SYRIA: Situation ‘intolerable’ a year after earthquake, bishop says

Armenian Orthodox Bishop Magar Ashkarian of Aleppo.
Armenian Orthodox Bishop Magar Ashkarian of Aleppo.

On the first anniversary of a devastating earthquake, a bishop in Aleppo called for an end to Western economic sanctions which have plunged Syrians into abject poverty.

Armenian Orthodox Bishop Magar Ashkarian of Aleppo told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the sanctions imposed on Syria have caused much suffering, especially for minorities such as Christians.

Major challenges brought on by the sanctions include high unemployment, a fuel shortage and soaring energy costs.

Bishop Ashkarian said: “The future is bleak – we don’t know what we’re going to do.”

He called on the international community “to make every effort, morally and financially, to help strengthen the presence of Christians in the Middle East, and in Syria in particular,” describing the situation as “intolerable”.

He added that the 7.8-magnitude quake on 6th February 2023 – which hit Turkey and Syria – aggravated an existing humanitarian crisis.

The continuing migration of Christians is presenting the region with additional problems, according to the bishop.

He said: “In order to protect Christian values, Christians must remain here in the Middle East, where these values are more deeply appreciated.”

The bishop added that the civil war – which began in 2011 – and the continuing crisis has brought Christian denominations closer together.

He underlined: “We live together in a very close relationship and try to help entirely without discrimination.”

The bishop explained that Aleppo alone is home to 11 Christian denominations, whose representatives have come together to help coordinate aid distribution.

He said: “The war, and the earthquake in particular, have brought us closer to each other.

“Organisations, including ACN, have played an instrumental role in this context.”

Bishop Ashkarian expressed hope for the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims, who have lived side by side for centuries in Syria.

He said: “Everyone has the same rights. We live in the country as brothers and sisters.”

He highlighted that foreign assistance is crucial for the people of Syria to be able to maintain harmonious coexistence.

He pleaded: “Whoever reads these words, in governments or institutions, or in a private capacity…please do whatever you can to help us out of this plight.”

ACN has supported 28 projects worth £1.1 million (€1.3 million) to help Christians in Syria get back on their feet after last year’s earthquake.


With thanks to Tobias Lehner