In Aleppo, not even the dead can rest in peace

Aid to the Church in Need has agreed to support the rebuilding of the Greek Orthodox cemetery and the transfer of the remains of Orthodox and Catholic Christians of various rites who died in Aleppo between April 2013 and December 2016 to the Christian cemetery of Jabal Al-Saydé.

Life continues to be difficult in Aleppo, and that although bombs are no longer being dropped on the city that has been almost completely under the control of the government troops of President al-Assad for six months now. The price of food is sky high, the currency has been depreciated, and 80% of its residents still live outside of their homes: they were either displaced by the war, or their flats still need to be rebuilt after being destroyed by bombs. However, the people who were killed in the war or by other circumstances during the more than four years of armed conflict in Aleppo still cannot rest in peace. Not even the problem of providing eternal rest for the dead is an easy one to solve.

The neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsood is located on a hill on the northwestern border of Aleppo. This area set the stage for the fierce battles that raged between Kurdish troops and Islamic groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, once known as the al-Nusra Front with ties to Al-Qaeda, for control over the city. The Kurds, who ultimately conquered the area, still prohibit entry into this district to civilians and Syrian security forces. The Christian cemeteries are located on the western border and at the foot of Jabal Al-Saydé (Mountain of St. Mary). Since no one could get near them during the war, they remained closed. Some of them sustained damages by bombs and through looting.

“We would like to give our dear departed a dignified and sacred burial,” said Moses Alkhassi, Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo and Alexandretta, which extends across Syria and Turkey.

“We need help so that we can rebuild our cemetery,” Moses Alkhassi explained. “Several bombs were dropped on the cemetery, which destroyed large parts of it. You can see this,” he continued, while pointing out a destroyed group of niches from which the coffins have yet to be removed. “Doors and gravestones were also pillaged and several graves were opened.” – an insult to those who were resting there in peace. The part of Jabal Al-Saydé where the Greek Orthodox cemetery of Aleppo is located sustained the most damages. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has approved 13,000 euros for the clearing and rebuilding work. “Our believers can’t even scrape together all of their living expenses – food and medicine, shelter – much less funeral and cemetery expenses. This is why we greatly appreciate the help Aid to the Church in Need is offering us.”

“Our archdiocese has suffered greatly: we have lost several churches. Furthermore, at the very beginning of the war, our Metropolitan Boutros Yazigi was kidnapped together with the Syriac Orthodox archbishop. We still don’t know where the two of them are,” the clergyman said despondently.

Restoring the cemeteries is not the only thing that needs to be done. It is also necessary to ensure that those who died during the last four years of the war, while the cemetery was still being occupied by armed terrorist groups, are laid to rest. There are 255 believers just from the Greek Orthodox parish alone, but the number of Christians from all denominations that are still awaiting a dignified burial in the cemetery totals 2461. Up until now, their mortal remains have been interred on a piece of property near the university that was provided by the government for this purpose. It costs about 40 euros to exhume the remains of one person and rebury them. Aid to the Church in Need has agreed to provide 45,000 euros in funding for the transfer of all Orthodox and Catholic Christians of various rites who died in Aleppo between April 2013 and December 2016 to Jabal Al-Saydé.

“We have discovered the great miracle of unity. We would like to ensure that the deceased can truly and finally rest in peace in holy ground,” Moses Alkhassi said. “We have hope because you are supporting us. As our Archbishop Yigizi said, ‘I cannot tell you what the future will bring. But what I can say with certainty is that it rests in God’s hands.’ We ask all people in Europe and all over the world to pray for us. We see the hope in the eyes of our believers and in the support that you are providing. Thank you.”

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Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 6000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.