Syria: 7 years of war, nearly 500,000 dead, nearly 200,000 missing, nearly 13,000,000 refugees, including 7 million inside the country (internally displaced) and 6 million outside the country.
This is how Victor Assouad, Assistant to Father General for Western Europe, himself a Syrian, first described the situation in his country of origin. He had invited his Jesuit companions and members of the staff of the General Curia to this encounter.
After discussing the complexity of the causes of this atrocious war -- including geostrategic, political and economic struggles -- Fr. Victor gave an overview of the current situation. The overall picture is very gloomy, as we can imagine. It shows an almost total destruction of entire cities, especially Aleppo and Homs where Jesuits are present. The Islamic State (ISIS) has lost most of the territories it had occupied, but some regions are still torn apart by various groups supported by foreign powers.
However, Fr. Victor Assouad directed his presentation towards a future full of hope. He said:
- That there is a trend towards diplomatic resolution of the conflict that prevails over military settlements;
- That people are starting to talk about the homecoming of refugees. For example, nearly 50.000 refugees, out of 1.2 million, have returned from Lebanon to Syria in recent months;
- That there are discussions about the rebuilding of the country;
- In short, that we can begin to talk about “the beginning of the end” of the conflict.
After alluding to the figures of the Jesuits Paolo Dall’Oglio, who disappeared more than five years ago, and Frans van der Lugt, murdered in Homs in 2014, Fr. Victor, using some of his own photographs, showed how he and his colleagues had survived these years of war.
In addition to his own testimony, the former Provincial of the Near East Province also added Fr. Jacques Mourad’s testimony. He is a Syrian monk who was held hostage by ISIS for five months. In the book he published after his liberation (Un moine en otage – A Monk Held Hostage), he stressed the importance of avoiding shortcuts in understanding the armed conflict in Syria. His message: do not merely put on trial the link between violence and Islam, but also understand how much the roots of this conflict and many others are nourished by one word, one reality: INJUSTICE, in capital letters.
The presentation ended with a UNICEF video clip of some Syrian children. It is entitled “I nostri cuori battono ancora” (Our hearts are still beating). Even without understanding Arabic or Italian, the power of images and music projects a profound exclamation of hope. The children sing: Together we can hope! Watch it now!