2021-03-16 SYRIA

Letter from Aleppo No 41 – exactly 10 years ago, to date….

Ten years ago, on March 15, 2011, the events began in Syria. Very quickly, the protests degenerated into an armed conflict.

The rebels said they wanted to establish a state of law, a democratic state that would respect human rights and fight corruption. Very quickly, everyone knew that these moderate rebels were only extremist islamists (Daesh, Al Nosra and similar groups); that they wanted to bring down the only secular state in the region to turn it into an islamic State; that to bring us more democracy and human rights, they were armed and financed by the least progressive countries in the world, which have neither democracy nor human rights; and were supported by Western countries who wanted to bring down the only regime in the region that dared to say no to their hegemony (after having getting rid of the Iraqi and Libyan leaders) and they thought it would be easy, “a matter of a few weeks and you’re done”.

10 years very hard and unbearable

From the Arab Spring so praised in the Western media, the Syrians only saw a long winter (10 years) very hard and unbearable, which destroyed the country, its infrastructure, its archaeological heritage, its schools, its factories, its hospitals, which killed more than 400,000 people, forced 5 million refugees to flee in neighboring countries, uprooted 8 million people, the internally displaced, who no longer lived in their homes, and pushed a million to migrate to Europe and other Western countries.

For 10 years, we have been living through war; yes, 10 years, longer than the 2 world wars of the last century: the suffering, the bereavement, the poverty, the misery have become our daily share, a daily life which is a nightmare….

The childhood of our children has been stolen, the dreams of our teenagers have been vanished and the futures of our young people no longer exist. And yet, before the events began, we were living very well in a safe, stable, secular and prosperous country; everything was not perfect, far from it; but no injustice, no violation of human rights, no reform justifies destroying our country and sacrificing generations of Syrians.

Although for a year now there has been hardly any fighting in Syria, the lives of the Syrians are made of hardship and suffering. We are living through an unparalleled economic crisis caused by 10 years of war, the financial crisis in Lebanon and the sanctions imposed by the USA and European countries. The dollar is currently trading at 4,000 LS while it was 50 LS 10 years ago and 1000 LS a year ago; the inflation is rampant, the increase in the cost of living is dizzying; 70% of families live below the poverty line and the majority needs food, hygiene and medical aid from NGOs to survive. When we compare the prices from last October, of the 10 most essential products, with their prices on March 1, we see that they have increased by 70% in 5 months while the income of the people has not budged; people are getting poorer and can’t make ends meet.

Although my compatriots deserve the title of world champions of resilience, they are at the end of their rope and want nothing more than to live normally, like all the peoples of the world, and with dignity.


The Covid19 pandemic has worsened an already bad enough situation. In December-January, we suffered a second wave of the disease. We, the Blue Marists, have paid a heavy price: There were many cases among our volunteers or their parents, and deaths too. We suffered a very big loss with the death of the Marist Brother Georges Hakim, one of the pillars of the Blue Marists, after spending 15 days under assisted ventilation in intensive care unit; Margo, our eldest, spent ten days in the hospital on oxygen. Leyla, my wife, in December and myself last month, also contracted the disease. Thank God, we are now fully recovered.

The Blue Marists: to live in compassion and to act in solidarity

It is in this context of crisis and misery that we, the Blue Marists, continue to live in compassion and to act in solidarity with the most deprived and the displaced.

From 2012 to 2018, we had, for 6 years, distributed monthly food baskets to more than 1000 families to help them survive during the dark years of war. We stopped this project in early 2019, convinced that it was time for the families to stop being dependent on aid from NGOs and that they should live off their labor. Unfortunately, the economic situation is currently so bad that people are unable to make ends meet and have begged us to help them again with the food parcels.

According to the latest data from the World Food Program, “About 60% of the Syrian population does not have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Four and a half million people fell into this category in 2020”.

We therefore resumed the distribution of monthly food parcels to approximately 1,000 families last November. Each basket worth $15 can be enough to feed a family of 4 for ten days and is equivalent to 80% of the average monthly wage of a worker.

When we decided to stop the distribution of food baskets at the end of 2018, considering that it was time for people to earn a living with their own efforts, we had already for several years started a program “micro-projects” to teach at our training center, MIT, young adults how to create their own businesses and to finance the most viable projects. This is how, over the past 5 years, we have funded 188 micro-projects. We have also created a vocational training program, where we put young people in apprenticeship with professionals to learn a trade: carpenter, mechanic, electrician, plumber, hairdresser, etc. The aim of these 2 programs, micro-projects and vocational training, is to create jobs and to enable young people to live off their work and not think about immigration or “begging” from NGOs.

