The Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III sees the "beginning of chaos" in Syria. Laham. The situation is unpredictable; "you don't know who is fighting whom," says the patriarch. Supposed officers turned out to be bandits. Christians came under threat without being the real target, church leader says.
CBA: The unrest in Syria has been going on for a year, and the situation seems to be getting more complicated and, above all, more violent. Why?
Gregoire III.: In the beginning, there were large rallies, the government cracked down, protesters also attacked. After three or four months, there are hardly any rallies left. Instead, we witness the beginning of chaos. The situation is unpredictable; you don't know who is fighting whom. You don't know if the person who confronts you is really who they say they are. Businessmen are being asked to close their stores. An officer pretends to be from the army and turns out to be a bandit.Christians have come under threat without being the real target.
CBA: A sectarian civil war is developing in Syria?
Gregoire III.: We see inside the development towards a clash of religions. Not between Christians and Muslims, but among Muslims. Alevis against Sunnis, that is quite clear. In recent months, there have been many indications that Christians are being drawn into the conflict.
CBA: Are Christians also affected by the violence?
Gregoire III.: We have victims. In Kusayr near Homs, recently in Habab. It affects people from the government, officers, but also private individuals. It affects people who do not want to participate in anti-government rallies and who are therefore accused of standing by the government. Priest Basil was killed when he tried to help a man. Two priests were detained for some time. But I am still convinced that the Christians are not the real target, but are seen as "profit" by all sides. Whether Salafist or Islamist, everyone says they support Christians.
CBA: So could the Christians act as mediators?
Gregoire III.: The three patriarchs of Damascus met on 15. December published a joint statement. In it, we call for reconciliation, dialogue and saving lives. Christians have always been very open to their neighbors. But what mediating role can we play today?? In chaos you are lost.
CBA: Is the whole country in turmoil?
Gregoire III.: Violent conflicts are limited. Not everywhere in Syria is violent. But when you hear the reports from outside and the reactions of the politicians, you think the whole country is burning. Yes, the situation is dangerous because fronts have been created: by the veto of Russia and China on one side and Europe and the U.S. on the other side.
CBA: The government is accused of violence against its own people. Let the international community get involved?
Gregoire III.: There are no more possibilities for us to act and decide freely. No matter what the Syrian government does and how it behaves: It will be found guilty of everything. The confrontation between the great powers is worsening the situation here.
CBA: But is not the government in Damascus responsible for the violence??
Gregoire III.: There is disinformation and manipulation here. There are many criminals who take advantage of the current situation. There are many more weapons, and: Yes, the population is disappointed with the government. Some blame them for violence; others say the government is not helping us against the violence of criminals and armed groups. People have lost their jobs, even schools have been closed down. People can no longer move freely, there is no electricity, no heating oil. That is why there is a demand to establish humanitarian corridors.
CBA: Why should such corridors be created and people and help brought in from outside??
Gregoire III.: The armed groups must clear the way so that food and aid can reach the people. There is enough bread, there is enough flour – but it does not reach the people. I receive countless calls from Homs, from Kusayr. I hear my priests, laymen, relatives, acquaintances, who tell me directly.
Kidnapping people has become a fashion. People tell me that only 100 meters from their house there is a store.
But they don't go because they are afraid. You don't need a corridor to reach this business. The armed groups are forcing the shopkeepers to close their stores. It is not the government that is forcing people to do this. Oil pipelines, gas stations, vans, trains and train lines have been destroyed – and no one says a word about it! Not even Germany, not even France. I read reports from all sides, but hardly a word about the many destructions. Hardly a word about the armed groups that are destroying our daily lives.
The interview was conducted by Karin Leukefeld.