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Letter from Aleppo No 35

22/02/2019: Syria

Since few months, there has been no more fighting in Syria. All the commentators believe that the war is over and that the Syrian government won it. Daech (the Islamic state) has been defeated and only a small pocket of territory is still under its control in the far east of Syria. The Syrian government now control 70% of the territory, including almost all the major cities.

 

And yet, there is no rendez-vous with peace.

On one hand, the rebel armed groups are now all regrouped in the province of Idlib. Al Nosra, a branch of Al Qaida, recognized by the UN and the international community as a terrorist group, is eliminating by arms or by phagocyting all the other islamic groups alike. For months, the Syrian army has been wanting to launch an offensive to free this last province from the hand of the terrorists, including 30,000 foreigners, but the western powers, through the intermediaries Russia and Turkey, prevent it; reason given: risk of serious humanitarian crisis; the real reason for the confession of some western leaders: what to do with all those foreign terrorists who would flee to Europe if the offensive is unleashed and who could terrorize the Europeans after sowing the terror in Syria?

We are ANGRY at such cynicism.

Another war

On the other hand, another war is taking place on our territory, the one between Turkey and the Kurdish militia. The first invaded the northwest of Syria, under the pretext of fighting Kurdish terrorists causing the exodus of 140,000 people from the region of Afrin. The second, supported by the US military, took advantage of the war in Syria to take control of the northeastern area to establish an autonomous region. Turkey, of course, does not look at it that way and does not want at all an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria that would encourage Turkish Kurds to do the same.

Finally, the Americans, who illegally established two bases in a sovereign country, want to withdraw according to the decision of the president Trump. But his administration and the congress do not agree and try to sabotage this decision.

To appear good, the US foreign affairs minister declared that the Americans will only withdraw if Turkey gives guaranteed not to attack the Kurds. This has enraged Erdogan who wants to launch a war on the Kurds the way he sees fit.

Example of this imbroglio: the Syrian city of Menbij is occupied by the Kurd militia, patrolled by the American units watched by the Turkish troops based at 5 km to the North and by the Syrian army 15 km to the South.

Of course, we are ANGRY: against the illegal presence of the United States and Turkey in a sovereign country, against this Turkish-Kurdish war that prevent the establishment of a peace much desired by the Syrians and against the cynicism of the governments which prevent the liberation of Idlib so as not to have to solve the problem of their own citizens cum terrorists.

Excuse me, dear friends, for this long introduction even although I wanted it to be brief. But I had to explain to you why, now that the initial war is almost over, we still do not have peace. You now know that the great world and regional powers make politics (and war) along their interests without worrying about the countries they invade and the interest of their peoples. We are ANGRY, and at the same time, we are impatient to see the invaders return home.

 

State of “neither war nor peace”

This state of “neither war nor peace” prevents the reconstruction of the country, the potential investors are reluctant wanting to invest until the peace is established. As a result, the economy is down, poverty and unemployment are impressive, the cost of living is exponentially inflated and the people continue to suffer. The rich people have exhausted their savings, the middle class has dwindled and the poor have become even poorer. We are ANGRY against the imposed sanctions by the European Union and the United States against Syria which only worsen the humanitarian situation without having any impact on the end of hostilities and the establishment of the peace.

The exodus of the Syrians, especially the Christians, continues, even more than during the dark hours of the war.

The Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, Bishop Zenari, announced during a meeting in Hungary that, now, Christians only represent 2% of the population, which means half a million for a population of 23 million citizens. We knew it, but this is the first time that this number has been announced in public. My city, Aleppo, which had between 150,000 and 200,000 Christians in 2011 before the war, has currently only between 25,000 and 30,000. Syria, the cradle of Christianity, is being depopulated from its Christians. During the previous years, the Syrianswere fleeing because of the war, its risks and suffering, and also to ensure for their children a stable and better future.

Since the end of the hostilities, they continue to leave, either to avoid being recruited into the army as reservists when they already have families and kids of their own, or because of the economic crisis and its consequences: unemployment and poverty.

