The Awareness Foundation was fortunate to be able to invite The Revd Haroutune Selimian, the President of the Armenian Protestant Community in Syria, to chair one of our Roundtable Discussions during his recent visit to the UK.
Revd Selimian lives and works in Aleppo, a beautiful Syrian city which now lies at the heart of the worst conflict since the Second World War. The fighting continues, the sectarianism continues, and the suffering continues: what can Christians, who believe that God is love, do to help to end this terrible war? Those taking part in the discussion, which was held at the Foundation's centre in Chelsea, included (in alphabetical order) Madeleine Davies, Stefanie Donovan, The Revd Philip Gray, The Revd Chris Gillham, The Most Revd Kevin McDonald KC*HS, The Revd Nadim Nassar, Gill Newman, The Revd John Proctor, The Revd Haroutune Selimian, and Clare Third.
It was agreed by all present that Christians can most definitely be a force for peace in the Middle East. There have been Christians in Syria since the earliest days of the faith, and they remain there today; although Christians and their towns and communities have been attacked, they remain. It was strongly felt that, although sectarian groups destroy the buildings, it is the people who are Syria’s real treasures. Christians are very integrated into Syrian society, and they themselves believe that they can be a force for change, for hope and for peace. Christians have just one weapon: love, and Christian churches have taken in Christian and Muslim refugees. The Churches serve and give hope, and they work to protect the young. Christians clearly have a real role, giving to everyone in need without judgement.
The Awareness Foundation is training young people in Syria to be Ambassadors for Peace, and many of the young people we meet cannot understand why the world would allow their beloved country to burn and crumble. She is working with young Christians of every denomination to train them as Ambassadors for Peace. Thus, they can work to build bridges; more than that, the young people become like bridges themselves.
Those present lamented the fall of Syria from an advanced, culture-rich, multi-faith society that was the very epitome of living together into a battle-scarred ruin prowled by monsters. Education, healthcare and life expectancy have all been dramatically reduced by the conflict. The path to peace must also include the path to reconstruction. Syrians need the world’s help to save Syria, and to regain self-determination. The rebels and all jihadi groups need foreign funds; if there were no more funds, then there would be no more fighting. Christians everywhere can help by lobbying their governments to help stop the war by cutting off support for all combatants. As long as the militants are financed, then the war will continue.
The religious leaders in war-torn countries have a major role to play in the peace process, and part of that is demonstrating that religions can reconcile their differences. In the Middle East, faith is at the very heart of everything. The West must realise that their secular, even atheistic secular, way is not the only way to end wars and bring peace. The people of Syria must be at the heart of any peace, which cannot be imposed on the country.