|ISIS shaved the heads of the entire Christian community to distinguish them from the Muslims, gathered in one room, declaring them a new set of rules. Photo from the archives of Father Zohr Hazaal|
October 27, 2015
Alexander Kotz, Dmitry Steshin
Translated by Kristina Rus
In the community of the Syro-Jacobite Orthodox Church near Homs the correspondents of “KP” learned about how Christians now live in the “land of Islam”. The “Third Reich” has found worthy disciples in the Middle East.
Cross as a counterweight
On Sunday, Syrian President met in Damascus with the Russian parliamentary delegation, and one of the key statements of Bashar al-Assad was about Christians: “I will protect the Christians, because their presence in Syria helps create stability and balance in the country, including for Islam “.
Assad’s words show wisdom and a taste of hidden bitterness. There are very few Christians in the flow of the current “great migrators” to the Christian Europe. Although, logically, it should be the opposite. Why is that? In part, we got the answer to this question near a catholic church in Latakia – its walls from top to bottom are plastered with memorial leaflets. From the black-and-white photocopies stare the young men in camouflage, who died for their Syria, where there used to be a place for all religions under the sun.
|Belt of the Virgin Temple in Fairuz|
The city of Homs had one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East, and not by accident, the hottest battles were waged in the Christian quarters of the city. Today, there is not much to look at and no one to talk to – the quarters turned into an apocalyptic movie decoration.
We drive to the outskirts of the city, to the temple of the Belt of the Virgin in Fairuz. There was no fighting here, and nothing reminds of the war, except for the terrible roar of artillery somewhere over the horizon. For a few minutes we talk to Mitropolit of Homs, Hama and Tartus, Selvanos Boutros Alnemehom. He gives thanks for the prayers of spiritual brothers from Russia. Says that two weeks ago he was in Moscow, met with Patriarch Kirill, is going to once again visit Russia and waits for a return visit.
Mitropolit of Homs, Hama and Tartous, Selvanos Boutros Alnemeh
On his chest is an old panagia of Our Lady of the old Russian masters – enamel in a silver frame. And the icons in the temple are of the Russian tradition. Only the benches, not typical for Orthodox churches, stand out of the familiar context, like the three-dimensional crosses without bars and huge stained-glass windows, very bright light.
The wedding of a Christian militia fighter Basilio Greer and his childhood friend Rod Asaaf
The temple is full of dressed up people – we made it to the beginning. The wedding was between a Christian militia fighter Basilio Greer and his childhood friend Rod Asaaf. On the benches in front of the altar – bachelorettes in rather revealing outfits, the kind called locally “the Caucasus style.” If a skirt is long, it is dizzyingly tight, Lurex, rhinestones, leopard “skins”. Among the Christina guests, we see men with their heads covered in Bedouin kufiyah. And it does not surprise anyone. The young couple arrive in an open convertible, tastefully posing for a while. The groom came to the wedding from the war and this kind of attention is understandable.
On the benches in front of the altar – bachelorettes in rather revealing outfits, those commonly called “the Caucasus style”
We are allowed into the altar with cameras and over the priest’s shoulder look in the Bible. The service is in Aramaic, the language of Christ. Forty minutes later it ends and the guests head to the banquet hall of the temple, where the tables are overflowing with food. It is rapidly getting dark, and a huge village is plunged into darkness – electricity has not yet been fully restored here. Generators on the sidewalks in front of shops, make a sound like the taiga midges. A cross at the square in front of the temple shines brightly. It is entwined with an olive branch and rests on a curved Ottoman dagger – established in the memory of the massacre of Christians a century ago. And it is not yet clear what symbol will mark the current genocide, which in all respects is worse. Massacre – is an impulse, a single atrocity, but what is happening now in the lands of the “Islamic State” (forbidden in Russia terrorist organization – Ed.) – is a logical, structured and slow annihilation of the infidels.
The church was full of dressed up people
Plunge into hell
The story of the small town Karyateyn 120 kilometers east of Homs one day will be made into a drama. For the past three months, local priests, risking their lives, pulled out Christians from the village occupied by terrorists, living there on the rights of “subhumans.”
