DETROIT, October 4, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Yonan, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians for the Syriac Catholic Church, is decrying persecution of Christians in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq.
As Christians flee the area, in what the patriarch says is possibly "the largest human exodus since the Second World War," the ones who stay are being targeted. Russian intervention may help the situation (with some reports saying President Vladimir Putin wants to wipe out the terrorist Islamic State altogether), the Christian population in Syria has already been reduced to less than half of what it was prior to the civil war. Patriarch Yonan blames much of the problem on Western powers, such as the United States, which has backed and given aid to the Free Syrian Army, rebels who oppose the current government of Bashar al-Assad. The rebellion has largely contributed to violent instability in the nation.
"[R]egarding the American administration vis-à-vis the situation in Syria since the beginning, it was wrong in its approach to that situation in Syria," says Patriarch Yonan. "Since the beginning, they wanted to just change the government because they were telling people, the media, that this guy, Bashar al-Assad was a dictator, so he has to go to liberate the people of the country and to bring democracy."
The Syrian patriarch has condemned this ideologically inspired foreign policy. Setting aside whatever value it may have in some nations, he doesn't see it working in places like Syria.
"This ... was a wrong reading of the situation," he insists. "You can't export Western democracy into countries where you don't have separation of Church and State, where you have what we call the hegemony of religion," he says, adding that "whatever you do, you'll be unable to implement this kind of democracy they were praising whatsoever."
According to Patriarch Yonan, the ambitious Western project — at least when it comes to Syria — suffers from an overly simplistic analysis of the country's history and demographics.
"The situation in Syria is very complex, complicated because you have several minority groups," he notes. "They fear the Islamic totalitarianism. And therefore, don't be so naïve to say that the Arab Spring is now in Syria and the people will govern or whatsoever."
Whom does the patriarch support, then, if not the Western interventionists? Not al-Assad, or any other specific political arrangement. His concern is more for the people that make up the nation than it is whatever government is in charge of them.
"[W]e don't side with any system of government or any political party. We side with the Syrian people," he states.
"[T]here was, in my opinion, a kind of hidden agenda that put the whole region in a kind of tsunami, and it was the result for us Christians," he laments. "As I say it already, we've been targeted mostly because we were Christians, and we did suffer the most."
And while Christians suffer daily throughout the region, the patriarch observes a crushing lack of concern from the international community. He says, "It's very sad that the Western countries, they are interested in some endangered species more than they are Christians in the Middle East."
Watch our full interview with Patriarch Yonan here.