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Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross speaks to Anti-War activists about Syria

By staff

Minneapolis, MN – On, Feb. 16, Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) organized an event for Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross, the Mother Superior at the Monastery and Convent of Saint James in Qara, Syria, to speak via Skype to a packed room at the 4200 Cedar Community Center here.

Mother Agnes is an international spokesperson for peace in the Syrian conflict. Time and again, Mother Agnes has faced life-threatening situations in her humanitarian work for the safety and security of others.

Margaret Sarfehjooy, chair of the WAMM Mideast Committee, opened the event, saying, “We care deeply about the human suffering of the Syrian people… The situation is becoming more and more violent, with more and more Syrians losing their homes, losing their children, living in horrible situations that we can’t even imagine. What can we, in the U.S. do to help?”

She continued, “WAMM strongly opposes U.S. military intervention, whether direct or indirect, in the war that is currently raging in Syria, and call for an escalation of diplomacy, not war.”

Noting the significance of the Syrian conflict, Mother Agnes said, “Syria is becoming a battleground of regional war, and maybe a worldwide war.” She noted that on the one hand, Syria’s government has the support of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), ALBA countries (Latin American countries including Cuba and Venezuela), and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

She named some of the countries supporting the opposition, “Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, the U.S., Britain, Jordan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and of course, Israel.” She continued, “We think it is scandalous to set out to topple the Syrian government with these allies.”

Mother Agnes is one of the main organizers of this Mussalaha Intitiative, which Sarfehjooy described as, “an example of how diplomacy and reconciliation are used in Syria to reduce the violence. Mussalaha describes itself as a community-based, non-violent initiative originating within Syrian civil society. Founded at the community level, it includes members of all Syria’s ethnic and religious communities who are tired of war. It stands as a demonstration of hope that a third way option to armed conflict remains possible and provides an alternative to military intervention from abroad.”

Mother Agnes said, “Reconciliation brings the possibility to build bridges between different sides of conflict. Diverse people were living together for a long time in Syria under a civilian pact. Foreign forces are sowing dangerous fear and hatred among people. Mediators must be willing to talk to all sides and bring them to a common accord in civilian areas.”

She then described one community, where the intervention of foreign fighters had displaced 50,000 civilians, brought on a military siege and resulted in starvation conditions for the remaining inhabitants. Through her work, a ceasefire was negotiated to allow the evacuation of those who wanted to leave. Following the agreement, she said, “650 rebels came to give up their arms and act as non-violent opposition. Now that neighborhood has settled a peaceful agreement with guarantees the population its rights.” Mother Agnes reported that such agreements had been negotiated in six more areas, covering 1.5 million people.

Critical of the U.S., Mother Agnes said, “We need to stop fueling this on all sides with arms. The U.S. should agree with Russia to not arm either side, but instead to support reconciliation.”

When asked about the prospects for a negotiated settlement to come out of Geneva 2 talks, she said, “As long as toppling the government is a condition of the talks, nothing can happen. This government enjoys the support of more than half the population. The demand should be to create a good atmosphere for fair elections.”

Mother Agnes urged U.S. peace activists to oppose U.S. military intervention in Syria, including the shipment of arms to fuel the conflict, in Syria. She said, “I love the American people, but the American government can be very harmful. When they want something they think any means are justified.”

Some 70 people attended the event, which was endorsed by the Minnesota Anti-War Committee, the Twin Cities Peace Campaign, and Veterans for Peace Chapter 27.

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