Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fr. Georges Massouh: The Valley of the Christians

 The Arabic original, which appeared in the (Orthodox-owned, anti-Syrian) newspaper an-Nahar, can be read here. When reading Fr. Georges' denial of ethnic cleansing as such in Homs, you should also bear in mind his mentioning sectarian murders, kidnappings, checkpoints, etc. and so understand it in the context of his  desire to prevent the rhetoric of what is happening in Syria from becoming even more sectarian.

For more on Wadi al-Nasara, from the magazine of the Catholic Near East Welfare Agency:

 A Journey through Wadi Al-Nasarah (Video)

Syria’s Christian Valley


Please also consider giving to CNEW's emergency appeal for Syrian Christians 

or to the appeal for displaced Syrian Christians by International Orthodox Christian Charities.

Wadi al-Nasara

On our lips and in our hearts it is, "Wadi al-Nasara" [The Valley of the Christians]. On official maps it is, "Wadi al-Nadara" [The Valley of Greenery]. It was called "Wadi al-Nadara" because of its picturesque nature during the days of the union between Egypt and Syria. The valley, which includes around thirty Christian villages, whose number reaches more than sixty if we count adjacent villages outside its area, is part of the Homs governorate. The overwhelming majority of its inhabitants are Orthodox, attached, along with members of their Church in Safayta and the Tartous governorate, to the Archdiocese of Akkar.

The Christian presence in the valley goes back to the first Christian century. There there are churches and ancient ruins that testify to the deep rootedness of Christianity in this region. The most important of them is the Monastery of St. George (al-Homayra) which is located at the center of the valley, near Krak des Chevaliers, which was built by the Frankish Crusaders. The Arab historian al-Tabari mentions this monastery under the name "Sayyedna al-Khidr Abu'l-Abbas" and it remains a place of pilgrimage visited by Muslims, Sunni and Alawi, from the area who receive blessings, fulfill vows, and offer sacrifices on holy days.

The region of Wadi al-Nasara has been famous for over a century for the large number of intellectuals, men of letters, poets, and those receiving university degrees. They are not sectarian and have not seen conflicts with the non-Christians surrounding them. Intolerance finds no path to them, and so you see them taking pride in being Arabs and in the history that they share with Muslims. The majority of them have believed, since the time of the Arab Nahda, in secularism through their attachment to Arab or Syrian nationalism, to Communism, or to Socialism. They occupy important posts in secularist political parties. It is striking that for the most part their names do not indicate their sectarian affiliation, even if they hold fast to their Christian faith. Instead they are Arab names shared with the Muslims, to the point that we can find in a Christian village something that is impossible to find in a Muslim village: two people, one named "Ali" and the other "Mu'awiya"!

The situation of Christians in Wadi al-Nasara is the situation of their fellow Syrian citizens throughout their beloved nation. People from the valley are dispirsed in all the major cities, especially in Damascus and Homs, and they have been afflicted by the same things afflicting the people of Homs. They have been forced, in order to secure their well-being, to leave their homes in neighborhoods of Homs, especially the Old Quarter, and to take refuge in their villages along with some other residents of Homs who are not from the valley. The truth is said to be that they left their homes out of fear of a bleak destiny, and it is not true that there has been ethnic cleansing against Christans in Homs, as has appeared in some reports and biased statements.

Our fear, in the current circumstances being witnessed by the Syrian nation, is that the region of Wadi al-Nasara will be thrust into sectarian events that all people of the region-- Sunni, Alawi, and Christian-- neither desire nor work for. However-- the roving armed road-blocks and the verification of ID cards on the basis of sect, the kidnappings and murders, and the taking hostages for ransom or exchange, worries the people of the region who wish to preserve the single national mosaic and the continued affection and brotherhood that has governed relations among them for many centuries.

Our hope is that the people of the valley will defeat civil strife and strangle it in the cradle. The faith in a shared life and consciousness of true citizenship that unites the Christians of Marmarita, al-Hwash, and Habnemra, the Sunnis of Talkalakh and Qalat el-Hisn, and the people of Jebal el-Alawiyyin [Mountains of the Alawites]will put an end to those who are playing the chords of sectarianism and confessionalism. Peace be upon you, O people of peace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Fr. George would persist in his denial of ethnic cleansing of Christians as such in Homs and in other parts of Syria today? May be he should apologise for his misguided view and acknowledge his mistake.