As Christians were celebrating Pentecost in Qamishli, Syria, a suicide bomber disguised as a priest struck, killing three Assyrians and wounding five others.
The Sunday attack on 19 June was apparently targeting Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, and was reminiscent of another nearly a century ago which killed the Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Shimun XXI Benjamin, in 1918.
Patriarch Aphrem survived the blast, which occurred while he was at St. Gabriel’s Church commemorating the Syriac/Assyrian victims of genocide a hundred years ago.
At that time the Assyrian community had just experienced its deadly ‘Sayfo’. Together with other indigenous Christian populations, they were subjected to genocide on the dying days of the last Islamic Caliphate under the Ottoman Empire.
The Conference of European Churches (CEC) has expressed its dismay at the news.
“Along with Armenians, Greeks, and other ethnic groups in the region, Syriac Christians have survived genocide and oppression over the course of centuries.”
“Along with Armenians, Greeks, and other ethnic groups in the region, Syriac Christians have survived genocide and oppression over the course of centuries. We are now witnessing yet another wave of persecution and murder against these Christians and other indigenous religious and ethnic communities in the Middle East” said a statement by the CEC.
Following the attack, a statement by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate Wednesday confirmed Aphrem’s safe return to Damascus “after the inauguration of a monument for the Genocide”.
During the visit to Qamishli, “The faithful were gathered inside the auditorium of St. Gabriel School to celebrate the 101st annual Sayfo commemoration when a suicide bomber set himself off a short distance from the place.”
Lebanon 24, a Lebanese news website, quoted a Syriac Orthodox Bishop of Lebanon saying a blast was heard outside the gathering hall, as the Patriarch tried to calm his audience.
“Despite the heat, nearly 4,000 of the faithful had walked through the streets to the new memorial carrying crosses and rosaries,” recalled Bishop George Saliba, who himself was at Aphrem’s side as the events unfolded.
“At the ceremony hall while a speech was given, a blast was heard outside. The Patriarch calmed the audience and asked for the proceedings to continue. He assured everyone Syriac guards were on top of things.”
According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), Sunday morning’s attack was the fourth on Assyrians in Qamishli in the past six months. Since 30 December, a total of 22 Assyrian Christians were killed in this one, relatively safe, Syrian city alone.
Today the Patriarch’s own birthplace city of Al-Qamishli is mainly Kurdish. Just across from the Turkish border in north eastern Syria, the town was founded by Assyrian/Syriac refugees fleeing genocide.