Prudence and caution. This is how the Christian communities of north-east Syria and those in the Idlib area, in north-west Syria, where the last hideout of the Caliph was located, reacted to the news of the death of Al-Baghdadi, reportedly killed on 26-27 October by the US Special operations forces.
Virtually all agree that “we could be facing yet another fake news. It is therefore preferable to wait and see how this story develops”, which by no means reassures Christians living in these parts of Syria.
Mentality to be uprooted. “We are aware – some local sources who wish to remain anonymous told SIR – that
the mentality of the Islamic State is widespread and hard to uproot.”
Also for this reason “there were no strong reactions when the news of the US raid broke out. Al-Baghdadi was reported dead four times already,” Father Antonio Ayvazian, the Armenian-Catholic parish priest of Qamishli, a Syrian city on the border with Turkey, told SIR. The news reports were disproved every time. Everyone knew he was still alive. The idea that this is yet another fake news is widespread among the local population, not only among Christians.” “The same Russian military stationed here are the first ones who don’t believe the caliph is dead”, pointed out the parish priest, who also serves the Armenian-Catholic community of Upper Mesopotamia and North Syria. “In fact, they claim that the radars and reconnaissance aircrafts did not report any airborne operation in the region during the night of October 26-27. In any case, we shall see what happens in the coming days. If Al-Baghdadi is dead, certainly the mentality of the Islamic State is not”. As for the Turkey-Russia agreement, Father Ayvazian said that in the border zone the situation is relatively calm. The border is patrolled by the Syrian army, which has also set up police posts. In the event of a problem with the Turkish army, Russian security guards intervene and act as an interposition force, separating the belligerents.” In Qamishli, “the Kurdish districts are once again populated after many of its inhabitants had fled as a result of the Turkish offensive. Several Christian families who fled to Aleppo have not yet returned, but they are slowly moving back to their villages.” “The fate of Syria will certainly not be determined by Al-Baghdadi. It is in the hands of great powers such as Russia, Turkey and the United States,” Greek Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart told SIR from Aleppo. “The death of Al-Baghdadi – he affirmed – might perhaps give some respite to the Christians who will no longer feel threatened by the Caliph. But there is an extremist mentality that must be fought with the weapons of learning and education. Only in coexistence and tolerance can our communities be comforted in their hopes. It is a long path that must be pursued.”
Idlib and Hassaké. “The quiet before the storm” is the atmosphere in the area of Idlib, still a stronghold of the rebel and jihadist groups. “We try to live as best we can. In this period our local Christians are dedicated to the harvesting of olives – report the local sources -. There are always problems, but we manage to cope with them. We get by and pray for peace to return even in this area of high tensions. The death of Al-Baghdadi does not dispel the fears of a resurgence of jihadism. Msgr. Nidal Thomas, Episcopal representative of the Chaldean Church in Hassaké, has no doubts: “Unfortunately it’s a possibility we must take into account”, he said to ACN- Aid to the Church in Need. “Many ISIS militants are said to have joined the Syrian Free Army that has entered the Ras al-Ain region.” “At least three hundred Christians have left the cities of Ras al-Ain, Derbasiyah, Tall Tamr and a part of al-Malikiyah, and we fear that if the clashes continue, there could be an even greater exodus of the faithful from Qamishli.” Hence the request for help to the international community: “As Christians we are the people who have suffered the most as a result of this unending conflict. We are the weak link, because we want to live in peace and we’re against war.
Two thirds of all Christians have left the country, and the remaining third risk not surviving. In the meantime Western countries argue with each other over the partitioning of Syria, brought to its knees also because of international sanctions.”