Abba Seraphim added his voice to the many people concerned for the safety of two Syrian bishops who were kidnapped yesterday and asked for prayers for their early and safe release.
On 22 April, the village of Kfar Dael, a terrorist group ambushed the car containing the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of Aleppo & Alexandretta, who were returning to Aleppo from a humanitarian visit. Some reports say that they had been negotiating the release of priests who had been kidnapped earlier. Their driver, a deacon of the church, was killed. It is understood that they were returning from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey and that Mar Gregorios had gone to collect Metropolitan Paul because he had crossed there several times before and was familiar with the route. Metropolitan Paul is the brother of the recently elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, John X.
Abba Seraphim has repeatedly expressed the view that the deteriorating situation in Syria and the uprising leading to a vicious and brutal war, which is now entering its third year, has been mishandled by the Western powers and media and Her Majesty’s government bears a heavy responsibility for this. Only by bringing all sides together can a solution be found, but by excluding representatives of the Syrian government, whose prolonged survival clearly shows that it still has significant support in the country, we have helped to prolong the conflict.
The recognition of the so-called National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people” is irresponsible and short-sighted whilst the appointment of Walid Safur as their ‘ambassador’ to the United Kingdom is a political gesture rather than an effective way of promoting dialogue with both sides.
The loose federation of opponents of the Syrian government is not representative of all the Syrian people. Indeed the Foreign Secretary has stated that part of the resolution of this conflict requires Syria’s opposition groups to win the trust of the Syrian people and provide a united and viable political alternative. The rebels do not represent all sunni Syrians, let alone the significant minorities of the Alawites, Kurds and Christians as well as Druze and others. These minorities alone make up more than one third of the Syrian population.
There are serious concerns that the armed rebel groups contain many foreign mercenaries acting for foreign interests and have a high number of active Jihadists in their ranks. Their Islamicist agenda is clearly visible, and they have already targeted Christian, Kurdish as well as Alawite communities for purely sectarian reasons.
The Free Syrian Army looks to the spiritual leadership of Sheikh Adnan Al-Arour, a Syrian exile in Saudi Arabia, who divides Syrians into three categories; those who support the revolution, those who ignore it, and those who oppose it. He insists the judgement against those who are against the revolution will be great. He speaks of the Alawites in particular, saying that any Alawites who stand with “us” will be protected, but “those that stand against us will have their flesh ground in meat grinders and fed to the dogs.”
There is no question of the scale and extent of the atrocities being committed on a daily basis but too often the international media and the British government draw on reports issued by the so-called “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, a UK based mouthpiece of anti-Assad activists demonstrating a partisan view of events, aimed at blaming the Syrian government for every atrocity committed.
The two bishops have both been active in calling for a peaceful solution and have vigorously eschewed any recourse to violence. Despite the obvious dangers they have preferred to remain with their flocks through some of the worse times and have both been at the forefront of organising humanitarian support and maintaining the constructive inter-faith dialogue and co-operation which they have promoted throughout their ministries. Even the circumstances of their kidnapping, both selflessly engaged in helping others and working together as true brothers in Christ, commends them to all those who seek peace and harmony in a troubled world.