In "a clear signal" that the Islamic State (formerly Isis) is targeting Christians, the group claimed yesterday's twin attack in the north-east of Syria that caused several victims and injuries within the Christian community. In recent weeks the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen, has warned of this clear and present danger.
"The offensive by the Turks against the Kurds in the northeast - the prelate added - has exacerbated the critical situation of a population that has already experienced persecution and genocide at the beginning of the 20th century".
Yesterday an Armenian Catholic priest (pictured) and his father were killed in an ambush in the province of Deir el-Zor, once controlled by the Kurdish-Syrian forces, along the Turkish border. Fr. Hovsep Petoyan, from the Armenian community of Qamishli, and his father Abraham Petoyan have fallen into a Daesh ambush [an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State] along the road that connects Hassaké and Deir el-Zor.
The father died instantly, while the priest died a little later; a third person was also injured, the deacon Fati Sano, who was traveling with them. The three were going to the Armenian-Catholic church of Deir el-Zor to follow the restoration work. In claiming the murder the jihadists published photos of the victims' identity document and talked about "two Christian priests" - the first information spoke of two priests - hit "by the fire of the fighters" of ISIS.
Also yesterday, in the same area, three bombs -- one on a motorcycle and two cars filled with TNT - exploded near the Chaldean church and a market in Qamishli, in the city center. "The explosions - says Mons. Georges - caused seven deaths and the number of wounded continues to increase: they are at least 70. The devices have exploded near the church and this, according to us, has a very precise meaning: they want to target the Christians".
Already in the past, the vicar of Aleppo remembers, at the beginning of the Syrian war one of the first events to befall the area "was to blow up the mausoleum for the victims of the Turkish genocide". The minorities of the area, he continues, "are in the crosshairs of the Turkish army and their allies" [anti-Assad groups and jihadists] and for this they try to escape. Even the explosion of the bombs near the Chaldean church in Qamishli "has a precise meaning, they want to hit the Christians".
We have been repeating this for some time, says the prelate, "the ISIS militants are tools in the hands of the United States and Turkey" to fuel tension. The Ankara offensive "has generated greater instability, ending up involving Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syro-Catholics ... all already victims of the Turkish genocide in the past". The Syrian army, he continues, "has arrived in the area and tries to instill security, but if these episodes are repeated it is inevitable that the fear will grow among the population and there will be thousands of other people who will want to flee."
"We welcomed some university students from the area of recent attacks - said Msgr. Georges - and among them is great concern, fear for the relatives left in their lands. Fears for the violence, there are also gestures that confirm the escalation of tension: they are cutting electricity and water supplies. As has already happened in Aleppo - he continues - the attacks are added to boycotts and vandalism to encourage people to leave. A script we have already seen ".
The Christians of the north-east of Syria "are left to themselves and the reality becomes ever harder, more complicated" the prelate accuses.
The Americans returned with tanks only to check the oil wells and prevent the Syrian army from regaining possession, while in the region "insecurity is growing. We too in Aleppo - he concludes - are the object of bombing and only two days ago a little girl died. Rebels and jihadists are still in the suburbs and continue the attacks. We are exhausted!".