalism in a context of global significance is utterly shocking.

Today the agreement for 4000 fighters to leave Aleppo is reported to have collapsed after the fighters had refused to fulfill the agreement. (I don’t know the details, but think about it… There is no reason on earth why the Syrian Government would want this agreement, which would involve the complete liberation of the city, to fail!) It is reported that the fighters refused to leave or let the civilians do so.

The refusal of the western media to report objectively, or to seekidp2informed information from the thousands of civilians from East Aleppo who are keen to share their stories, whilst granting full credibility to terrorists without any on the ground verifiable information on their claims, is nothing short of obscene.

Everything that I have seen and heard in Aleppo; from civilians in East and West from all communities, and from talking with doctors, faith communities and with Army people as well, and witnessing and risking bombardments on both sides, convinces me that the reports in the western media are twisted fabrications of the horrors that are happening in ‘rebel’ controlled areas. And still, the media refuses to listen to the witness of the people themselves.

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Postscript: Christmas is coming in Syria. In a country and a city in which people of all faiths are free to worship; where mosques and Churches stand side by side; and where Christmas music is playing in cafes and restaurants. And yet the world is mourning the defeat in Aleppo of extremists who destroy Christian and Muslim places of worship, and slaughter any who do not follow their obscene ideology.

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Pictured above: CNN’s favourite ‘independent film maker’ American Jihadist and Al-Qaeda member Bilal Abdul Kareem, interviewing Sheikh Abdullah Muhaysini, leader of Jaish al Fatah: Saudi educated and funded, trainer of child suicide bombers, judge and executioner of ‘apostates’, Chief of Head-Choppers and Mass Murderer.

 

Christians Martyred every 5 Minutes

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YouTube

“Syria is over 6000 years old – its people will always restore what our enemies destroy.” This short documentary film Expulsion (Izgnanie), made for the Russian television channel Rossiia, focuses on the plight of Christians in war-torn Syria. This subject is worthy of greater attention than it has received in the mainstream Western media, hence our effort to subtitle this project. After all, Christians are one the most persecuted groups in the world. Their depopulation is a general trend in the entire Middle East and North African region (MENA), not just in Syria. This documentary states that, for instance, half of Palestine’s population was once Christian, but now only 5% remain. In Iraq, of the million and a half Christians prior to the U.S. invasion, only 10% are there today. In 2013, OSCE estimated that a Christian dies for his faith every 5 minutes.

Now, with the escalation of the war and the consequent rise of the refugee crisis, the numbers are likely to rise. The Russian Orthodox Church has been consistently bringing attention to the disappearance of Christians in the Middle East–their source of origin, as has the Kremlin.

In contrast, international humanitarian bodies designed to deal with such issues have not been effective. Western powers, particularly the leading NATO countries that are nominally Christian in terms of their heritage, stay silent, at best, or support policies that aid and abet those radicals and terrorists that are trying to root out Christianity from its very birth place.

Indeed, there has been no cogent explanation for the incredibly costly and equally ineffective campaign carried out by the U.S., its Western coalition partners, and regional allies against the so-called Islamic State for a year; nor has there been a clear methodological way of differentiating between the so-called ‘moderate’ opposition groups and terrorist targets.

Washington’s policy of funding and pitting radical jihadist groups against legitimate governments or each other—in order to achieve its own geostrategic goals—goes back to the late 1970s.

More recently, the invasion of Iraq under the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction, the so-called ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Libya, and the ongoing illegal campaign in Syria have destabilized the region, plunging it into chaos, and creating a power vacuum that gave rise to extremists. Domestically, many Christian groups in the U.S., such as the Evangelicals, show greater preference for Israel than their fellow Christians in the region.

Thus, one of the key goals of Russia’s decision to aid Syria’s legal government—upon its invitation and compliant with international law—in its fight against terrorism and religious extremism is to stabilize the country and initiate political dialogue. It is under secular governments like that of Syria that different religious groups were able to peacefully coexist until recently. This documentary film and its participants reinforce this notion.

Subtitles were done in conjunction with Nina Kouprianova”.

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Reflections on a Visit to Syria – Part 5

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An Anglican colleague of one of our friends, Rev. Andrew Ashdown, recently returned from a visit to Syria. Rev. Ashdown led the first British Christian delegation to Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011 and which saw numerous meetings with local political and religious leaders and Christian communities.

