The worst thing about living in Aleppo? According to Jean-Clément Jeanbart, the local Catholic archbishop, it’s the anxiety. Christians in Aleppo’s war zone, he writes, “are afraid of tomorrow, worried about their children’s future. The thought that they will one day be subject to fundamentalist Islam is an unbearable nightmare for them.”
Archbishop Jeanbart is a priest of the Melkite Greek Church, which is in communion with Rome. He represents one of the oldest Christian communities – “We have hundreds of millions of holy people resting in the soil,” he tells me over the phone – and, today, thanks to Syria’s civil war, one of the most endangered. But he believes it may be Christians in the West who can save it.
“I must say that all the people on which we rely, actually, are the Christians, either Catholic or Protestant,” says the archbishop. It is the Christians “who would perhaps do something about reaching peace” – unlike those who will only provoke even worse violence.
The route to peace and safety will be a long one. But Archbishop Jeanbart is adamant that negotiation rather than military action is the way forward. The removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he says, would “for the moment” be disastrous. “It would be worse. It would be a real war, internal war between everybody. Everybody would kill everybody. There would be hundreds of military groups fighting to get what they can, and to keep its people safe. It would be terrible.” Instead, he says, there should be a peace settlement including all factions. “Even the government of Assad and others. They have to all sit down together. And to reach that, the West has to put pressure on the opposition to accept.” The Assad government, he says, would be more willing to enter talks than the rebel groups.
He hopes that Christian pressure – especially in the US and even in Russia – can bring about a peace process.
American foreign policy is in the balance right now: in theory, Donald Trump is reluctant to engage in more military action, and his friendliness with Russia might make peace talks more likely. But at the time of writing, we do not know what his administration will look like.
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