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Worries expressed over Archbishop’s trip to Syria: CEN 9.28.07 p 6 September 28, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel, Lebanon, Roman Catholic Church.

assad-jp-ii.jpgWorries that political machinations may erupt are casting a pall of concern over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s trip to Syria and Jerusalem this week.

On Sept 21 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams flew from the US House of Bishops’ Meeting in New Orleans to Armenia to visit the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, His Holiness Karekin II.

Dr. Williams will meet with civic, religious and cultural leaders on his Armenian excursion. Trips to a prison for women and children are planned, as well as a visit to lay a wreath at the Armenian Genocide Memorial, the Tsitsernakaberd, which overlooks the capital of Yerevan.

The Genocide memorial consists of a 44-meter tall stele and a circle of 12 smaller stele, symbolizing the 12 ‘lost’ Armenian provinces of Turkey, surrounding an eternal flame, with a 100 meter wall along the perimeter inscribed with the names of villages where Turkish troops murdered Armenian civilians in 1915. Approximately 600,000 Armenians died from starvation, disease or murder at the hands of Turkish troops.

However, the modern Turkish government has denied that genocide took place. Turkish Ambassador to the US Nabi Şensoy in 2006 argued the Armenian claims of genocide “have never been historically or legally substantiated.” Christians in Turkey have come under increased pressure from Islamist groups and the government in recent years. Too strong a statement by Dr. Williams will inflame Turkish anti-Christian sentiments, while too soft a response could insult his hosts, it is feared.

Dr. Williams will then travel to Damascus and Beirut, returning to Britain for the House of Bishops meeting. While the itinerary of his trip to the Lebanon remanded incomplete as of the time of his departure, Dr. Williams will meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Muslim leaders in Damascus.

Jewish leaders have expressed private concern that Dr. Williams’ meeting with Assad will repeat the errors of Pope John Paul II’s 2001 visit to Syria where he failed to respond to oral attacks on Israel by President Assad; the grand mufti of Syria, Ahmed Kuftaro; and other Syrian officials.

In his welcoming address, Assad said Israelis were murdering and torturing Palestinians and compared Israeli “aggression” against Christian and Muslim holy sites to the betrayal and torture of Christ. During the pope’s visit to the Mosque of the Umayyads the grand mufti called for Christians and Muslims to stand together against the “atrocious aggression” of Jews and Zionists.

The pope’s failure to respond directly to the comments caused outrage in Israel and the US and set back Roman Catholic – Jewish relations for a period. The delicate state of Anglican-Jewish relations, damaged by General Synod’s call for divestment from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and currently under repair through a dialogue commission between the Chief Rabbis and Dr. Williams, may be tested by Anglican reticence in the face of Syrian rhetoric.

Comment at Covenant-Communion 

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