He has written a fascinating account of the visit.

REFLECTIONS ON A VISIT TO SYRIA – Part 5

31 August – 7 September 2016

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Arriving in Aleppo from the Castello Rd is a bewildering experience. After passing through miles of destroyed suburbs, (formerly occupied by ‘rebels’, but now secured by the Syrian army) the road into town very suddenly becomes like any other city. Within the space of a hundred metres, empty ruins become tree-lined, car-filled boulevards, cafes, shops, Churches and mosques. The media give the impression that the whole city of Aleppo is destroyed. This is far from the truth. Large areas are, but two thirds of the city still stands, and in this city, constantly shelled by rebel-held areas, where death and destruction is a threat from all sides, a veneer of ordinary life goes on. Arriving at sunset, less than five hundred metres from an area that looks like a scene from Armageddon, people were out in the streets and the cafes were full. This is government-controlled Aleppo, where 1.5 million people live. These people are not being bombed by Assad. Rather the Syrian Army is protecting them, no matter to which sectarian or faith community they belong. These people are very grateful that the long siege of the city imposed by the rebels, which received barely any attention in the international media is now over.

The scenes of devastation that we see on our TV screens are real, but they are only a part of the story. The narratives we hear about on our media are exclusively reported from the rebel side, where an estimated 200,000 people struggle to survive. Of those, 50,000 are fighters, many of them foreign and most belonging to extremist factions, and the remainder are mainly families of those fighters. Most of the resident population of those areas have long since fled, either to the safety of the government-held areas, or have fled the country.

We were the first British group to visit Aleppo since the start of the conflict. As we entered the city, we passed the City’s University, where earlier in the day, four shells from the rebel-controlled areas had landed, miraculously without loss of life on this occasion. Our reception was deeply moving. As we arrived at the Armenian Club in the City, about four hundred people on 2 floors who had come to have dinner with us, rose to their feet and applauded. We were welcomed with a wonderful Armenian feast, and with warm hospitality. The meal was serenaded with two accompaniments: a string quintet that played for us; and the constant sound of bombing and shells (going both ways) just a few kms away. At one point, close gunfire interrupted the music, and we were told that one of the front-lines was less than a kilometre away.

The people of Aleppo suffer from regular power and water cuts, often cut off by rebel groups. The Syrians we met asked if the world knew what was going on in Aleppo. I could only respond that as far as people knew, the whole city was destroyed, and that the government are bombing, shelling and gassing their own people. They were both amused and exasperated. They said that the rebels had used gas, not the government. It is also an extremely common view in Syria (and often repeated by those in Aleppo themselves) that the people whom the government are bombing in the city, are not civilians, but are almost exclusively terrorists and their families. The 1.5 million civilians living in the comparative ‘safety’ of the government-held areas of the city are exhausted by the constant shelling and ‘hell-fire canon’ attacks of the rebels, and are keen for the government to win the war.

We stayed at a remarkable 5* hotel in the city. Throughout the night, we could hear the sound of bombs, shelling and gunfire in the near distance.

In the morning, we were on the way to visit some of the Churches destroyed in the war, when our vehicle was stopped and turned back – the immediate vicinity of the Churches was being shelled by the rebels. And so we went as invited to the Bethel Armenian Evangelical Church, where we were met by over 500 local Christians, and by some of the city’s leading Muslim figures. The warmth of our reception was humbling. Everyone was deeply grateful for us for having made the effort to visit.

The people we met included Sunni and Shia leaders; Chaldaean Catholic Bishop Audo; President of the Armenian Evangelical Church, Harout Selimien and other local Armenian and other Christians; Yazidi refugees; Doctors Council of the City. The majority of the city is not under government control and is not being bombed by the President. Here, different communities coexist and are getting on with life despite the constant random shelling and killing by the rebels. (Throughout our visit we could hear the shelling and gunfire of both sides).

A service was held, attended by members of other Christian and other faith communities, during which I had the profound honour of preaching, using as my text, the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, and receiving a warm response from one of the senior Muslim Sheikhs. The Sheikhs present affirmed their respect for the Christian communities; their abhorrence of extremist Wahhabi ideology, and their support for the Government. We also met some Yazidi refugees with horrific stories of their experiences at the hands of ISIS, and pleading with the international community to prevent Turkey from allowing the influx of arms and fighters…. Everyone we spoke to there (Christian and Muslim alike) pleaded for us to share the realities in the city; counter the lies that litter the media; and to call upon our Government to cease supporting the Islamist extremists who are destroying the country; and to work with the Syrian government to promote reform and sustain a pluralistic, secular society.

