Christians living in Qamishli in northeast Syria continue to face violence and uncertainty. On Monday 11 November, beloved priest Hovsep Petoyan of the Armenian Catholic Church, and his father Abraham Petoyan, who was the former priest of the same church, were shot dead by terrorists. On the same day, three bombs were also detonated in the city.
The priests were killed on their way to inspect a church in the Deir Ez Zor province. Deacon Fadi Sano from Al Hasakah was with them in the car when they were shot; Fadi was wounded in the attack. So-called Islamic State has declared themselves responsible. The priests were buried the next day in the grounds of the church in Qamishli.
Open Doors partner Pastor George, who leads the Alliance Church in Qamishli, said, “[Hovsep] was a peaceful man who had problems with no one; he wasn’t even political. His death shocked all Christians, as he was the head of the Catholic church in Qamishli. His death affects most Christian families. We are praying for no more ramifications of this event.”
Hovsep leaves behind a widow, Caron Lahdo, and three children: a son, Hovig, and two daughters, Anna and Cayana. Please pray for them as they grieve.
‘PEOPLE LIVE IN FEAR’
Pastor George says that the killing has had a big impact on Christians and sends the message that no one is safe: “Men of God were killed. This made the people frightened, especially when on the same day we had these explosions also. People started calling us and saying, ‘Why are you still there in that area?’ It made people start thinking about immigration again due to the fear of unsafety. All this affects the stability and impacts the existence of Christians in this area.”
He says that the explosions were clearly aiming to ‘disturb the peace and safety of the people, especially those who decided to stay’. “These bombings might make some people leave the country. People live in fear. Some live in isolation because they are never leaving their houses out of fear. All of this creates a psychological pressure on people and especially those who have children; it creates fear and unsafety. This hit was hideous, strong, harmful and hard on all citizens. Three explosions inside the city on one day, this was a terrorist and criminal act.”
Church support increases for hundreds of families, thanks to you
Thanks to your prayers and support, and despite the continued dangers, hundreds of families in northeast Syria are now supported through our local partners.
“Basically, our support can be divided into two kinds,” says one local member of staff. “We have our emergency response to the displacement caused by the military operation. And we give relief goods to vulnerable Christian families in the northeast of Syria.”
Because of Turkey’s military operations, 106 Christian families have been displaced from Ras al-Ain and Derbassieh; they have moved to Al Hasakah where they are being supported by the Alliance Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church. All displaced people received food baskets, medicines and fuel for heating.
As well as the emergency support, around 550 Christian families in the northeast have been supported by the Alliance Church. Open Doors partners have also assisted the Armenian Orthodox Church in setting up an emergency shelter in case of future displacement.
Fresh hopes that Geneva talks will bring reform to Syria
Amongst all of the tension and conflict, 45 representatives from Syrian government, opposition and civil society groups have gathered in Geneva to carve out a new constitution for the country, supervised by the UN. It is hoped that these talks might lead to reforms, elections and perhaps even peace negotiations.
The meetings are being hosted by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, who says that after eight years of war there are deep differences and a lot of mistrust. He added that seeing representatives from government, the opposition and civil society in one room, ‘respecting each other, talking to each other ... was quite impressive’.
Meanwhile attacks continue, despite an agreement between Russia and Turkey and promises from the different parties to respect a ceasefire.
Christians and Armenians in the northeast continue to face intimidation and rights violations. Bassam Ishak, a Christian politician with the Syriac National Council, said that Christians in Ras al-Ayn, for example, are prevented by pro-Turkish forces from accessing their land and from harvesting their cotton crops, a main source of income. “Christians are being frightened by these people, and then they lose their source of income. The Christians then ask why they should stay and live under Islamic militants,” Ishak said.
Please continue to pray for our church family caught up in the ongoing conflict in Syria – and please pray that these talks will produce real, beneficial change in the country.