Bishop Nalbandian addresses Heritage Foundation on Jan. 27.
Washington - On January 27, the Heritage
Foundation in Washington held a panel discussion entitled "Marked for
Destruction: the Plight of Syria's Christians with Syrian Christian Leaders."
The panel featured Reverend Adib Awad, General Secretary of the National
Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, H.E. Bishop Elias Toumeh, The Orthodox
Bishop of Pyrgou-Syria, Reverend Dr. Riad Jarjour, Presbyterian clergyman from
Homs, Syria and the former General Secretary of the Middle East Council of
Churches (1994-2003), H.E. Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak, Metropolitan of the
Syrian Orthodox Church, and His Grace Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Primate of the
Armenian Church of Damascus.
The discussion was co-hosted by the Westminister Institute and Barnabas Aid
Fund, who was represented by International Director Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo. Bishop
Julian Dobbs of the Anglican Church of North America made introductory remarks,
while Becky Norton Dunlop, Heritage Vice President of External Relations, opened
and closed the program.
To explain the current situation in Syria, the panelists provided a
historical context of centuries-long persecution and massacres of Christians in
the greater Middle East. Speaking first was Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, who talked at
length about the "indigenous Christians" of Syria. He expressed the
uncomfortable feeling registered among Christians, especially since Ottoman
times, directly citing "what happened to the Armenians." Jarjour went on to
state that Christians in Syria today do not feel safe "in the land they were
born." He then reflected on current events, highlighting the kidnapping of priests
and nuns, the confiscation of churches
, and the brutal beheading of Armenians
all by Al-Qaeda/Al-Nusra Front and
other extremist groups. "At least 80 people have been used as human shields in
Homs," said Jarjour, "they are not allowed to leave the city." In a plea to all
Syrians, Jarjour warned of the consequences of a "Syria without Christians,"
sharing his view that not only will the Christian community of Syria loose, but
that Syria's Muslims will also loose a very significant segment of their
Bishop Dionysius Jean reflected on specific episodes of Christian persecution
in the Ottoman Empire. He mentioned the massacres of Christian Armenians "since
1860 and 1895," the latter a direct reference to the Hamidian Massacres that
served as a precursor to the Armenian Genocide.
Unafraid to share some
of the most alarming reports of recent Islamic extremism was Rev. Abid Awad. He
called attention to "terrorists" in Syria "from 83 countries" that he said were
"armed, supported and funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey." Rev. Awad
talked about the recent beheading of Armenians who reportedly were killed when
they refused to convert to Islam. According to Awad, their heads were sent to
adjacent Christian villages, in order to instill fear among Christian
populations in Syria. "The priests buried the bodies without their heads," he
In an expression of solidarity, with all the various religious
groups in Syria, Bishop Nalbandian warned against heeding the calls of
Islamaphobes. Nalbandian explained the uniqueness of the Armenian situation.
"After the Armenian Genocide, Syrian Muslims accepted us, welcomed us,"
Nalbandian said. Nalbandian differentiated between secular Syrian Muslims who
want peace and the foreign extremists who are kidnapping and killing
Addressing the panel from the audience, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan
Legate of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) stated, "Three close allies
of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, are supporting terrorist
groups in Syria." "What can America do to hold countries like Turkey accountable
for supporting extremists in Syria," he asked. The dignitaries tried to avoid
delving into politics.
There are a number of steps that the U.S. can
take, such as a drastic reduction and/or full cessation in the transfer or sale
of U.S. military aid and equipment to such countries. It's not about dismissing
the U.S.-Turkey relationship; it's about putting the relationship on an honest
footing - be it Turkey's inexplicable campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide or
its blatant support of Islamic extremists whose efforts run counter to U.S.
values. Friends don't let friends support terrorists. It's time U.S. taxpayers
stopped footing the bill, too.
- Taniel Koushakjian prepared this report on behalf of the Armenian Assembly
of America. For more reports visit http://armenianassembly.tumblr.com.