SCOOCH Delegate and Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, H.E. Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, gave his insight to the situation in Syria. Watch his interview here >
Below is a transcript of the interview:
As tensions rise over the use of chemical weapons in Syria and President Barack Obama is weighing whether the U.S. may attack the country, there is also a divide among the Syrian community in New Jersey. Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, who is based in Teaneck, opposes any U.S. strike against his homeland. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he hasn’t been shown any proof that the Syrian president was the one to use chemical weapons.
Karim said he speaks for many Syrians — both Muslims and Christians — who believe U.S. attacks would be destructive for Syria, its society and its community. “We as Christians, of course we are always peace loving people. We want peace at any cost and we do not want war at any cost. We do not accept any kind of violence, whether by the regime or the opposition. But we don’t see the solution as being attacking the country and destroying the livelihood of many people,” he said. “They are already suffering. They are already suffering from lack of food, of medicine.”
Many accuse Syrian President Bashar al Assad for causing the violence, but Karim said he can’t judge as an archbishop. He also said he hasn’t seen proof that Assad is behind the chemical attack. “I listened to President Obama yesterday and he did not give us proof,” Karim said. “I understood from him that the so-called opposition is not capable of doing it therefore the regime must have done it. That’s not proof for me.”
Karim said he doesn’t see the opposition in Syria as freedom fighters. “What I see, what I hear there is that people affiliated with the Al-Qaeda, groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, killing both Christians and Muslims, attacking churches and mosques, destroying homes of Christians, kidnapping,” he said.
He explained that there were two archbishops who were kidnapped April 23 who haven’t been heard from since. He believes they were kidnapped by the Syrian rebels. “We would really like to hear about their whereabouts. And we appeal to the U.S. administration and others to tell us if they know anything about them, whether they are alive or not, or in good condition or not. We are very worried, not only about them, because their kidnapping is a message basically to all Christians that we are not welcome in this land,” Karim said.
If Assad, who has been conciliatory to Christians, is removed from power, Karim believes the Christian population in Syria will decrease like it did in Iraq and other countries. “Christians in the Middle East have been there for 2,000 years, since the beginning of Christianity,” he said. “Now a time will come when they are driven out of their homelands and forced one way or another to leave. That is very worrying to all of us.”
Karim was born in Syria and considers it his homeland, as well as the entire Middle East. He finds the current situation heartbreaking.
“The Christians and Muslims, we live together for 1,500 years peacefully. Now neighbors are not able to see eye to eye to each other. That’s very worrying,” Karim said.