Syriac church leaders have condemned the year-end terrorist attack carried out by Islamic State militants on Christian-owned restaurants in Qamishli, Syria. The militant organization recently claimed responsibility for the attacks of December 30 that led to the death of 20 Christians and wounded over 40 others.
“Most victims were young people willing to welcome the New Year with hope and joy,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan said. “Instead, in tears and gloomy hope, Christians of Qamishli welcomed 2016… It was a sinister message the terrorists wanted to send to the Christians of this city, sowing death and tears… this was an unprecedented terrorist massacre … a message of horror so far to the entire Christian community in this war-torn country for the past five years.”
Prior to the conflict currently ripping apart Syria, as many as 40,000 Christians lived in Qamishli, which is situated near the Turkish border in northeast Syria.
“Now they surely are less than half,” Younan said of the continuing exodus and fatalities. “Now, after this massacre, our fear is that the emigration of Christians will go further and in larger numbers.”
In the patriarch’s own hometown of Hassakeh there used to live as many as 35,000 Christians. But over time the number has reduced to only half, said Younan. He elucidated that hundreds of families residing in the countryside began moving to cities like Hassakeh and Qamishli, until the recent attacks caused these areas to be scarred by the conflict.
“It is a really frightening development of the situation. The young generation seem to have no more hope in the future,” he said.
In an official statement, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, who was also birthed in Qamishli, condemned the attacks.
“The old people weep, the young are losing hope and the children’s joy is wiped away… The enemy of humanity is spreading its power everywhere in our beloved Middle East, seeking to destroy the homes of the children of God and to lead them astray,” Aphrem said. “What god do these suicide bombers worship? What religion do they follow?”
The patriarch stressed that the militants use blood, slaughter and killing to please their god.
“Where are the people of good conscience to act against these attacks? Is it not time to wake up from their deep sleep and to do all that is possible to protect the remaining people in this region, whose sole concern is to live in peace in their homeland? Is it not the fit time to unite and collectively fight all forms of terrorism and extremism?” he asked.
A funeral service for 13 Christians, who died during the Qamishli attack, was held on December 31. It was an ecumenical ritual concelebrated by Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassakeh, Archbishop Gregorios Elias Tabe of Damascus (a Syriac Orthodox bishop) and other members of Armenian Catholic and Orthodox clergy.
Younan described the ceremony as “a witness of communion that Christians of the Middle East continue to give, living ‘the ecumenism of blood,’ as Pope Francis has repeatedly said.”
Armenian and Syriac Catholic patriarchs, bishops and priests from various denominations were present to offer prayers for the victims.
“We pray to the Lord to end this tragedy: Enough of this terrorism, enough is enough,” Younan said at that service. “We invite and urge decision-makers in the world to work on security and restoring peace and tranquility in the world, especially in our East, especially in Syria and Iraq.”
Photo Credits: ASHARQ AL-AWSAT