AANES hands over churches to Christians in Syria’s Raqqa 

RAQQA, Syria (North Press) – The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) handed over on Tuesday religious facilities to the Christians in the city of Raqqa in northern Syria. 

The Committee for the Protection of the Properties of the Assyrians, Syriacs, Chaldeans, and Armenians received the Christian holy places from the Democratic Islamic Conference during a memorandum of understanding.

Both institutions – the protection committee and the Islam Conference – are affiliated to the AANES.

Armen Mardo, Administrator of the Protection Committee, said that receiving their churches from the Islamic institution in Raqqa and Tabqa is considered a “turning point.”

He told North Press that they – the Christians – received their holy places from the religious committee which has preserved these places and real estates in the past period.    

“We, representatives of the Syriacs, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians, received the the Armenian Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Virgin Mary for Armenian Orthodox,” Mardo told North Press.

Christian people in the two cities of Raqqa and Tabqa were compelled to abandon their properties when the extremist groups took control of the area during the era of ISIS control.

After defeating ISIS, the AANES issued the Endowments Law. This law entails the transfer of ownership and management of Christian properties and holy facilities, previously under the supervision of the Democratic Islamic Conference, to the Committee for the Protection of the Properties of the Assyrians, Syriacs, Chaldeans, and Armenians.

Mardo indicated that receiving the holy places and properties is a step towards the return of the Christians to Raqqa peacefully.

North Press obtained a Memorandum of Understanding that includes the names of the churches and holy facilities that the committee will receive very soon. The facilities are located in the al-Ajaj area in Raqqa that is enclosed and prepared for the construction of a church, and a cemetery in the village of Tel al-Bay’ah, north of Raqqa.

The Syrian conflict led to the forced displacement of minority ethnic groups, particularly during the period of ISIS rule. However, having defeated ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with the support of the U.S.-led Global Coalition, the minority groups now feel safe enough to return to their homes.

There are 26 Christians residing in the city of Raqqa, whereas their number was about 5,000 before 2011, according to information obtained by North Press from the Christians of Raqqa.

By Zana al-Ali