Carey visit to Damascus prompts MPs outrage


Carey visit to Damascus prompts MPs outrage


George Conger

The former Archbishop of Canterbury and other members of a delegation of Christian rights activists have come under criticism for visiting Syria last month. Liberal activists and opposition members of Parliament have denounced Lord Carey and the members of his team of peers and faith leaders, saying their visit with aides to President Bashir al-Assad served to bolster the Syrian regime.

Lord and Lady Carey, Baroness Caroline Cox, Lord Hylton and lay and clergy leaders from the Church of England spent the last week of November visiting Syria at the invitation of  His Holiness Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, the Patriarch of Antioch of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

The patriarch’s press office released a statement welcoming the visit, saying Ignatius Aphrem hoped Lord Carey and his team would be “our voice in the United Kingdom” speaking in support The patriarchal press office said the Syriac Church hoped the visit would “help the members of the delegation to better understand the circumstances under which the Syrian people are living.”

The delegation met with leaders of the Greek, Catholic and Orthodox communities, as well as Muslim leaders, and state officials.

However, the attendance at the meetings of Assad aide Bouthaina Shaaban, prompted Labour MP  John Woodcock, to denounce the visit. He told Middle East Eye “The Assad regime has committed appalling crimes against the people of Syria and it should be condemned in the strongest terms by everyone.

“The Archbishop should be careful not to allow his good name to be used for propaganda purposes. In particular, he would horrify many Christians if he chose to meet Bashar al-Assad himself - an act that this brutal pariah would use to bolster his position when focus should remain on putting the spotlight on his grotesque crimes against humanity.”

However, the organizers rejected suggestions they were offering support to the Assad regime by supporting persecuted Christians. "They are there to support the Church and the Christian community which has been targeted by the Islamic State and other jihadist groups and feels abandoned by the international community,” their spokesman told MEE.

On 29 Nov 2017 the Syrian state news agency (SANA) eported the delegation met with the Speaker of the Syrian People’s Assembly. SANA stated Hammouda Sabbagh hoped “the delegation’s members would convey the real image of what is taking place on the ground in a neutral way which might help change attitude towards Syria and restore security and stability to the country, noting that the Syrian people have remained steadfast and determined to move forward with their daily life.”

The SANA report stated: “Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Baron Carey of Clifton, indicated that the British people over the past five years have understood the events in Syria in a wrong way and they were convinced that ‘changing the rule in Syria is the only solution,’ adding that the current visit aims at discussing means of cooperation to take part in rebuilding what has been destroyed due to war.”