Our “Sharing Bread” project continues to provide a daily hot meal to 190 very old people who live alone; meals cooked in our premises by 10 ladies and distributed every day between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. by about twenty of our volunteers. Our visits to these people revealed that some also needed help with cleaning, bathing, changing the diaper or taking their medication. “sharing bread” now has a child: the project “Care for the elderly” which takes care of these different needs.

The volunteers from the Colibri project continue to take care of the displaced in Al Shahba camp located 40 km from Aleppo. Our twice a week visits to the camp allow us to organize educational activities for children and adolescents, to treat the sick and to distribute food, hygiene products and all that is necessary to make the life of these displaced families a little bit easier. The children’s joy when we arrive at camp is matched only by their parents’ gratitude to us.

Our educational projects for children aged 3 to 6 “I want to learn” and “Learn to Grow” have resumed their activities at full speed after several interruptions due to the pandemic; interruptions used by instructors to reassess programs and do some trainings.

SEEDS, with its 25 volunteers, pursues its objective of psychological support for children, adolescents and adults with its 3 different programs.

Heartmade continues to create marvelous unique pieces for women, by recycling old clothes or leftover fabrics.

Cut and Sew to teach sewing to young girls and mothers, Hope to teach English, Women’s Development program to provide a space for conviviality and training for women and Drop of Milk to give their monthly milk ration to children and infants, are pursuing their goals. We also continue to house the displaced and treat the sick who cannot afford it.

Since the start of the conflict 10 years ago, we, the Blue Marists, have been trying our best to alleviate suffering, to allow families to live in dignity, to develop the person, to find work for people, to sow hope, to work for the reconciliation and to prepare for Peace. However, the Syrians are tired of waiting to see the end of the tunnel and to be able to live normally. Ten years is enough, too long.

The lifting of the sanctions

We demand, in the short term, the lifting of the sanctions imposed by the USA and the European Union and in the medium term, the establishment of a peace which should be the outcome of a dialogue between Syrians.

Strangled by unjust and illegal European and American sanctions, the economy does not ignite. The sanctions, they say, spare humanitarian assistance. They prevent the trade and import of products, block all financial transactions by all Syrian citizens and prohibit all reconstruction projects. Cynically, European officials claim that the sanctions are targeted and only target those in power and war profiteers and do not affect medications, medical equipment, or food. Pure hypocrisy: if the bank accounts of all Syrians are frozen and a Syrian citizen, any one, cannot carry out financial transactions, for example transfers, how can one buy the exempted products? If you know of any western companies that are willing to provide us with free products, we are takers. And since a lot of products are smuggled from Turkey or Lebanon, they are sold on the black market, at exorbitant prices, impoverishing the population and enriching the profiteers of the war, which is the opposite of the excuses and motives of those who decreed the sanctions.

As if that was not enough, the Americans made the situation worse with the “Caesar” law, which sanctions any company in the world that does business with Syria.

These sanctions constitute a form of collective punishment against a civilian population. This is qualified as a crime against humanity by the Geneva convention. They have the impact of causing the civilian population to suffer and have no effect on ending the war or advancing towards a political solution to the conflict.

For years, we have worked with various friendly parties to call for the sanctions to be lifted. Recently, with our Swiss, French and English friends, we wrote an open letter to President Biden on the occasion of his inauguration on January 20, asking him to lift the sanctions against the Syrian population. Similar letters were sent to President Macron, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Johnson and the President of Switzerland.

These letters were signed by 95 eminent personalities: three Patriarchs, two ex-Archbishops of Canterbury, senators, members of the House of Lords, deputes, bishops, mayors, former ambassadors and NGO directors. Then, these letters were disseminated in the media. We believe that they could help to redefine the strategy of the various actors present in the Syrian conflict and to abandon the inhuman and illegal sanctions.

In support of the letters, we have also launched an online petition and we ask all our friends to sign it to call for the lifting of the sanctions which inflict suffering on the civilian population of Syria. Signing it will only take 30 seconds by going to the site: http://chng.it/2mbTFzm2Dp

“All Brothers”

Pope Francis has just completed a historic visit to Iraq which, like its neighbor Syria, has paid a high price for an invasion, occupation and partition organized, under a false pretext, by these very people who impose sanctions and teach others about Human Rights. Pope Francis keeps repeating that we are “All Brothers”. May it be heard by those who treat Syria and the Syrians as enemies.


Dr. Nabil Antaki

For the Blue Marists of Aleppo

March 15th, 2021


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