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Plight of Christians, Armenians in Syria Focus of Heritage Foundation
Panel Discussion

January 29, 2014
By Taniel Koushakjian

This week, the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. held a panel
discussion entitled "Marked for Destruction: the Plight of Syria's
Christians with Syrian Christian Leaders." The panel featured Reverend Adib
Awad, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and
Lebanon, H.E. Bishop Elias Toumeh, The Orthodox Bishop of Pyrgou-Syria,
Reverend Dr. Riad Jarjour, Presbyterian clergyman from Homs, Syria and the
former General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches
(1994-2003), H.E. Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak, Metropolitan of the Syrian
Orthodox Church, and His Grace Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Primate of the
Armenian Church of Damascus. The discussion was co-hosted by the
Westminister Institute and Barnabas Aid Fund, who was represented by
International Director Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo. Bishop Julian Dobbs of the
Anglican Church of North America made introductory remarks, while Becky
Norton Dunlop, Heritage Vice President of External Relations, opened and
closed the program.

To explain the current situation in Syria, the panelists provided a
historical context of centuries-long persecution and massacres of
Christians in the greater Middle East. Speaking first was Rev. Dr. Riad
Jarjour, who talked at length about the "indigenous Christians" of Syria.
He expressed the uncomfortable feeling registered among Christians,
especially since Ottoman times, directly citing "what happened to the
Armenians." Jarjour went on to state that Christians in Syria today do not
feel safe "in the land they were born." He then reflected on current
events, highlighting the kidnapping of priests and nuns, the confiscation
of churches, and the brutal beheading of Armenians all by Al-Qaeda/Al-Nusra
Front and other extremist groups. "At least 80 people have been used as
human shields in Homs," said Jarjour, "they are not allowed to leave the
city." In a plea to all Syrians, Jarjour warned of the consequences of a
"Syria without Christians," sharing his view that not only will the
Christian community of Syria loose, but that Syria's Muslims will also
loose a very significant segment of their society.

Bishop Dionysius Jean reflected on specific episodes of Christian
persecution in the Ottoman Empire. He mentioned the massacres of Christian
Armenians "since 1860 and 1895," the latter a direct reference to the
Hamidian Massacres that served as a precursor to the Armenian Genocide.

Unafraid to share some of the most alarming reports of recent Islamic
extremism was Rev. Abid Awad. He called attention to "terrorists" in Syria
"from 83 countries" that he said were "armed, supported and funded by Saudi
Arabia, Qatar and Turkey." Rev. Awad talked about the recent beheading of
Armenians who reportedly were killed when they refused to convert to Islam.
According to Awad, their heads were sent to adjacent Christian villages, in
order to instill fear among Christian populations in Syria. "The priests
buried the bodies without their heads," he exclaimed.

In an expression of solidarity, with all the various religious groups in
Syria, Bishop Nalbandian warned against heeding the calls of Islamaphobes.
Nalbandian explained the uniqueness of the Armenian situation. "After the
Armenian Genocide, Syrian Muslims accepted us, welcomed us," Nalbandian
said. Nalbandian differentiated between secular Syrian Muslims who want
peace and the foreign extremists who are kidnapping and killing Christians.

Addressing the panel from the audience, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian,
Diocesan Legate of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) stated, "Three
close allies of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, are
supporting terrorist groups in Syria." "What can America do to hold
countries like Turkey accountable for supporting extremists in Syria," he
asked. The dignitaries tried to avoid delving into politics.

There are a number of steps that the U.S. can take, such as a drastic
reduction and/or full cessation in the transfer or sale of U.S. military
aid and equipment to such countries. It's not about dismissing the
U.S.-Turkey relationship; it's about putting the relationship on an honest
footing - be it Turkey's inexplicable campaign to deny the Armenian
Genocide or its blatant support of Islamic extremists whose efforts run
counter to U.S. values. Friends don't let friends support terrorists. It's
time U.S. taxpayers stopped footing the bill, too.

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