The Mission of the Blues Marists

During the hard years of the war, our relief programs aimed to feed, dress, care for and provide housing for the displaced and families in need. We, along with other local associations, contributed to the survival of the population, supported by the international organizations and associations. Now, we believe that the priority is to provide people with work to help them live with dignity and to become independent from the help they have received for seven years. And then, someone who has a good job thinks less about leaving the country. That is why, we, the Blues Marists, have created, more than two years ago, the micro-projects program. We already have organized 12 learning sessions during which we teach, in 48 hours spread over 3 weeks, 20 young (and not so young) adults “How to Create Your Own Business” and we finance the best projects, the ones that we consider feasible, profitable and sustainable. We have, in 2 years, financed a hundred micro-projects and help about 200 families to live with dignity.

Our resources have decreased

Unfortunately, our resources have decreased significantly. With the end of the fighting, private donations have dropped considerably. And the international charitable organizations refuse, for most of them, to fund developmental programs, and some still offer funding for relief programs. As if they wanted the people to remain in need, begging and dependent rather than regaining dignity and hope.

What about the Christians associations? Many have adopted the same attitude: yes, to food aid, medical aid, restoration of houses and churches, and pastoral aid. No, to developmental projects, to projects that give people jobs. Although, pope Francis has more than once urged the Christian in Syria not to leave theland of their ancestors, the land of their Christian roots. But the exodus continues; soon, we will be only a handful to fill beautiful restored but empty churches. And you want us not to be ANGRY. We fight every day against these absurd and unjust policies, but maybe one day, we will give up and we will join the crowds inexile!!!

 

Marist projects

We continue our other projects with a lot of enthusiasm, love and solidarity with the poorest and the displaced. As you know, we are responsible for the 125 displaced Kurds families, chased out of Afrin by the Turks and settled in a camp tents in the middle of nowhere, camp Shahba. This camp is located 3 km from the front lines in an area that is surrounded by the armed rebels’ groups. In addition to the regular distribution of food and sanitary goods, gas stoves, thermos, blankets etc…, our teams take care of small children, older kids, teenagers and women to do, as much as possible, some teaching, education and human development.

Our new project “Bamboo” takes care of Aleppo’s teenagers who have suffered from the war. Through educational activities and individualized follow up provided by members of our psychological support program “Seeds”, we try to heal the wounds of war and help them find a balance and fulfillment.

Our educational projects, “Learn To Grow” and “I Want To Learn” continue the education of the children three to six years of age from displaced or poor families. The “Drop of Milk” distributes milk to 3000 children every month, but it is very difficult to find on the market infant formula. We continue to help housing 300 displaced families by paying their rent and to help needy patients get treatment and/or surgery. Our women development sessions are appreciated by the participants. Our project “Heartmade” for the recycling of clothes is developing more and more.

 

Visit of the Provincial

We have recently received the visit of brother Juan Carlos, the provincial of the Mediterranean province of the Marists brothers on which the community of Aleppo depends, accompanied by Koki, a committed lay Marist leader. They spent with us four very intense days, shared all our activities, appreciated our mission and our spirit and offered us their support as well as the support of all the Marists of the province.

We have just opened an Instagram account: maristesbleus. You can follow us through the photos and sympathize with our various programs.

Our book “Les Lettres d’Alep”, while people are not lining up to purchase it, is selling well enough. It tells our experience and testimony during the war years and tells our response, through our association the Blue Marists, to the distress, misery and suffering of our compatriots. We are inviting our friends to get it and distribute it around them. You can get it directly from the publisher l’Harmattan or order it from your book store or online.

 

Soon, it will be March 15th, 2019. Already, it has been 8 years since the start of this unfair, absurd and atrocious war that destroyed our country, killed 400,000 people, pushed into exile a million citizens, made 4 million refugees in neighboring countries and 8 million Internal displaced who no longer live in their homes.

 

ANGRY, yes we are but we still hope to see the war come to an end and hope to see Peace finally established.

____________

Nabi Antaki – For the Blues Marists

Aleppo, February 18, 2019

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