In view of the tragically difficult times that the whole Middle East, and especially Syria, is going through, H. B. Patriarch Gregorios III wrote a letter on 20 April 2011 to Western leaders, asking them to help boost social and political evolution in the region. He stressed that the current revolutions are unlikely to benefit Christians, and may even result in more Christians being obliged to flee the unrest. He believes that Western support for peace is very important for Muslim-Christian living together in the Arab region, for the Christian presence there, for the communion and witness of its Churches to be maintained and for the aims of the recent Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops to be fulfilled. – V. C.
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
of Antioch and All the East
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Letter to Heads of State
Damascus, 20 April 2011
In the current tragic situation of my country, Syria, I am writing to you once more, Your Majesty (Your Excellency).
During my meeting on 22 March of this year with some Ambassadors at the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate, one or two of them asked me to write to you, and through you to the world, in the name of Syria’s Christians and Muslims too.
Few television channels and media are making the link between the revolutions in the Arab world and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conflict, in my opinion, has a great impact on these bloody revolutions arising as if by magic in various countries, including my homeland of Syria, where my Patriarchal Residence is situated, in the holy, historic quarter of Saint Paul. This is also the seat of my two colleagues, the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs, as well as of Archbishops and Bishops of the Orthodox and Catholic Armenian, Syriac Catholic, Maronite and Latin Churches, and of Protestant leaders.
Damascus is one of the most important cities in terms of Christian presence in the Arab world. Syria is also the most significant country for its Christian presence in a Muslim majority country, but which is a model of faithful and open secularism, as I affirmed before the Ambassadors on 22 March 2011.
I repeat what I said to the Ambassadors on 22 March in the Patriarchate, at the beginning of the events in Syria, and which is contained in the report issued after this meeting.
Here is the most important passage:
“If this [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is not resolved, there is great danger for this Christian presence, threatened by demographic (lower birth rate) and political factors, particularly as a result of tensions weighing on the small Christian communities: hence the importance of peace, especially for the countries of the Middle East and particularly for Syria, where all the country’s inhabitants really do live together.”
One Ambassador “emphasised that the country’s Christians, and the Patriarch, through his influence, should make Syria’s importance better known, in the context of the current unrest; and he supported the wish, voiced by the Patriarch, for the international media not to adopt a hostile tone towards Syria but rather help Syria to surmount and move beyond this turmoil in order to safeguard its pattern of living together.”
I expressed the same thing in a letter I wrote to several Heads of State of Europe and the Americas. Here is the most important passage of this letter:
“If you wish there still to be Christians in the Middle East, in the Holy Land, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and the countries of the Gulf, help us to make peace and stop the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, recognized in international law as Palestinian land!
Christians, from lay-people to Patriarchs, together with Muslims in Arab countries are wondering why sanctions can be imposed upon a number of countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran, but never any that affect Israel.
Such a state of affairs feeds fundamentalism and extremism and in turn rebounds upon us Christians, especially in Iraq and Egypt.”
This seems even more valid than ever, today in the present state of affairs of the situation in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world.
Moreover, I would like to add an argument, the fruit of my knowledge and experience of the Arab world in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Egypt and Jordan.
Our Arab countries are not ready for revolutions, and not even for democracy of the European kind and model. That is due to their social, religious, demographic structures and their very multifaceted plurality. It is for these reasons that I am asking the West not to encourage revolutions unconditionally here and there in the Arab world. But rather Arab Heads of State should be invited and encouraged to develop democratic structures, freedom, respect for human rights, including those of women and children; and be supported in promoting systems of medical and social welfare, housing etc…
With this support, they can give real, tangible content to a programme that could be demanded from Arab countries’ leaders.
This is the comment that I heard from an ambassador of a large, very conservative, Arab country. He told me: “What we need in our Arab world is evolution, not revolution.”
What is the outlook after the revolutions?
That is why I am once more launching an appeal to our friends, the Heads of State, especially of the European Union, the Americas and elsewhere. Ask the Heads of State of Arab countries to work for real development and demand a clear, bold plan! But don’t encourage revolutions!
Already, the situation has deteriorated into organised crime, robbery, fear, terror being spread, rumours of threats to churches; victims, including the forces of law and order and others, are being mutilated… All this creates trauma.
This did not happen in Egypt.
Fundamentalist groups are threatening citizens and wanting to create “Islamic Emirates.” Now the government has reacted positively to the demands and demonstrations, on the political and social level.
I tell you this frankly as a Christian citizen and as Patriarch, a pastor and leader highly conscious of his responsibility: what I am asking has great influence on Muslim-Christian living together and dialogue, mutual respect and so forth.
Christians especially are very fragile in the face of crises and bloody revolutions! Christians will be the first victims of these revolutions, especially in Syria. A new wave of emigration will follow immediately. We have experience of that. In Lebanon, after the war in South Lebanon of 2006 and between 2006 and 2010, one million Lebanese emigrated.
Hence, Your Majesty (Excellency), this clear, frank, insistent, urgent appeal, springing from the heart of a pastor who is very committed as a Christian in society: an appeal based on our Christian faith! We Christians wish to be agents for peace! This appeal is based on our frank, sincere citizenship, our faithfulness to our homelands, our loyalty to our leaders, our sincere, indiscriminate love to our Sunni and Shi’a Muslim, Druze, Kurdish and Christian fellow-citizens.
This appeal is based on our great concern for national unity in every country, on our faith and conviction that the future lies in dialogue, fellowship, development of minds, citizenship training and not in revolutions, blood, violence, chaos and often armed, fundamentalist disorder; the Iraq experiment cost a great deal to Iraqis, especially to the little flock of Christians in that country, and to its unity.
What we need is:
- The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recognition of the State of Palestine
- General just and lasting peace
- Stability and security
- Social development
Help us, you Heads of State and governments, especially of Europe and the Americas. Help us!
I hope that all of you will hear this alarm call from an Arab Patriarch, who is open and sincere to God and his country, loving all citizens, and these Arab countries, which are our homelands, as Christians and Arabs. We constitute in these countries the Church of the Arabs, and even of Islam: a Church in solidarity with the Arab world and for this Muslim majority society. We want to stay here, in our Arab countries, which are the cradle of Christianity, and as our Master, Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ taught us, we want to be the light, salt and leaven in the lump of our world, and with and for this world.
Thank you! Excuse the length of this letter! I found it absolutely necessary and imperative to write this letter and make this presentation.
Thank you for your kind reception of this letter. I am praying for you and for your countries!
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Translation from French: V. Chamberlain