– The population there is mixed – Christians and Muslims, – tells us the abbot of Syrian Jacobite Orthodox Church of the Belt of the Virgin in the village of Fairuz, father Zohr Hazaal. – The armed opposition came to the village 4.5 years ago. But it was not the Islamist fanatics. And life was relatively tolerable. At least, no one infringed on the rights of religious communities, people were not mocked or beaten. But on August 4 came the militants of the “Islamic state”, and the situation has changed dramatically. First of all, the Islamists burned all the Christian churches and the monastery of St. Elias, built in the 4th century. Then razed to the ground the cemeteries. Moreover, both Christian and Muslim – Muslims, setting plates on the graves of their relatives, are equated by terrorists to heretics. ISIS shaved the heads of the entire Christian community, to distinguish them from the Muslims, gathered in one room, declaring them a new set of rules, more reminiscent of a fascist ghetto regime.
First of all, Islamists burned all the Christian churches and the monastery of St. Elias, built in the 4th century. Photos from the archives of his father Zohr Hazaal
– The Islamists have called this document “macroma”. Translated – clemency, – says father Zohr Hazaal. – It was written by the terrorist leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. This so-called “clemency” force the Christians of the village to balance between life and death. For example, I can not stand in front of a Muslim and a look him in the eyes. I have to bow my head. If an Islamist is sitting on a chair, a Christian should squat next to him. A Christian has no right to engage in trade, and must pay tax – dzhizyi: four and a quarter grams of gold for every man in a family. It is forbidden to leave the village, to pray, to carry the cross or holy books, under threat of death – even a minor act which can be regarded as a threat to ISIS. Also, death awaits those who are secretly working for the state. In disputes a Muslim always wins, because a Christian is not a faithful.
The priest searches in his phone for a photo of “macroma”, flashing pictures of destroyed churches, shaved Christians … And here is the document – signed and stamped: “If any rule is violated, there is no mercy or the offender. He can be executed according to the law by beheading. ” All these rules are very reminiscent of the life of Jews in Nazi ghettos. And the roots are evident, contemporary theorists of “pure Islam” expressed respect for the activities and work of theorists and practitioners of the “Third Reich” on the conquest of “living space”. This is what ISIS is engaged in today, only under a different sign.
Islamists call this document “macroma”. Translated – clemency. Photos from the archives of father Zohr Hazaal
Behind the spiritual front line
Why didn’t the terrorists just eliminate the entire Christian population of Karyateyn? The softness of the Islamists is explained by typical pragmatism.
– Christians in Karyateyn are fairly prosperous, you rarely see a poor Christian, – says father Zohr Hazaal. – Militants knew where to go and what village to capture.
To date, there are still 150 Christians left there. Photos from the archives of father Zohr Hazaal
– And where did you get these pictures?
– I’m out there periodically.
– After ISIS militants entered the village, some Christians fled and took refuge in the surrounding farms. We came back and rescued people. Two days after the capture, we were able to take 16 people out. On August 7 – another 12 people. For nearly three months we were able to rescue from captivity more than 100 Christians. In some cases, we put wigs on people to cover their shaved heads.
– But how do you get there?
– First of all, locals know many paths. Secondly, we use fake IDs. By the way, in these operations I am helped by dear and righteous residents of Karyateyn from the Muslim community. These people live with us hand in hand. This helped us to rescue the parish priest father Jacques Mourad. Moreover, we had to evacuate the greatest number of people, who where somehow connected with Jacques. So they don’t have any problems. We were able to plant our own people in the village, thanks to whom we rescued 56 people at one time. Today there are still 150 Christians remaining. But many are afraid to leave for fear of being caught.
The Islamists have razed the cemeteries. Moreover, both Christian and Muslim
– Where there precedents with executions?
– During the rule of ISIS four elderly people died in the village from natural causes. One was executed by the militants. His name is Fouad Hazaal, this is my nephew. He spoke out against ISIS, so he was killed. Five girls and six young men are missing. Five Muslims suspected of sin were beheaded. It is simple – the testimony of two faithful is sufficient to impose a death sentence.
In parting, father once again urged us to blur his face on the video footage and photos. He still has to go back to the territories of “pure Islam”, saving Christians, and terrorist counter intelligence doesn’t operate just on the ground.