“At least 300 Christians have been forced to leave the towns of Ras al-Ain, Derbasiyah, Tall Tamr and one area of al-Malikiyah, and we are afraid that if the fighting continues, there could be a still greater exodus which might even include the town of Qamishli, where there are 2,300 Christian families living at present.” This was the desperate picture given to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by Mgr Nidal Thomas, the episcopal representative of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Hassaké.
The situation he describes is a critical one. “We don’t know what is actually happening. Every hour we hear reports from the Kurds, the Turks, the Americans, and the Russians, of victims and people, fleeing. But we don’t know the real truth. The only thing we know for certain is that the bombings and above all the massacres committed by Turks against our community are forcing more and more Christians to flee.”
For the moment few Christian families have sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, but Monsignor Thomas believes that it will be difficult for the Christian refugees to choose this semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq. “Life there is too expensive for the impoverished Syrian Christians. Quite apart from the fact that the Iraqi people have not done anything to prevent the dramatic situation that has unfortunately unfolded in Syria. There were thousands of Christian families in our country. No one attempted to defend us.”
Today the Christians in northeast Syria also fear a return of jihadism, despite the killing of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. “Unfortunately, this is an eventuality we have to take into account”, says Monsignor Thomas, according to whom many ISIS fighters have now joined the Free Syrian Army, which has entered the region of Ras al-Ain.
And so this priest is appealing through ACN to the international community, asking for support for his own community. “We need help”, he says. “We Christians are the ones who have suffered most as a result of this interminable conflict. We are the weakest link because we want to live in peace and reject war. Two-thirds of the Christians have left the country and the remaining third risks being unable to survive. And meanwhile, the Western countries are fighting among themselves to divide up Syria, which has been brought to its knees also by the international sanctions.”