Bishop Audo: Help us to stay on in Syria – only 50,000 Christians now left in Aleppo
“We Christians are determined to stay on in Syria and continue to give our witness.” This was the assurance given by Chaldean bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo during a conference organised by the Italian national office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in collaboration with the country’s foreign press service.
The bishop confirmed the mass exodus of Syrians, particularly in response to the open welcome shown by some European countries. “All those who were able to leave have already left, while the others are still trying to leave the country. Above all our young men, who fear being called up for military service and don’t want to take part in a senseless war that has brought nothing but destruction.” The road they take is the road towards Turkey, where they then try to board vessels for Greece or Italy. “And so many of them have met their deaths at sea”, the archbishop adds.
The mass emigration has not spared the Christian community in Aleppo, a place where once the Christian minority was most visibly present. “Before the war there were 150,000 Christians in the city. Today I do not think there would even be as many as 50,000. There is a real fear that our community might disappear altogether”, says Monsignor Audo.
After four and a half years of war the situation is impossible. “The rich have gone, the middle classes have become poor and the poor have become destitute. Over 80% of the population are now unemployed.” Moreover, for over two months now, the city has been without water and electricity. “Our church has a well in the grounds, and we try to distribute water to the people as far as possible. On every street you can see children and youngsters carrying empty bottles, searching for water.”
Meanwhile, the bombs continue to fall every day. “One part of the city is controlled by the government, while the rest is in the hands of fundamentalist groups who are constantly attacking the area controlled by the Syrian army, where the majority of the Christians live.The situation in Aleppo is one of the most critical anywhere, because we are just 25 miles (40 km) from the border with Turkey, which is continuing to arm and welcome the fundamentalists.”
Bishop Audo believes that behind the protracted nature of the Syrian conflict there are international interests. “We have been waiting for years for a political solution, for some glimmer of hope that the war might end. But there seems to be a desire on the part of the international community to see the war continue, just as it did in Iraq and Libya. It is a determination linked to strategic interests in the Middle East region and, as Pope Francis has reminded us more than once, to commercial interests stemming from the arms trade.”
Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria in 2011, ACN has given over 8 million Euros for projects for the support of the Syrian people.