Although I am Armenian, in some ways Syria is home to me. Both of my parents were born and raised in Aleppo; it's where my grandparents on both sides of my family settled after the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Syria took in the Armenian refugees who were forced to march across the Der Zor desert by the Ottoman government of Turkey.
My parents eventually moved to Kuwait and married there. I was born in Kuwait, but I was baptized in the Armenian Protestant church in Aleppo in 1974.
We wish for "peace in the Middle East" – that's no joke. It's a literal and spiritual battleground. First Lebanon's ongoing civil war, and now Syria. It's been heartbreaking watching and hearing of the destruction and persecution happening there…watching Aleppo burn to the ground.
It's interesting what you hear on the news, and what you hear from the people actually living through the situation. I experienced the same thing during the manhunt following the Boston Marathon bombing. I grew up in Boston but now live on the West Coast. As I sat glued to the television, I found myself listening to one story on CNN while my family in Boston was telling me something entirely different on the phone. I was watching nothing happening on the streets I grew up on while my friends were texting that they were hiding in their bathtubs as gunshots were being fired outside their windows. I learned quickly to not trust mainstream news sources.
Unfortunately it's the same with Syria. What the mainstream news sources report is often incorrect – skewed and biased while manipulating and exploiting the most vulnerable to push any number of agendas. It's incredibly frustrating to hear the news proudly proclaim one thing when you hear the exact opposite from contacts who live there in the midst of the conflict.
I appreciate those who seek after the truth. To that end, I reached out to a good friend of mine who was born and raised in Aleppo and still has family there. His news does not come from CNN but from people he knows personally still living in Aleppo. He recently shared some thoughts on the current situation in Syria. It's a bit long but so informative. Please read through to the end, where I will share some ways to help. As always, please pray. Ultimately, peace can only come from the source of Truth, Jesus Christ.
In his own words:
Syria is very complicated country, comprised of dozens and dozens of different religious sects, minority groups and ethnic groups. Historically, Syria has been a passage way for many businesses, travelers and Genocide survivors, thus creating a hub for different ethnicities and backgrounds to coexist in a country about half the size of California. However, given the fact that Syrian people are diverse, Syria has maintained its majority as Sunni Muslims. Of the current 24 million population (perhaps before the war), it is estimated that 80% are Sunni Muslims, about 15% Shiia Muslims, and 5% are Christians/other.
You can investigate and read through the differences of the groups on your own, but for the sake of our thought here, it's important to note that though there are various levels of conservative and liberals even within Islam, in general Sunnis consider themselves the conservatives (by the book, believing government should run on religious rule) who trace themselves to their prophet, and Shiia are considered more secular, progressive and open-minded. Of that 15% more secular minority Shiia, about 5% of them are the Allawait, which the current President Bashar Al Assad comes from. Therefore, we can clearly conclude that a minority family – who are considered infidels by the majority – has now been ruling Syria for more than three decades.
So, you can see, not only is it a complicated country but it's also a complicated conflict. Bashar is a dictator, no question about it, but his father was an even more brutal dictator. In an uprising in the early 80s, similar to today, he destroyed an entire city, killing more than 30,000 people and shutting down the uprising in less than eight days. That's the type of man he was...his son, not so. Bashar is Western-educated. He received his medical degree from England. His wife is British and highly regarded among first ladies. They are one of the few Middle Eastern leaders who speak English fluently. He is progressive, modern, educated and highly regarded by the people. But, he is considered an infidel by the Sunnis and a threat to the United States agenda regarding foreign policy. So he must be brought down.
Because of what I've explained above (which does not do justice, because it's more complicated than that...), to keep a long story short, Syria has gone through a major war the last five years and Aleppo has been the epicenter of that war. The last five years CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, NBC, CBS, Huffington Post, New York Times, etc... have all reported that so called "freedom fighters" and rebels have been fighting for the freedom of the people and wanting a regime change. It behooves us to ask, who are these so-called rebels and freedom fighters? Who are these White Helmets? That's a discussion for another day...
I'm not sure if you recall, but in 2009, 2010, 2011 there were a series of revolutions in the Middle East and parts of north Africa called the Arab Spring. Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and a few other Gulf countries went through it, which was a major bloodbath in each of those countries. Libya and Benghazi were perhaps the most talked about in the U.S. news outlets. This so called Arab Spring also started in Syria in 2011. Fighting broke out in southern Syria, which could have been dealt with by the Syrian government without any foreign interference. But the Western media and Western powers got involved. Social media was used as a major weapon, which made it a bigger issue than what it was, and the conflict escalated. Islamic fighters, backed by Saudi money and weapons (essentially backed by its allies U.S., U.K., France… which is another topic to write about) started flooding the country from all around the world.
Fighting escalated, and it became a full-on war. TO BE CLEAR. THIS WAS NOT A CIVIL WAR – this was a WW – a proxy war between the United States and Russia, and they chose to fight in someone else's territory, which was Syria. Syria was a threat to the U.S. and its allies for various reasons. For example, it was one of the fastest growing countries in the region, economically and socially. It was progressive. It was getting rich. It was debt-free.
Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria, the industrial city where Syria had its major factories and businesses, was massively attacked. Rebels first robbed the city of its goods and shipped them to Turkey. Then they started indiscriminately bombing and shelling government-controlled areas. My brother and his family lived under these attacks for four years. They had no water, no electricity, no food. Protected by Syrian forces, attacked by rebel fighters. My brother-in-law was one of the pastors in that city. His church was bombed a half hour after Sunday morning worship service was over... He now serves a church in Toronto waiting for his wife (my sister) and his son and daughter to join him. His current church in Toronto is full of Syrian refugees from Aleppo.
The situation is more complicated, but I urge you to ask questions and never let Western media dominate your thinking. I get all my reports from the grounds of Aleppo from family and friends... those are trustworthy reports.
Powerful. Painful. Piercing.
Can you read this and do nothing? I can't.
We can choose to throw up our hands and feel helpless, or we can get on our knees and pray.
Prayer should then compel us to act. I don't know about you, but I'm not heading to Syria anytime soon. So what can I do from the comfort of my heated house, with plumbing and electricity and food and furniture? I can support those who ARE helping.
You can contribute to World Vision, helping the Syrian refugee crisis, by clicking here.
You can support Doctors Without Borders, where 88% of contributions go directly to program services, by clicking here.
World Relief is helping refugees and the displaced in the Middle East. Support them here.
And if you need a last-minute Christmas gift, my friend Hannah Serimian, the inventor and CEO of Boxy Girl, is donating 100% of online sales through tonight (Thursday, December 15, 2016) to Doctors Without Borders, helping the precious people of Aleppo. I don't easily endorse products, but this is one I own and use and highly recommend. Order here.
Thank you for caring. God bless you and Merry Christmas.