The Last Remaining Speakers of Aramaic — the Language Spoken by Jesus — Live in a Town in Syria under Attack from Rebel Units Being Supported by the United States
“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.”—William Shakespeare (from the play Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1, line 273)
“(United States) Senators on Wednesday tried to write a tight resolution authorizing President Obama to strike Syria under very specific circumstances, but analysts and lawmakers said the language still has plenty of holes the White House could use to expand military action well beyond what Congress appears to intend… The resolution puts a 60-day limit on Mr. Obama’s ability to conduct strikes, while allowing him one 30-day extension of that authority… ‘Wiggle room? Plenty of that,’ said Louis Fisher, scholar in residence at the Constitution Project and former long-time expert for the Congressional Research Service on separation of powers issues… Mr. Fisher pointed to the 1964 resolution that authorized a limited response to the Gulf of Tonkin, but that ended up being the start of an escalation of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war.” —Washington Times, September 4, 2013, reporting on developing legislation in the US Senate to permit President Obama to launch an attack on Syria
“On Wednesday morning, rebels from the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group launched the assault on predominantly Christian Maaloula, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Damascus, according to a Syrian government official and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group…” —Associated Press dispatch, September 4, 2013
“Secretary of State John Kerry said at Wednesday’s hearing that Arab counties have offered to pay for the entirety of unseating President Bashar al-Assad if the United States took the lead militarily. ‘With respect to Arab countries offering to bear costs and to assess, the answer is profoundly yes,’ Kerry said. ‘They have. That offer is on the table.’” —Washington Post, September 4, 2013
“In an exchange with a senator, Kerry was asked whether it was “basically true” that the Syrian opposition had “become more infiltrated by al Qaeda over time.” Kerry said: “No, that is actually basically not true. It’s basically incorrect.” —Reuters dispatch, September 4, 2013 (yesterday), reporting on testimony in the US Congress of US Secretary of State John Kerry; Link
“They lie beautifully, of course. I saw debates in Congress. A congressman asks Mr Kerry: ‘Is al Qaeda there?’ He says: ‘No’… He is lying and knows he is lying. It’s sad.” —Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, commenting on testimony in the US Congress of US Secretary of State John Kerry, in the same Reuters dispatch
“The tragic consequences of the conflict are known. It has produced more than 110,000 deaths, numberless wounded, more than 4 million internal refugees and more than 2 million refugees in neighboring countries. In front of this tragic situation, the absolute priority is clear: to make the violence cease.” —Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s “foreign minister,” to nearly 200 assembled diplomats in the Vatican this morning
“The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi denied that the Pope has called the Syrian dictator Assad. The news was published in the Argentine newspaper Clarin signed by Sergio Rubin, friend and biographer of Pope Francis.” —Agenzia Italia (AGI) dispatch, September 5, 2013
“Maaloula is a mountain village with about 2,000 residents, who are among a tiny group in the region that still speaks a version of Aramaic, the ancient language of biblical times also believed to have been spoken by Jesus.” —The same Associated Press dispatch from yesterday
“It is regrettable that, from the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding.”—Pope Francis, September 5, 2013, in a letter sent to Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, who is hosting a high-level summit of world leaders called the “Group of 20″ or “G20″ in St. Petersburg, Russia
The Pope Writes a Letter to Putin
Pope Francis continues to make almost desperate efforts to head off a looming escalation of the 2-year Syrian civil war.
He has called for a day of prayer and fasting on Saturday, September 7; he has spoken passionately about the suffering caused by war and the benefits of a negotiated peace; he has summoned the almost 200 ambassadors accredited to the Vatican to a briefing on the Holy See’s position (the meeting took place this morning); and he is even rumored to have telephoned directly to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to appeal to him to work for a ceasefire (the Vatican has denied the report).
Moreover, Pope Francis today sent a passionate letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his role as host of the “Group of 20″ nations meeting this weekend in St. Petersburg (US President Barack Obama is also attending, and met Putin there this morning in a moment that seems from the photograph to have been marked by some tension).
The civil war in Syria has been going on for more than 2 years.
The war has pitted forces loyal to the Ba’athist (secularist) regime of President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Iran and Russia, against rebel, radical Muslim forces supported, for varying reasons, by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States, who seek to unseat Assad.
