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Syrian Rebels Destroy Orthodox Church in Al-Thawrah

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.aina.org/news/2013089111228.htm Syrian Rebels Destroy Orthodox Church in Al-Thawrah Posted GMT 8-9-2013 16:12:28 (AINA) -- The Antiochian Orthodox
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 12, 2013
      http://www.aina.org/news/2013089111228.htm

      Syrian Rebels Destroy Orthodox Church in Al-Thawrah

      Posted GMT 8-9-2013 16:12:28

      (AINA) -- The Antiochian Orthodox church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus was
      a landmark of al-Thawrah (also known as al-Tabqah). It was an
      impressive, modern structure with a large yard, surrounded by a high
      wall and well-situated on a main street near the corniche -- a well
      landscaped area hugging the southern bank of Lake Assad which was
      popular with locals going on an evening stroll. Its elegant dome,
      surmounted by a cross, could be seen from all parts of the Third Quarter
      (also known as Hayy al-Ishtirakiyah), where it was located.

      Spiritually, this church was under the jurisdiction of the archdiocese
      of Aleppo, the metropolitan of which, Boulos al-Yazigi, was kidnapped
      (and allegedly murdered) on April 22 of this year, along with the Syriac
      Orthodox metropolitan of the same city, Mor Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim.
      It was built between 1985 and 1994, on land offered by the al-Thawrah's
      city council, and could accommodate up to 300 worshippers. Moreover, not
      only did this church serve more than 250 Orthodox families, but it was
      also used by local Christian denominations which did not have their own
      places of worship, including the small Syriac Orthodox congregation.

      This was also one of only two Christian places of worship in the town,
      the other being the small church of St. George, which belonged to the
      Assyrian Church of the East. Built around 1973, along with a community
      hall, this was located in the older part of al-Thawrah, known locally as
      al-Qaryah (the village). Around 2000, a plot of land in the Third
      Quarter was purchased by this community in order to build a new church,
      closer to the three quarters that housed those working in the Euphrates
      dam -- and where the bulk of the Assyrians lived. Due to lack of
      funding, however, this project never materialised and, perhaps, for the
      better.

      On February 11, rebel fighters from the Islamist Jihadist "al-Nusra
      Front" -- designated by the USA, UN, Australia and UK as a terrorist
      organisation -- took control of the city and its strategic hydroelectric
      dam, the largest of its kind in the country. They also seized control of
      the three quarters that housed dam workers and in which, of course,
      stood the Orthodox Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, and in which most
      of the Christians were settled.

      Christian eyewitnesses who fled al-Thawrah, now displaced in other parts
      of Syria, as well as in Lebanon and Turkey, tell of religious
      discrimination by the rebels, as well as forced confiscation of
      Christian possessions and properties, with many items being sold on the
      black market in order to purchase weapons and ammunition. Even the
      churches weren't spared.

      "The 'Free Syrian Army' demolished the [Sts. Sergius and Bacchus]
      church," lamented one refugee, "They tore up the sanctuary curtains,
      Bibles and other holy books, and broke all the crosses, chairs and icons
      of Jesus and the saints. They stole electrical appliances like fans,
      chandeliers and lights. They took whatever was in the church, and sold
      it all. There is nothing there now."

      There is no hope, however, for the Christians to return and rebuild
      after the conflict subsides -- that's if it indeed subsides. They were
      once considered better off than their relatives and friends who still
      lived in the villages they had migrated from, but are now destitute,
      having lost everything -- their homes, businesses, and even personal
      belongings.

      "Even though I have left," recounted another Assyrian refugee, "the
      terrorists still call and text me from there, on my cell phone, to
      bother me. They recently called and told me: 'If you attempt to return
      to al-Tabqah we will cut off your head and display it on the mosque so
      that all the Muslims there can see it and be proud of it.' They say
      other things too, but what they say is so disturbing, that I keep my
      phone switched off unless I really need to use it."

      Whilst it may be easy to switch off a cell phone, and ignore such
      threats, it is not so easy to shake off the trauma of dispossession and
      loss. After spending up to 45 years in a town which became their home,
      many of these refugees managed to escape with nothing but the clothes on
      their backs. "We have lost everything," said the head of an Assyrian
      household displaced from al-Thawrah, "There is nothing for us over there
      now, nothing to return to. We just need help to get out of here and
      settle in a country that's safe."
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