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Syrian Bishop Calls for End to Western Financing of ISIS-Backed Rebels

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Praises reforms of President Assad

The civil war in Syria, which has gone on for more than four years, could come to an end much more quickly if the United States would pressure its allies to stop aiding extremist groups, says a bishop from one of the most besieged cities of the country.

Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of the Melkite Greek Catholic Archdiocese of Aleppo, is touring Boston, New York and Washington, DC, appealing for American’s help in stopping the war—and in helping beleaguered Christians remain in their ancestral homeland. His US trip is sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need.

He met with Aleteia Monday at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City and discussed the background that gave rise to the conflict, the effect it’s had on the Christian population in Syria and Christian leaders views of President Bashar al-Assad.

How did the present crisis begin, in your estimation? To what do you trace it?

I’m afraid it has to be attributed to the Arab Spring. They have taken advantage of a certain number of Syrian citizens who did not agree very much with what was happening in Syria, in the government, and an opposition that was looking to have more democracy in the country, more freedom. But soon this movement became a revolution, if you like, and more than a revolution: a violent opposition and war between the opposition and the government forces. I’m not sure it began completely from inside the country. It has been moved from outside, with people from inside.

Who would you be talking about?

Certain countries and certain powers in the region and perhaps in the West. Syria is strategically in a very important position in the Middle East—in the heart of the Middle East. Syria is on the way of the commercial transit and all kinds of transit. Syria has oil and gas. …

How have you and members of your flock been affected by the crisis?

In Aleppo our people went out of all these problems. The majority of our people were not involved in politics. They had no interest in politics. They were used to taking care of the economic aspects of life, and they were taking care of their business, their industry. That’s why they have been the victims of this war, and they have been targeted by the opposition and sometimes not really understood either by the government or the opposition. But we must say that the government doesn’t harm them this last two or three years. The government hasn’t been bad to the Christians, nor to the other minorities. 

What are your views of Bashar al-Assad?

It’s a very hard question. I say what I feel, what I think. Being honest to God, he is not bad. In the war, he has been violent, but we felt since he came that some improvement was done in the country and many things have been better. He tried to make reforms, and he was able quickly to amend the Constitution, and the new Constitution we’ve had since two or three years ago now. He took off the exclusivity of the Ba’ath Party. He limited the mandate of the presidency. He opened the election of the presidency, changing it from a plebiscite to an election between several candidates, etc. A good number of reforms have been initiated. Not just myself but the majority of Christian leaders in all denominations have a good opinion of the president. They do not consider that he is a bad person. He has made mistakes? Yes, probably. The people around him, some of them were bad—yes, probably. But he himself tried to do as well as he could. We don’t know what we could find underneath but all is not bad.

When a person like President Assad goes and marries a woman who is British, who has an English and French education, who has the values of democracy in the UK, it means he likes this kind of life and he likes this openness in these countries. He wouldn’t marry this kind of girl if he didn’t like these kinds of qualities. That’s why it’s a sign of what it could be in reality, his inside feelings. We rarely meet authorities in Syria respecting people, respecting clergy and respecting senior citizens as he does.

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