The Syrians since 1971 — so, for 42 years — have allowed the Russians to use the port of Tartus as a “Material-Technical Support Point” (Russian: Пункт материально-технического обеспечения, ПМТО) and not a “base”; Tartus is the last Russian military facility outside the former Soviet Union, and Russia’s only Mediterranean repair and replenishment spot, sparing Russia’s warships the trip back to their Black Sea bases through the Turkish Straits.
Recently, the Assad government forces seemed to be winning the war, rolling back a number of rebel positions.
But that momentum would likely change dramatically if the US and France were to intervene directly.
And that possibility now looms following a deadly chemical attack, which occurred on August 21, allegedly perpetrated by the Assad government (there has been considerable dispute about what the substance actually was, who actually used it, and how many were killed by it).
The United States and France have argued that the use of the gas by the regime requires a direct response, which is generally interpreted as meaning a cruise missile attack on Syrian government targets from ships offshore, but not the use of US or French troops (generally referred to as “no boots on the ground”).
The region is now filled with warships, and more are steaming toward the area. The map below shows only some of the vessels, particularly the American and Russian ones, leaving out the British, Turkish, Greek, Israeli and other vessels. (Click on map for larger view)
The confusing nature of the situation is shown by the fact that Britain, a staunch ally of the United States, last week decided against participation in such an attack, in a close vote, in part because many parliamentarians were not persuaded by the evidence presented that the gas attack had actually been launched by the Assad regime.
Other religious leaders have also issued appeals for restraint, and warned against a widening of the conflict.
The Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, asked about the Syrian situation on September 4 (yesterday) in Tallin, capital of Estonia, where he was visiting, said: “In Syria, the situation is tragic for all the inhabitants, and not only the Christians, beginning with the women and children. We pray that the terrible situation of war cease and that peace arrive in the hearts of men and throughout Syria.” He added: “We wish for a rapid resolution to escape from this impasse and to come to an Arab springtime, a true Arab springtime, and not just a formula.” He concluded: “We suffer for the two metropolitans (Orthodox and Syrian-Coptic) who were taken hostage on April 22 and about whom nothing today is known, not even whether they are still alive or dead. We pray and we appeal to all the political powers, civil and religious, to save these two men.”
See more here.
Patriarch of Baghdad: “Stop the fighting to prevent another Iraq”
The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, capital of Iraq, Luis Sako, has lifted his voice as well. “What justice will be done to the Syrians by air-raids? No one knows what black hole the country will be entering better than we Iraqis, who entered into that tunnel before they did, and, unfortunately, we have not been able to come out of it.”
He continued: “Why did those who say they are acting for the good of the Syrian people not intervene earlier, with pressure and diplomatic means? I am hearing the same discourses and the same proclamations that were made 10 years ago before the intervention in Iraq. Ten years have passed since then, and believe me, we have seen very little democracy and freedom.”
Ten years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains unstable, still subject to sectarian violence.
“Syria is already a fair way down this same road,” he said. “But an armed intervention from outside would do nothing but worsen the situation and would have unpredictable consequences for the country and the entire region.”
Sako has asked all of the Iraqi bishops to participate on Saturday in the day of prayer and fasting for peace called for by Pope Francis.
“If one wishes to stop the massacre of Syrian civilians,” Sako said, “the first step is to suspend the sending of arms and munitions to the warring parties and to put pressure on the regional powers who are aiding the confrontation to commit themselves to find a solution. This is a game that is being played on the heads of the Syrians, a game that hides inadmissible interests and ambitions, and which should be stopped by political means, not with more bombs.”
When Sako speaks of “inadmissible interests and ambitions,” he is referring to a whole series of interests and aims which are “in play” in this struggle.
This is not the place to go into detail on all of the interests in play, but it seems fitting to mention four.
First, there is the desire of many, from Israel to the US to even some in the Arab world, to eventually weaken Iran, which is Syria’s ally, and may or may not be building an atomic bomb (opinions vary and evidence publicly available seems inconclusive). So everything that happens in Syria is only to be fully understood in the context of a longer-term plan to encircle and perhaps attack Iran.
