By Rev. Haroutune Selimian
President, Armenian Protestant Community in Syria
In the course of two and a half years, Syria has become the scene of killings and violence exercised by the opposition parties turning Syria from a land of peace and security to a land that lacks peace.
The battle of Aleppo began on July 19, 2012 as part of the Syrian civil war. Clashes escalated in late July in Syria‘s largest city that holds great strategic and economic importance.The battle’s scale and importance led combatants to name it the “mother of all battles.”
As the conflict expanded across Aleppo-Syria, thousands of people are struggling to preserve their safety and their livelihoods and the number of beneficiaries is rapidly increasing. The previously well-functioning health system has collapsed, food shortages are commonplace, and the water and electricity supply is disrupted. Medical aid is being targeted, hospitals destroyed and medical personnel captured. Thievery has increased, with criminals robbing houses and stores. Rates of kidnappings increased as well. The number of jobless people is increasing. Food and fuel prices have risen and the economy is clearly in decline. People cannot travel or drive outside Aleppo. Aleppo’s International Airport has been closed since January 2013. Many of Aleppo’s most populous streets are now in ruin, buildings and lives torn apart by a seemingly endless barrage of missiles, bombs, mortars and tank shells.
Many people are suffering from various diseases because of the fear of rockets and missiles showering over them, and from the loss of family members from the mortars and explosions that happen unexpectedly everywhere and every hour in the city. Unfortunately, a few months ago three missiles attacked the Armenian Evangelical Bethel School building just 15 meters away from the parsonage of the church where we live. The roof of the school building was damaged directly. The third missile fell in the school yard and fortunately did not explode. The first attack was on May 24, 2013, the second on September 12, 2013 and the third one on September 22, 2013. Students could easily see the sky from where they sat in their school desks.
In spite of all the missile attacks, the Armenian Evangelical schools in the city are swimming against the flow, as we say in Armenian. We are not allowing the fear and the uncertainty to hijack our hope and our firm will to live. This year the Armenian Evangelical Bethel Secondary School accommodated 350 students from grades KG -12. The number of active teachers for the current school year is 40. The School always offers a highly qualified education and academic program and it is worthwhile to mention that the Ministry of Education in Aleppo presented a letter of appreciation to Bethel School for its highly qualified academic standards in the city.
In spite of all these difficult conditions, our churches have kept their services intact and schools running. The nine churches of the Armenian Evangelical Community in Syria, including Armenian Evangelical Bethel Church, Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church, Armenian Evangelical Martyr’s Church, Armenian Evangelical Church of Christ, Syriac Evangelical Church, Armenian Evangelical Kessab Churches, act vitally with different proportions.
As Pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Bethel Church, I would like to give you some information about the Church’s activities and social work that were managed and administered since July 2012. Armenian Evangelical Bethel Church continues its Sunday and weekly communal worshipping and meetings in the following domains – Sunday school, Youth, Junior High Group, and “Armiss” Conservatory, the Women’s communal worshipping. Throughout all of these, we can clearly feel the guidance of our Lord as we put ourselves at His service. We gladly mention that more than 400 individuals attend the Church’s Sunday worship service. Considering this inhuman and sad situation, the Armenian Evangelical Bethel Church established a polyclinic to serve the Armenian community regardless of denominational affiliation by assisting those in need of medical care, and by helping patients with chronic diseases in need of long-time medical assistance.
Our people will work and pray for peace and safety. They will continue preparing for a good future for their children. Syria was a beacon over the ages and we have hope that it will remain so in the future, depending upon the existing principles of co-existence of our nation. We, as the Armenian Community in Syria, will remain faithful and will keep our houses, churches, and organizations alive. The source of strength is not in us: it is God himself. We do not survive pressure by focusing on surviving; we do not survive pressure by focusing on our own perceived strength. We survive pressure by keeping focused on God.
“…who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” – 2nd Corinthians 1:4
Considering the priorities and today’s basic needs of our people in different cities in Syria, especially in Aleppo, we ask our dear friends, brothers and sisters, to extend helping hands, so that we can assist economically inflicted Syrian families by preparing food parcels to the needy, providing milk to the families for their children, providing more scholarship aid for Armenian students, as well as providing medical assistance for the sick.
We deeply appreciate your prayers and efforts. It is a rare time where the Church in Syria is feeling the true oneness of the body of Christ all over the globe. For this, we thank the Lord, for it is a great encouragement to us.