The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, John X, stated to the congregation last Sunday during Meatfare Sunday in Lebanon that Antioch had been emptied of its already diminishing Christian community following the devastating earthquake that rocked southeast Turkey and northwestern Syria.
Antioch has a special significance for the Levantine Christians, particularly the Greek Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholics, often known as Rum. The city, whose majority of residents were from Levantine Greeks, eventually grew hostile to Christians during centuries of concerted campaigns of Islamization, Arabization, and, more recently, Turkification, and is now completely devoid of its indigenous people as a result of the earthquake.
Indeed, no one can be blamed for a natural disaster, but the city's building, which has a history of earthquakes, did not fulfill any safety regulations, which explains why the entire city was wiped out
According to many Syrians living in Antioch, whether they be Kurds, Arabs, Alevis, or Christians, the Turkish government rescue team prioritized rescue efforts on buildings occupied by ethnic Turks, while several neighborhoods with a non-Turkish majority were disregarded.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, His Beatitude, John X, has prepared a rescue team and requested assistance from the Patriarchs of Jerusalem and Alexandria.
Tons of assistance have arrived in Antioch from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories. Several Greek officials, including the President of Greece, the Foreign Minister, and the Minister of Culture, called the Patriarch and offered their assistance. In response to the Patriarch's invitation, the Antiochian archdiocese in North America and Europe have begun fundraising efforts.
While many Greco-Levantine activists and groups, such as the Greco-Levantine World Wide Network, have welcomed Greece's formal calls, the community is asking for more from Greece. As an EU member, Greece can utilize diplomatic pressure to assist the Patriarchate of Antioch in its humanitarian initiatives.
The Syrian based Patriarchate is the largest local donor for humanitarian operations in the Levant and south Turkey. The fact that Syria is under sanctions has an impact on the Patriarchate's attempts to assist the inhabitants.
Patriarch John X and other Christian clergy have all urged the US and Western countries to lift sanctions. While it may be difficult to totally remove sanctions placed on a regime guilty of war crimes, a solution such as exempting the Patriarchate of Antioch from sanctions can assist significantly on the ground.
Antioch, where Christians were initially called Christians, is devoid of Christian residents. The Turkish government seems unconcerned, and instead of explaining their inactivity, they are pressuring its officials to resort to conspiracy theories and blame the earthquake on the West.
Thankfully, many western countries assisted Turkey in its efforts to rescue the population. However, western countries should be aware that Christians in Turkey and Syria are relying on their own resources, and if the west does not want to help with aid, should at least provide a waiver to the Patriarchate from the sanctions to ease the church's efforts in these hard times.
Importing heavy machinery to aid with earthquakes, medical equipment, and even purchasing fuel to assist thousands of Syrian Christians who have been displaced in Aleppo are tiny things that can help save the life and survival of one of the world's oldest Christian groups but sanctions on Syria are making that impossible.
Hadeel Oueisis a senior research fellow at the Philos project.
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