EGG HARBOR TWP, NJ
During war civilians always suffer, but what happens when neither side has their well-being in mind? In Syria, the Assad government aided by their Russian allies fight a host of rebel factions with little regard to collateral damage done to non-combatants. On the other side are hardline Islamists such as ISIS who have even less compunction against killing civilians and in fact, actively target them. Christians and other religious minorities have been singled out by the Islamic fighters for genocide. This prompted the formation of Christians United for Peace: Syria, a non-profit group dedicated to helping the Syrian Christians and other minorities caught in the crossfire. Recently, the organization held an event to raise awareness of the desperate situation of Syrian Christians in Egg Harbor Township, NJ. Atlantic City Councilman and member of the Pastoral Council at the Parish of Saint Monica Catholic Church. Jesse O. Kurtz was asked to help put the event together.
Jesse O. Kurtz explains why he got involved with the effort and what he believes the event he organized accomplished:
“The genocide in the Middle East of Christians is surreal. I think that is one of the reasons that more people are not speaking out about it. The key of this event was to bring awareness to the reality of Christian genocide in the Middle East. The speakers did an excellent job of sharing personal testimonies, as well as offering top quality talks on the history of Christians in the Middle East, the case for why the current violence is indeed genocide, and what life is like for the Church in Syria and Iraq.”
And indeed, the Syrian people have suffered greatly due to the civil war. According to the IOCC:
- Since 2011, Syria’s violent civil war has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and displaced more than 7.6 million.
- More than half of Syria’s population has been displaced from their homes, often multiple times, creating mass instability and uncertainty for its people.
Secretary of State John Kerry:
“We know that in areas under its control, Daesh (ISIS) has made a systematic effort to destroy the cultural heritage of ancient communities – destroying Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches; blowing up monasteries and the tombs of prophets; desecrating cemeteries; and in Palmyra, even beheading the 83-year-old scholar who had spent a lifetime preserving antiquities there.”
The event held at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox was attended by approximately 400 persons, including clergy from the Syriac Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and Roman Catholic Church. Each of these Christian communities has suffered at the hands of ISIS. Other guest speakers ranged from history professors to witnesses to the strife in Syria who gave firsthand accounts of the human tragedy. It is one thing to watch brief glimpses of the war on TV, but it is quite another to hear accounts of people who have seen firsthand the devastation. As an outside observer, one cannot completely understand the experience of the Christians now in Syria, but one can certainly feel for them and understand that this is more than something that we see unfolding on our TV screens each night, but a real catastrophe affecting millions of real people.
The event of course was more than just about raising awareness; it was about raising contributions to the four key Christian charities Christians United for Peace: Syria. Those aid organizations are:
- International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC)
- The Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief Fund
- Middle East Council of Churches
- International Christians Outreach
These organizations provide the following critical and essential supplies:
- Basic food supplies
- Clean water
- Cooking equipment
- Baby supplies, including diapers
- Dignity kits for women
- Clothing and shoes
- Mattresses and bedding
When we think of genocide, often think of the holocaust and the mass killing of Jews during WWII, or we think of Rwanda, or the ethnic cleansing inside the former Yugoslavia. As with the liquidation of the ghettos in WWII by the NAZI’s part of genocide against the Christians and Yezidis involves the mass theft of anything of value. Not just valuables, but life’s essentials were taken, like medications and even shoes. The victims of the ISIS genocide in Iraq and Syria that were “lucky” enough to be allowed to escape to Kurdish territories were done so in such a way as to cause maximum hardship if not outright death by sickness and starvation. Imagine the liquidation of the Jewish ghettos combined with the Trail of Tears forced upon the American Indians, and you get some sense of the torment ISIS put Christians and Yezidis through.
This was one comparatively small event, held in a small New Jersey shore town, but Councilman Kurtz thinks that with help, some relief can be brought to this ancient Christian community:
“There is now a group of hundreds of people locally aware and looking to bring relief and hope to our persecuted brethren. We shall see what next steps are directed through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.”