An Aleppo nun has described the psychological damage of living in the city as “a pain greater than physical pain”.
“Aleppo is a city broken by death, destruction and violence,” said Sister Annie Demerjian, during a visit to the UK to raise awareness of the desperate conditions for many living in Syria’s second city. The warring parties, she added, are “monsters devouring one another”.
Speaking about the civil war’s long-term effect on children, she said there is a need to “re-integrate back into society a lost generation where death is an everyday experience”.
The Christian population in Aleppo is down to 33,000 from more than 200,000 before the civil war began, but numbers will rise again, Sister Annie Demerjian told the BBC.
“If there is peace, I think most of the people [who left Aleppo] will come back and start rebuilding the city,” she said.
“It will take time to heal the wounds of the many people who’ve been hurt and had their lives damaged,” but reconciliation is possible, she said.
Speaking about the Christians still left in the city, she said, “The Church community is now so small that we all know each other. Everyone is afraid. We [all] lost people we knew.”
Demerjian, who was in the UK as a guest of the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, gave a first-hand account of life in the city to the UK Parliament. With her team of volunteers, she brings aid to 940 Christian and Muslim families in the western part of Aleppo.,
Daily life is “sometimes normal,” she said, but there is a struggle for food, clean water, electricity and fuel.
“Many people live without light,” she added, as they cannot afford electricity because of the “exploitation [of] traders”.
In one part of Aleppo, she found an elderly couple sleeping on the floor because they had sold their bed to provide fuel for a few hours of heating.
Syrians should ‘stay in their ancient lands’
In May, a Syrian priest visited Canada to urge the West to put more effort into finding a solution to the conflict in Aleppo, instead of taking in refugees.
“More than half the city’s population left over the last four or five years,” said Jean-Clement Jeanbart, Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo.
“It [Canada] has to help them stay where they are … to find peace. And to get it [the war] over with these rebels, these terrorists, and drive both sides to talk, to find a political solution.”
When asked in May about Canada welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees in the past few months, Jeanbart, who has worked for the church in Aleppo since 1995, said: “We’re not happy when we see the Canadian government moving refugees and facilitating their integration. It hurts us. A lot.”
He said he’d rather Syrians, especially Christians, stay in their ancient lands.