Christian leader in Aleppo warns of ethnic cleansing

Presbyterian bishop notes drastic reduction of coreligionists in five years of civil war

Christian leader in Aleppo warns of ethnic cleansing


Sister Luisa, who teaches in the Armenian Catholic school in Aleppo’s Middan neighborhood, is certain that the bombing of her school was revenge. Germany had just recently officially recognized the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

“The minute the news spread around Middan neighborhood, all hell broke loose,” Sister Luisa told Vatican Insider.

Rebels lobbed a missile at the school, though no students were present at the time.

That happened last June, but now, as Aleppo is going through hell, some Christians there are speaking of something similar: ethnic cleansing.

Read more…Report from Damascus: A young Syrian student blames the West

Ibrahim Nussayr, bishop of the Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, pointed out that the city’s Christian population has gone from 130,000 to 35,000 in five years. “That is less than 3% of the population,” he said. “Whether they were killed or forced to flee, that is ethnic cleansing.”

“Everything came down,” said Sister Luisa, speaking of the bombing of her school: “the balcony, a wall, the staircase. It was tough but we managed to have it rebuilt before the start of the new school year.” Sister Luisa has been headmistress of the school since 2010, when the Syrian civil war began. She’s been encouraged to leave, but she insists: “Religious are like soldiers. And soldiers don’t run away.”

“We are responsible for our pupils no matter what,” she said.

The school is named Farah, which means “happiness.” Most of its 265 students are Christian and must understand Armenian.

At the Salesian technical college in Aleppo, its longtime director, Father George recalled a city where, not all that long ago, Christians and Muslim neighbors would celebrate one another’s feasts. He shudders to think of what the future may bring.

“Syria has given the Church seven popes,” he pointed out. “Many denominations, such as the Maronites, were born here. Without Syria, there is no Christianity.”

“Syria’s different faiths have lived together in harmony for 1500 years,” added Bishop Nussayr.

Archbishop Boutros Marayati, head of the Armenian Catholic archeparchy in Aleppo, said that “hundreds” of Christian and Muslim boys and girls in Aleppo plan to meet on Oct. 6 to pray “so that the spiral of death unleashed in recent days, especially on their defenseless children, stops in the battered city they live in, and throughout Syria.” The youngsters will also put their signatures and their fingerprints on an appeal to world leaders, reported Fides, the news agency of the Vatican’s department for evangelization.

“But above all, they will pray. They will pray for all of their peers. And we trust in the fact that children’s prayer is more powerful than ours,” added Archbishop Marayati.

Shawn Neal

John Burger

John Burger is a news editor at Aleteia. He formerly worked at the National Catholic Register and Catholic New York in the Archdiocese of New York. He has also written for a wide variety of Catholic publications.