News Analysis

The murder of a priest raises fears for Syria’s Christians

Fr Bedoyan (ACN)

Violence this month in Syria has raised the spectre of renewed Islamist persecution against Christians, especially in the north-east of the country. Armenian Catholic Fr Hovsep Bedoyan and his father Abraham were shot dead in an ambush in the province of Deir Ezzor. A deacon, Fati Sano, was also injured.

The group were travelling to the province to view progress on the restoration of the local Armenian Catholic church.

Amid reports that ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attacks, Armenian Catholic Archbishop Boutros Marayati of Aleppo told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “Fr Hovsep was dressed in his priestly attire … Consequently [he was] recognisable as a priest, in addition to the fact that his car was clearly marked, in large letters, with the words ‘Armenian Catholic Church’.”

The incident coincided with an explosion near the Chaldean Catholic church and a market in nearby Qamishli, Fr Bedoyan’s home city. Local clergy reported that seven people were killed and at least 70 others injured in an attack involving three bombs in two cars and on a motorbike.

Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, the Latin Bishop of Aleppo, said in a report published by the Assyrian International News Agency: “The devices have exploded near the church and this, according to us, has a very precise meaning: they want to target Christians.”

The bishop blamed the resurgent violence on problems created by last month’s military offensive by Turkey into north-east Syria, a move which followed President Donald Trump’s decision to remove troops from the area. Describing ISIS militants as “tools in the hands of the United States and Turkey” to stir up unrest, he said the Turkish incursion “has generated greater instability, ending up involving Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syro-Catholics … all already victims of the Turkish genocide in the past.”

While indicating that Syrian government forces were now working to restore law and order, Bishop Abou Khazen said: “If these episodes are repeated, it is inevitable that the fear will grow among the population and there will be thousands of other people who will want to flee.”

John Pontifex is head of press and information at Aid to the Church in Need (UK)