Syriac patriarch says Western nations have betrayed Mideast Christians

Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan prays during an ecumenical service in Washington in 2014. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan prays during an ecumenical service in Washington in 2014. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

By Catholic News Service

BEIRUT (CNS) — The head of the Syriac Catholic Church has accused Western governments of betraying Christians in the Middle East and said it was “a big lie” to suggest Islamic State could be defeated with airstrikes.

In a Nov. 18 interview with Le Messager, an online Catholic magazine in Egypt, Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan said, “all Eastern patriarchs, myself included, have spoken out clearly to the West from the very beginning: Be careful, the situation in Syria is not like that of Egypt, Tunisia or Libya — it’s much more complex, and conflict here will create only chaos and civil war.

“They listened and responded: No, the Assad regime will fall in a few months. As I predicted, that hasn’t happened, and five years later, innocent people, especially Christians, have no support. The West has betrayed us.”

French and U.S. warplanes stepped up attacks on Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq after terrorists killed 129 in Paris and dozens in Beirut. But the patriarch said airstrikes were ineffective at targeting Islamic State leaders because its religiously indoctrinated operatives were well financed and armed and had infiltrated local populations.

Patriarch Younan, a native of the Syrian province of Hassake, served for 14 years as bishop of the New Jersey-based Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance for Syriac Catholics in the United States and Canada. He was elected patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church in January 2009 and is based in Beirut.

He said Catholics had lived for centuries in eastern Syria and had “understood the horror of the situation” following the 2003 Western invasion of Iraq. He said Western nations said they wanted to bring democracy to the Mideast, but “since there’s no real separation of religion from the state, our nations do not easily accept democracy.”

“Western democracies have conspired against Syria and produced the destruction of the nation’s infrastructure, the demolition of houses, towns, villages, monuments and archaeological sites,” Patriarch Younan said.

He said Western politicians, especially in the U.S., Britain and France, appeared to favor “an endless conflict in Iraq and Syria,” while Western media had proved “silent, cowardly and complicit” by failing to “defend truth and justice.”

“It’s a shame the West has abandoned Christians to this situation,” said the patriarch, whose interview was also carried Nov. 18 by the Rome-based AsiaNews agency.

The Syriac Catholic leader praised the pope for being “a defender of justice” and appealing for solidarity with Middle East Christians, but said threatened Catholic communities now needed “not words but deeds.”

In a separate statement, the patriarch expressed sorrow that seven Syriac Catholics drowned Nov. 17, en route by sea from Turkey to Greece. They were members of two families from Qaraqosh; only a 10-year-old boy was rescued.

Qaraqosh fell to the Islamic State in August 2014, uprooting some 50,000 Christians overnight.

“It is so sad to notice that all this is happening under the eyes of the so-called developed and powerful Western countries,” the patriarch told Catholic News Service Nov. 18.

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