Second, there is the well-known “battle of the pipelines” (sometimes referred to as “Pipelinistan”). In this particular case, there is a huge gas field in Qatar, and also in bordering Iran, which could provide gas for Europe if shipped by pipeline through Syria and then under the Aegean Sea to Greece and beyond. But this pipeline — which is under construction in Qatar, but not yet built in Syria — threatens to diminish the influence of Russia, which provides much of the natural gas that heats Europe, from its own vast Siberian fields. So it is in part at the request of Russia that Assad has been blocking approval of this new gas pipeline. This has led many in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and in Europe and the US, to conclude that Assad must be replaced, by supporting rebels who will, when they overthrow Assad, approve the Qatari pipeline. Nevertheless, war is not the only option here, and perhaps not the best one: the way of diplomacy could perhaps find a solution, “cutting a deal” even with the Russians, so that all parties make some profit, and none loses everything.
Third, there has been a massive gas and oil field just recently discovered off of the Israeli, Lebanese, Syrian, and Cypriot coast, known as the “Leviathan” field. It has not yet been developed, but it promises to relieve the energy needs of all of those neighboring countries, and much of Europe as well. So there is a tremendous struggle on now, behind the scenes, to position regimes in the region to develop these massive resources and use the proceeds from them in ways suitable to the major powers.
Fourth, the general economic situation of the world, from the US, to Europe, to China, is marked by high levels of debt, slow or no growth, and high levels of unemployment, especially among youth. Attempts have been made since March of 2009 to spark growth by ultra-low interest rates, but it is not clear whether these attempts have benefited the economy at all, and interest rates in recent months have been spiking higher against the professed wishes of the US Federal Reserve. In this context, the economic impact of war, with the expense on weapons, fuel, and soldiers’ salaries, provides an economic boost which some economists think may be positive. In short, there is a desire in the West, among some, for a wider, more expensive war, to reverse the evident contraction looming over the global economy.
These remarks are, of course, incomplete.
But the one thing that can be said for certain is that cruise missiles know no distinction between walls of cement that house soldiers and walls that house civilians. Attacks on Syria will inevitably lead to civilian casualties. And there is no good reason why even one more child, one more mother, would have to die unjustly.
Patriarch Sako is right. The first step is to cut off all new shipments of arms into Syria. The second step is to ask all involved in the current fighting to stop fighting. To cease firing.
Then, under the auspices of an honest man, a just man, someone like Pope Francis, together with Muslims, secularists, Americans, and Russians, a conference could be called to draw up some sort of agreement to settle the open questions in this complex situation peacefully, not by war.
If this does not happen, the war could begin with a few cruise missiles, and the death of “a few” women and children, and then Russia could support Syria, and Syria could conceivably sink an American ship, using Russian technology, and we could be in a much wider war.
And people like the villagers in Maaloula, caught in the crossfire, are the ones who will suffer.
Villagers who for more than 2,000 years have kept not only the Christian faith, but the very language that Jesus spoke alive, the Aramaic language.
Do we really wish to risk killing and maiming these villagers, our brothers in Christ? Is that the legacy we wish to leave for all time to come, that in the early years of the 21st century, the so-called “Christian” nations of the West could find no other solution to helping to halt a civil war in Syria that could protect those Christians, those members of the body of Christ, those speakers of the language that Christ spoke?
American policies in the Middle East have led to the decimation of the Christian population of that region. The voices of those suffering Christians are seldom heard in the American media, and this is tragic.
There is a better way, and Pope Francis is the leading voice in the world today proposing that way. The world should listen to him.
Otherwise, what we seem likely to view in the Middle East will be what Mary warned of: “nations will be annihilated.”
More than ever, we need to heed this warning, and act in keeping with Our Lady’s urgent requests in order to bring about a “time of peace.”
“If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honor, do not be jealous of him. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all members of your bodies.” —St. John Chrysostom
Editor’s Note: I wanted to thank the “Founding Members” of our new “Urbi et Orbi Foundation,” who have contributed more than $100,000 since Christmas to help us launch this initiative, aimed at working to improve relations between Catholics and Orthodox. We do seek further support.
Because of the situation in Syria, our work with the Orthodox, and with the Russian Orthodox in particular, becomes even more important.
If anyone would like more information about this important initiative, please write to me by clicking here. –Robert Moynihan