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ICC Note: As Assyrian Christians remember the 99 year anniversary of a bloody massacre and forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Assyrians, in addition to many other religious and ethnic minorities, they are also presently experiencing intense suffering. The presence of violent extremist groups in Syria has had brutal consequences for all Syrians, and religious minorities have experienced much of the worst. Church leaders are praying and urging their people to stay, but in light of the suffering and threats they face it is clear why many choose to leave.

04/28/2014 Syria (Al-Monitor) – Ninety-nine years were not enough for the Assyrians to forget the pain inflicted by the bloody massacre known as the Sayfo massacre. Meanwhile, the heated situation in the Levant is burdening Christians in general, and the Assyrian Church in particular, amid growing talk about the danger of yet another wave of displacement. Assyrians are originally Aramaic, and the Assyrian language (Syriac) — which is a dialect of Aramaic — is the language used in the Christian churches in the Levant. The Assyrians converted to Christianity when the Apostle Peter adopted Antioch as residence for the patriarchate seat and spread the precepts of Christianity in the region. He then appointed Bishops Evodius and Ignatius, who established the united church in the city. Dozens of patriarchs followed, ending with Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II Karim, who was elected as successor to late Ignatius Zakka I Iwas.

The headquarters of the church moved from Antioch to Iraq, then Mardin, Homs and Damascus, which has accommodated the Orthodox Syriac Patriarchy since 1959. There are around 4 million people in the parish, and they are distributed between India, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Egypt and to a lesser extent in Europe, specifically Germany. There are 28 parishes in these countries, and the center of the patriarchy in Bab Touma, Damascus, is one of the major centers in Syria, where there is Saint George Cathedral and Saint Ephrem Convent in Maarat Saidnaya.

Demographically-speaking, the period between 1915 and 1923 constituted the peak of displacement of Assyrians along with Armenians from the north of Al-Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia) to the center of the country (Syria). Then, there was similar Kurdish displacement. Sources indicated that the Assyrians were persecuted during the French occupation after they refused to convert to Catholicism. The sources also indicated that they were displaced again after they fought with the Kurds in Amouda in Hasakah province in 1937.

The number of Assyrians in Syria is estimated at 400,000, and they are distributed between Hasakah, Qamishli, Malikiya and Aleppo, which accommodates most of them. Assyrians are less present in Damascus and Saidnaya, and 350,000 Assyrians live abroad.

Bishop Jean Kawak

The Patriarchal Office Director in the Patriarchate of Antioch and the Levant Assyrian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak believes that the danger today is not focused on the Assyrian Church alone but also on the Syrian people, be they Muslims or Christians. The threat surrounds this authentic Syrian mix.

“The threat we are facing from extremist groups does not only affect Assyrians, but extends to the Christians in general, and even the Muslims. This danger is directed against the moderate human being. I can only say that we will remain in Syria. All religions and sects will stand their ground, and the church will stay in this country. We will preserve this social combination that has been coexisting for long years. After all, we are part of this country. We, Assyrians and Christians, share the pain of our fellow Muslims,” Kawak told As-Safir.

Kawak said he was shocked by “the world’s silence over the Syrian incidents, starting from the attacks against churches, the abduction of the two bishops in Aleppo and reaching the dozens of incidents, which people are silently watching.”

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