News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 26, 2013

Syria ‘falling apart,’ St. George audience told

No matter who you support, country is being devastated, speaker says

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Dr. George Bittar of Terre Haute hasn’t visited his Syrian homeland for about three years. And in that time, the country has descended into a fractious, brutal civil war with growing religious and international overtones.

“It’s sad to say, my country is falling apart,” Bittar said Tuesday night when introducing a Christian orthodox leader from Damascus, Jean Kawak, who brought the story of a disintegrating country to an audience of more than 100 at the St. George Orthodox Church Social Center.

“Syria is being destroyed,” Kawak said, making painstaking efforts to remain nonpolitical but clearly expressing concern about the possibility of Islamic jihadists coming to control Syria.

Syria’s civil war started shortly after the “Arab Spring” of 2011. In a short time, anti-government protests turned violent amid accusations of instigation from both sides, Kawak said.

“The two stories [told by the government and rebels], they are a little bit true,” Kawak said.

After a time, “radical Islamic groups” became the “main decision makers for the [Syrian] opposition,” he said.

Christian churches and institutions have been destroyed in opposition-controlled areas, Kawak said.

When asked whether he believe the government of President Bashar Assad was using chemical weapons, Kawak said he did not know. He mentioned unsubstantiated reports of chemical weapons materials being discovered in the hands of the opposition.

“There [are] no angels on both sides,” Kawak said.

Christian religious leaders in Syria are calling for an end to the violence, “but nobody is listening,” Kawak said. “We are completely against violence from both sides.”

More than four million Syrians are homeless within the country, Kawak said. Many more have fled to neighboring countries, such as Turkey, he said.

Syria’s 27-month civil war has claimed approximately 93,00 lives, according to the United Nations. Observers estimate as much as half the population has been displaced.

Kawak said there are groups through which donations can be made to help the Syrians displaced and suffering because of the war. During his more than 60-minute talk, which included questions and answers, contribution forms were distributed. Those contributions would go through the St. Helen Syriac Orthodox Church of Fishers.



Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com