Doctor’s Council of Aleppo…

In the afternoon, we met with the Governor of Aleppo who told us of the efforts being made to receive what civilians are left in rebel-controlled areas. He mentioned the many stories of people who are wanting to leave those areas, being prevented from doing so, and some being killed for wanting to do so. He despaired of the international media’s misrepresentation of the realities on the ground.

Afterwards we were incredibly lucky to visit the Senior Doctor’s Council of Aleppo. This was a last minute arrangement, and by chance we interrupted a meeting of the Senior Executive of Aleppo Doctors. The doctors were glad to interrupt their meeting and welcomed us warmly, saying they were delighted we had come to see the situation. The group that were present included representatives of different medical specialities. The first thing we asked was about the regular media reports that there are only a few doctors left in Aleppo and that the last paediatrician was killed in a government airstrike. They laughed.

“Firstly you must understand that there is a media war against Syria, so you won’t hear about what’s happening in Government-controlled areas. Actually, there are 250 paediatricians currently active in Aleppo. The one that was killed is not on any register as a doctor of this city. Nor is the ‘Al Quds’ hospital that was supposedly destroyed known in Aleppo it all. It was probably a temporary field clinic set up by the terrorists. When they say that a ‘hospital’ has been targeted by the government, they are usually temporary field-clinics; they are not registered clinics or hospitals. Today, there are 4,260 doctors in Aleppo of which 3,150 are active. Of these, about 1,500 are specialists. Since the start of the conflict, 20 registered hospitals have been destroyed by the terrorists (these are not mentioned in the western media). But there are still 6 active public hospitals and about 40 small private hospitals in the city. At the moment we have a huge shortage of medicines and equipment in both public and private hospitals, including MRI machines. Our priorities are spare parts for equipment. Most of the aid given by the WHO and by other agencies, and all the resources given by Saudi Arabia and Turkey goes to the terrorists, not to the citizens of the city.” One of those present shared his experience of an attack on the only Mental Health hospital in the north of the country: “I was working in the Hospital in the Government-controlled area until 2012 with all my staff. We were giving all services to the patients. Then Daesh attacked. They bombed the hospital and took hostages as patients. They looted and sold most of the equipment and destroyed the rest. One of the patients was bipolar and doing well but she was raped; then she had a baby by the man who raped her. She is Christian but was forced to become Muslim. She was then divorced and returned to the hospital with serious PTSD. The Syrian Army retook the hospital and the gave us 1 million dollars to rebuild it. We now have 100 patients. Even in war areas under terrorist control we provide some medicines and treatment.”

One of the key accusations against the Syrian government is of chemical attacks. There have been several chemical attacks by ‘rebels’ on government-controlled areas but these have of course gone largely unreported. Meanwhile, Syria’s main chemical factory is under ‘rebel’ control. Add to that the dubious origins of the accusations; the growing evidence and proof of staged attacks and atrocities to implicate Syrian and Russian forces; and the consistent bias of many news networks, and it becomes clear that we should be very careful about taking reports at face value. This was emphasised to us when we visited the Doctors Council in Aleppo this week. And it was also admitted by two senior British journalists whom we met in Damascus that blame could not definitively be apportioned.

Journey out of Aleppo

Departing Aleppo was another hair-raising journey. The morning of our departure, the terrorist groups declared that the ‘Castello Rd’ – the only way in and out of the city – would once again be targeted, in response to the Syrian Army recapture of a crucial Aleppo airbase. We were travelling to Lattakia, but the only route available is south-east into the desert, close to Daesh lines and where vehicles are pretty much ‘sitting ducks’; south-west to Hama; and then a circuitous route across the mountains passing within 5kms of Jabhat al Nusra lines in Idleb district.(All in all a journey that took 7 hours) The journey was made a little more worrying by the fact that our diligence in keeping our presence as quiet as possible had been ‘blown’ by the BBC when they reported our meeting with the President. We were grateful therefore for the armed escort for the journey. There was one worrying moment, when an unidentified helicopter sped straight towards us at high speed and low altitude from about a km distance – fortunately it was friendly and was obviously ‘checking us out’, but it highlighted for us the sheer vulnerability of our position.

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