ROSARIO, Argentina — In a message released on Wednesday, the Melkite archbishop of war-torn Aleppo in Syria is calling on the international community to lift the sanctions imposed on the country, arguing that they do nothing but make life “a little bit more painful” every day.
When the Syrian war ended two years ago, Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart writes, locals had great hope for finding peace and resuming progress towards “a more normal life and a much desired serenity.”
But things are once again out of control, he argues, and the “wickedness of the attackers” make their lives a little bit more painful every day.
“It is true that we no longer hear the roar of the bombardments, but on the other hand, the criminal and destructive attacks on our livelihood have multiplied without mercy,” Jeanbart writes. “Boycotts and sanctions of all kinds are inflicted on us and fall on all the inhabitants, to suffocate more particularly the less fortunate among them and they are very numerous.”
“These sanctions are commercial and financial, knowingly established to prevent reconstruction, rehabilitation and economic recovery,” he writes, lamenting that the country’s currency reserves are drying up, and it’s losing a little more of its value every day and making life even more difficult for people who keep losing what little they have.
“You can imagine the distress in which most of our families find themselves, almost all of them needy and on the brink of misery and despair,” he writes.
Jeanbart also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic, that has “disrupted the way of life of our brothers in the West,” has come to further increase the problems of the Syrian population.
The prelate’s letter comes as an attempt to respond to the many messages and well wishes he received during the Christmas and New Year’s season that he has been unable to answer individually.
The 4-page letter, written in French, was sent to Crux by Jeanbart’s secretary.
“Faced with all that is happening to us in these painful times, I really don’t know where to start,” he writes. “Should we talk about the pandemic that is raging and which has brought mourning to many homes, or tell you that our families can no longer survive with the sanctions that deprive them every day a little more of the bare essentials, including food for their children?”
“Need we remind you that our city of Aleppo, which before the war was flourishing and wealthy, with a population of nearly four million inhabitants, today finds itself half destroyed, dilapidated and deserted?” Jeanbart wrote. The city has lost its factories, which left most of its workers in “painful and humiliating” unemployment.
Added to the destruction, unemployment and poverty is the “constant threat of terrorist attacks,” which has led hordes of peoples to leave the city hoping to find “better skies elsewhere.”
The prelate argues that, as a bishop and pastor, he cannot ignore the policies and events which condition the lives of those entrusted to his care. The deterioration of the local situation has forced him to “make certain decisions” with a political undertone, but they were taken, he writes, to “help our Christians to survive and to perpetrated the presence of the Church in this country where, two thousand years ago, She was able to see the light of day.”
Aggravating the situation even more are a series of assaults, “of unprecedented wickedness and unbearable cruelty,” in addition to vandalized factories, demolished schools, destroyed hospitals and stolen oil, “we have seen with bitterness the burning of our wheat fields, our olive groves, our vineyards and so many of our carefully planted fruit trees.”
Jeanbart also denounces the fact the West has shown “a lack of interest” in the survival of Christians in the East, beyond the Catholic Church itself and its organizations, which recognizes that, “as Pope Francis says, we’re Fratelli Tutti,” in reference to his encyclical on human fraternity released last year.
However, more than the material aid Church benefactors could provide, Jeanbart writes, Christians in the region need people willing to speak and lobby in their favor, pushing for the lifting of the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies.
Last week a group of church leaders and international figures appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden to lift economic sanctions imposed on the Syrian people and “to help Syrians alleviate a humanitarian crisis that threatens to trigger a new wave of instability in the Middle East.”
“We wish to lose no time approaching you for an urgent response to the severe humanitarian crisis in Syria,” they wrote Jan. 21, after first congratulating Biden on his inauguration. Among other things, they argue that the sanctions violate the human rights of the Syrian people.
Michel Abs, secretary-general of the Middle East Council of Churches, sent the letter, signed by nearly 100 political, social and religious leaders. The signatories included Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, Melkite Catholic Patriarch Joseph Absi, and Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II.
In Thursday’s letter, Jeanbart wrote that the despite the many challenges, he’s still able to see God’s Providence in everything the archdiocese of Aleppo has been able to achieve to help the local communities: “I am amazed and I give thanks to God who has never abandoned us! He has all at the same time confirmed our confidence in Him, strengthened our tenacity and reassured our faithful to comfort them, with the relatively little that we manage to offer them in these times of distress.”
Among other things, the Church has distributed hundreds of thousands of free food baskets, medical care, and heating oil.
The Church has also helped in the reconstruction efforts, not only rebuilding churches and parishes damaged in the conflict, but also homes, schools and medical facilities.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma