Aleppo vicar: War and sanctions have destroyed Syria’s mosaic
On the 10th anniversary of Syria’s civil war, Mgr Abu Khazen looks at a “torn” nation and a people “in poverty and growing despair.” The country is rich in gas, oil and wheat but the average family has US$ 30 a month to live on. The help of the Church and NGOs is fundamental. The pope in Iraq is a source of hope.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Syria “is a torn, shattered nation that lacks everything and the people live in conditions of extreme poverty and growing despair,” said Mgr Georges Abou Khazen Vicar Apostolic of Aleppo of the Latins, speaking to AsiaNews.
People “wanted to celebrate not the anniversary of the war” 10 years after its beginning, but “everything is gone wrong on the anniversary of peace and reconciliation”. International sanctions and the US Caesar Act “have made the situation worse.”
“Diesel fuel has not been delivered for quite some time. Very few people got a hundred litres, until they ran out of supplies,” Mgr Abu Khazen said. “Now they have also stopped providing cooking gas, and people have to wait up to 60 days.”
Drivers “have to wait up to two days at a petrol station just to get 20 litres, leaving their car waiting to refuel. Long lines - even hours - are necessary to buy some subsidised bread.”
For the apostolic vicar, “Unless you live like this, it is not possible to imagine the difficulties poor people are forced to endure”.
“Power supplies have also been cut to only one or two hours a day. This is how things are in the country, which is rich in oil, gas and wheat, but cannot benefit from any of this, because it has been expropriated.”
The civil war broke out in March 2011 as a popular uprising in the context of the Arab Spring across much of North Africa and the Middle East.
From a domestic conflict, it morphed into the worst proxy war of the 21st century, drawing in jihadi groups, causing even more bloodshed.
In nine years, almost 400,000 people have died, dozens of cities have been devastated and half of the population is now displaced at home or abroad.
Thinking about Syria before the war, the prelate notes that “the country was going through a lot of development, peace, living together.” It was “a beautiful mosaic, a safe place where you could go everywhere. Even young women could go out at one at night in peace, take a taxi and travel without hindrance.”
People “still remember what it was like before, but as time goes by they are losing hope” of returning to the glories of that time.
“Among displaced people, more and more are saying they were wrong to stay in Syria and this is an indication of the widespread mistrust and despair of these poor people.”
What is missing the most “are the main things of everyday life: gas, petrol, bread... peace! People do not have great wants, but only the concern to be able to live, to go further with a dollar that used to be worth 50 (Syrian) pounds and now is at 4,000, while wages have remained the same.”
“This means that most families are forced to live on US$ 30 a month, below the poverty line. Without the help of various NGOs and the Church itself, people would starve to death.”
Add to this, “the destruction, the collapsed infrastructure, the exodus of refugees for a nation that has lost half its population, with minorities suffering without seeing the end of this tunnel”
Despite the tragedy, “We do not want hope to end, we must keep it alive,” said Mgr Abu Khazen, but mistrust remains widespread since things “are not going in the direction of peace and is complicated by the opposing interests” of the various players: Americans, Russians, Turks, Kurds, Arabs.
“In this context, Christians are at risk of paying a very high price”, even though “They have always been a factor of unity and dialogue.”
Meanwhile, “Syria is being pushed more and more towards partition, towards a division that none of us wants and which would have devastating effects. We want it to stay united.”
“One of the few elements of strength is the closeness shown to us in recent years by Pope Francis, whose prayers have always been an element of joy and cohesion. His trip to Iraq has given us great hope too.
“Let us that one day he will be able to come here to Syria and be a witness to peace and celebrate an anniversary of true reconciliation, not war.”