His Eminence Eustathius Matta Roham
Metropolitan of Jazirah & Euphrates
Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and All East
OCP News Service- Exclusive
It was about six months ago that kidnapping of innocent people started to take place in the city of Hassake, which is located in the north-east of Syria. Today, kidnapping has become a daily phenomenon in the streets of this city. Kidnappers do not hesitate to commit their crimes even in the daylight. About three weeks ago, three men, without covering their faces, stopped a taxi by using heavy weapons and grabbed a 10 year old boy, Saeed Afram Aho, while he was on his way to Al-Nahda Primary School. The kidnappers treated this little boy very badly, as they do with all of their victims.
People believe there are two or three gangs in Hassake who are responsible for this kind of crime. The total number of victims in Hassake has reached 43 people. The victims are from all components of Hassake society: Christians, Muslims, Yazidy, Kurds and Arabs. They are also of different ages: children, men and elderly. They belong to all fields of life: students, doctors, engineers, merchants and ordinary people.
All the families of the kidnapped persons have gone through very difficult times during the period of kidnapping. Fear has become a common pain and concern to all inhabitants of Hassake. The kidnappers are using many forms of torture against their innocent victims, regardless of the victim’s age or health condition. They violate all religious virtues and human morals to get a high ransom. The Aho family paid seven million Syrian Pounds, which is equivalent to 200,000 Euros before the Syrian crisis, in order to free their little boy Saeed. Another little boy, Bashar Georges, was kidnapped about four months ago. His very poor parents collected 200,000 Syrian Pounds from friends to pay the kidnappers. Bashar was left for two days without food and drink in an underground cell on a farm far away from the city. He was able to ascertain each new day from a beam of light that came through a very small hole in the roof. The barking of dogs and the crying of roosters and hens told him he was imprisoned on a farm.
The community feels that the kidnapping problem has not been taken seriously by government officials in Hassake, even though the crime falls under their area of responsibility. Many believe the kidnappings in Hassake have been carried out with an aim to purposely and systematically change the demography of the city. Most of the early victims were Christians. Today, many Christian families have fled Hassake to seek peace in neighboring countries and in the West.
The three bishops in Hassake – Mor Yacoub Behnan Hendo of the Syrian Catholic Church, Mar Afrem Nathanael of the Assyrian Church and Mor Eustathius Matta Roham of the Syrian Orthodox Church -meet regularly to discuss many issues of concern, including kidnapping. After the kidnapping of little Saeed Aho, the three bishops decided to hold a general meeting at the Syrian Orthodox Headquarters on Monday, 21stJanuary 2013, for Christian and Muslim clergymen, highly influential and notable persons, and NGO activists from all components of Hassake society. The families of the kidnapped persons were also invited to tell their painful stories and to speak about the mental and physical suffering they experienced. In this meeting, a decision was taken to form “The Association of Solidarity with Kidnapped Persons’ Families” (ASKPF). Professionals were named as members of this association and given the trust to act on behalf of all. ASKPF immediately held its first meeting and elected Mr. Aref Hamza, a human rights activist and a lawyer, to be its coordinator.
On Thursday, 24thJanuary 2013, ASKPF organized a public march to raise awareness and present community concerns to the local government officials. Christian and Muslim clergymen, the leaders of both Arabs and Kurds, the families of victims and many NGOs activists marched together from the Syrian Orthodox Church Headquarters to the City Court House. More than three thousand people gathered in front of the City Court House. They held signs in both Arabic and English to express their suffering and demands. While different TV channels were interviewing people, members of ASKPF went into the City Court House and presented a memorandum to the Public Prosecutor demanding that he fulfill his duties by arresting the kidnappers. Afterwards, all people marched back to the starting point. ASKPF is now very seriously following the issue of kidnapping with the Public Prosecutor and will take further action if their demands are not met.
The people of Hassake blame the local government for failing to protect its citizens. They criticize the local officials who have surrounded themselves with high protection, while leaving innocent citizens as easy targets for kidnappers. All of the negotiations which the kidnappers have made with the victims’ families have been done by mobile phones. The people of Hassake are now asking why more is not being done. “If we speak on a mobile phone against the regime, our conversations are overheard and the security police will immediately come to arrest us. Why do they not take action when they hear kidnappers negotiating the lives of our people? We know that security police have access to all communication data and can very easily identify and arrest the kidnappers, so why are they not doing it?”These questions and many similar questions are frequently asked by the people of Hassake. Community members were astonished to learn that on the same day of their march demanding action, there was yet another incident. A Muslim man from the Hallaq family was kidnapped – another name added to the list of victims in Hassake.
OCP News Service