'Both Syrian govt & rebels play Christians as political card'
RT:What's the latest you're hearing from your contacts in Syria about the fate of these nuns?
Reverend Nadim Nassar: The nuns disappeared or were kidnapped from the town called Maaloula, which is about 60km from Damascus. It’s a Christian town where most of the people speak the original language of Christianity, which Jesus Christ spoke, Aramaic. In September the town suffered the first attack from the Jihadists or Islamists: a lot of damage, some people were killed, and a lot of people fled the town.
Now we are very shocked to hear the news about another attack that hit Maaloula, with over 12 nuns disappeared from the city. This is another blow to the Christian community in Syria, which has suffered so much in the last couple of years. Hundreds of thousands of Christians were displaced from their homes, a lot of Christians were killed. We still have two bishops missing from Aleppo, we don’t know anything about them. Now there is another attack on the Christian community in Syria, and the world is watching. This is shocking for us.
RT:Are Christians in Syria being specifically targeted or just getting caught in the wider conflict?
NN: I think they are being used by both sides as a political card because the regime wants to show that they are protecting the minorities, specially the Christians. Now they are begging for the international community to interfere to release the nuns, whereas the rebels are turning blind eye to the Al-Qaeda and Islamists to target specifically Christians. There is a systematic attack on the Christian community in Syria and hundreds of thousands of Christians were displaced. Both sides are using the minority, Christians, as a political card, which is appalling from both sides. And we are losing, whoever wins at the end. The Christian community has lost a tremendous amount of presence and it is under enormous threat of danger.
RT:How were Christians treated in Syria before the conflict began? Do they support the government now?
NN: Before the conflict began we were living fine. Christians and Muslims were living together peacefully and in harmony. Of course, the whole country was suffering under corruption, economic pressure and international pressure; we are not saying that the country was in an ideal situation. We lacked freedom of expression, we lacked freedom in the political life, but at least the Christians and the Muslims were living in harmony. But today we see that the Christians are suffering more than any community in Syria because they are being abused both by the regime and by rebels.
The regime wants to show that they are the protectors of the minorities, while the rebels are not in control in the areas where Islamists or Jihadists are committing atrocities against minorities, especially against the Christians.
RT:What are your thoughts on what could happen to Christians and other minorities, if the Syrian government collapses?
NN: Whether it falls or it doesn’t fall, it’s not the question. The question for us Christians and other minorities, as well as for Muslims in general, we all want to see a new Syria emerging as a secular country that can respect the fabric of the society and the Syrian society is in its essence diverse. Christianity is not imported from the West to Syria. Syria is a birthplace of Christianity.
Palestine in the Roman Empire was called a satellite of Syria, so technically Jesus Christ was a Syrian citizen. And we are talking about the birthplace of the Christianity. Saint Paul was converted into Christianity on the way to Damascus. So it is shocking for us to see that for the West Christianity in the Middle East is invisible and for the Muslims in the Middle East, especially for the hard-line fundamentalists, we are the spies or the agents of the West. We are losing from both sides. But actually we belong to the original fabric of society. Syria was more than 600 years Christian before even Islam started. So this minority should be protected by the international community.
RT:The British government recently said Christians are being persecuted across the Middle East, and could be at risk of extinction in some countries. Who will step in to protect them?
NN: Nobody is protecting Christianity in the Middle East, it is a political game. Middle East is bleeding Christians. If you look at Iraq, more than 90 percent of Christianity in Iraq vanished, the Copts in Egypt are under enormous prosecution and pressure. In Syria now the Christians are leaving this place, they are displaced, killed, kidnapped, and tortured. In Lebanon there are also Christians. Christians are living everywhere in the Middle East. We are witnessing and the world is witnessing the Christians’ presence is under enormous threat.
Let the world remember, if the Middle East is emptied from Christianity, if Christianity left the Middle East, Islam would have proven to the world that it is an intolerant religion and a religion that couldn’t live with any other. Neither the Christians nor the Muslims wanted such an image of Islam. But the silence of the Muslim majority towards what’s happening to the Christians is totally unacceptable.
RT:Back to the kidnapped nuns, is there any information about them?
NN: What we have heard they were moved from Maaloula outside the town to Yabrood, which is another town near Damascus. And they are hostages. But we still don’t know why they were taken hostage and what the kidnappers want from the Syrians or from the international community, what is the whole point of the kidnapping 12 innocent nuns. We have to understand that this monastery in Maaloula was the place where the Christians and the Muslims used to go as pilgrims to offer sacrifices and to pray together. A lot of Muslims used to go specifically to this monastery. I don’t know who is benefiting from this horrendous atrocity against innocent nuns in a monastery.
I fear for their lives as we all fear for the lives of the two bishops that are missing since April. Until now we know nothing about what happened to them. And now another episode of kidnapping 12 nuns. And God knows who kidnapped them and how they are treated, whether they are going to release them soon, what they want in return for releasing them. A lot of questions are still up there in the air waiting to be answered. We all offer our prayers to God that they will be soon released, and the whole international community should stand up to these acts and say that this is unacceptable.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.