Sadad, Syria         6 Nov. 2015

Thousands of Christians fleeing before ISIS


Over the last few days, the terror militia “Islamic State” has been trying to conquer the town of Sadad – Aid to the Church in Need has pledged to help refugees

Thousands of Syrian Christians are fleeing after fierce attacks by the jihadist terror militia “Islamic State”. This is what the Syrian Orthodox archbishop of Homs, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, told the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in a plea for aid. According to the archbishop, the “Islamic State” has been attacking towns near the Christian town of Sadad since 31 October. Maheen, a town located seven kilometres from Sadad, has already fallen to the jihadists. He also said that the inhabitants of Sadad and Al-Hafar had fled out of fear that the IS fighters would advance even further and to escape the heavy fire.

According to the archbishop, almost 15000 people have since left their homes and sought refuge in Homs, Zaidal and Fairouzeh. He then explained that Sadad is still endangered, despite the presence of Syrian government forces. “We are afraid that ISIS, which God will hopefully prevent, will conquer the town. We would lose the centre of Christianity in our diocese,” Archbishop Selwanos literally said. Sadad had already been taken over by a rebel alliance that also included the “Islamic State” for a short time in October of 2013. At that time, the jihadists killed 45 Christians, some of whom they buried in mass graves, and laid churches and houses to waste.

Father Luka Awad, assistant of the archbishop for humanitarian emergency aid, told Aid to the Church in Need during a visit on Thursday that the people who had fled Sadad and its environs had hardly anything with them. “We are doing all we can to help them in their need. And there are many of them. We are currently working to get them registered. For the moment, our greatest worry is finding enough housing for the people,” the Syrian Orthodox priest said, before explaining that in this, the church is dependent upon the generosity of the people. Syrian Christians living in the US have responded positively to entreaties from the church and are allowing refugees to use their holiday homes. Father Luka emphasised that his diocese was currently only able to provide humanitarian aid and distribute food and clothing to the people thanks to the support of aid organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need.

According to Father Luka, all civilians have since left Sadad. He said that government forces are currently trying to hold onto the town. However, this is not easy. “The battles are very brutal. ISIS uses heavy weapons and fights fiercely,” Father Luka said. Sadad is important to ISIS primarily for strategic reasons, the cleric said. “Sadad is located close to the motorway between Damascus and Homs. This is what ISIS wants. They want to disrupt traffic. Moreover, once they have conquered Sadad, they will be that much closer to Homs. And the area also has oil.” According to Father Luka, the jihadists also want to seize Sadad because it is a Christian town. “When the IS fighters conquered Al-Qaryatayn, they made the threat: We will kill all of the Christians in Sadad.”

The town of Sadad, Father Luka explained, is a Christian centre and of the greatest significance. “The people there still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Moreover, we have important churches there. It is really a centre of our Christian heritage. Its loss doesn’t bear contemplating. We truly are fearing for our cultural heritage. We beg the international community to put an end to this war. My people already experienced a genocide one hundred years ago, in 1915. Now, in the 21st century, we don’t need another.”

Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the suffering Christians of Syria since war broke out in 2011. By September of this year, 8.6 million euros had been approved for humanitarian and pastoral aid projects.

Oliver Maksan.