Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, together with accompanying senior leaders of the Syriac Orthodox Church, survived an assassination attempt on Sunday 19 June. A suicide bomber disguised as a priest tried to infiltrate a church service in the small Syrian town of Qamishli, where Christians had gathered to commemorate the Assyrian genocide, which they call “Seyfo” (meaning “Sword”). The genocide, in which some 3.5 million Christians, mainly Armenians and Assyrians, perished under Turkish Ottoman rule, peaked in 1915 and is commemorated by Assyrian Christians annually. Ethnic Assyrians are the indigenous Christian people of the region, and belong to a variety of denominations, including the Syriac Orthodox Church. Christians in Syria told a Barnabas contact that one of the worshippers gathered at the church alerted the Patriarch’s bodyguards when she realised the stranger was not from the Syriac Church nor even Assyrian. Unable to reach his intended target and blocked by members of the Assyrian Christians’ own “Sotero” (meaning “Protect”) security personnel, the man detonated his explosives, killing two bodyguards and injuring scores of other believers.
Barnabas Fund has funded many projects to help Christians in Syria through the Patriarch Aphrem’s office, including feeding programmes and emergency aid following violent attacks.