The war has transformed the work of many religious people in Syria. Sr. Demerjian Annie’s congregation of Jesus and Mary in Aleppo has helped hundreds of families survive the war. One of the bloodiest battles of the conflict was fought in the city. However, even though she had the possibility of leaving, she has never considered leaving Syria.
“It is my home and I don’t want to leave my home, my people, my family. If we leave them in this time, what is the meaning of my vocation? Now during the war my vocation has more meaning. “It’s amazing for me, my vocation becomes stronger because of their faith. The way they adapt to the situation and every time we go to visit the only words they say are ‘Thanks be to God.’ For me, that stayed in my mind, with all these very painful experiences, they say ‘Thanks be to God.’”
More than 400,000 people have died since the Syrian Civil War broke out in March 2011, according to estimates. At least 28,226 of these casualties were children.
Sister Demerjian points out: “The war has robbed children of their childhood and innocence and killed the brightness in their eyes; they have been spectators and unwilling actors in a hell they did not create”
Sr. Demerjian cited a statistic from UNICEF that an estimated 3.7 million Syrian children have been born since the Syrian Civil War began. “Born and raised during this time, they know only of destruction, violence and death,” she said. The nun particularly noted the pain of children who have lost one or both parents. “It is very hard to keep this great wound, you know. I ask the Lord to heal the wounds in their hearts and to make them accept with a heart of forgiveness.”
Children have been impacted in other ways as well. Syria has the lowest school attendance rates in the world after tens of thousands of teachers fled the country and one in three schools closed due to damage.
Hospitals have also become military targets during the civil war. More than 300 healthcare facilities in Syria have been attacked and at least 768 medical professionals killed in the conflict, according to Physicians for Human Rights.
While the Islamic State’s territorial caliphate has collapsed, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 ISIS fighters still remain in Iraq and Syria today, according to a recently released report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And with government forces focusing on the few remaining rebel-held territories in the country, the civil war in Syria may be winding down, but it is unclear whether the nation will find peace in the postwar era.
Sister Demerjian requested prayers for those directly involved with the conflict. “I want to pray for every person who carries arms, who has killed other people, that the Lord will enlighten their mind and their hearts to see the truth, to see that life is a gift from the Lord and only He has the right to take it,” she said.
Of the thousands who have fled Syria, many are Christians who could no longer endure the hardships of war. An estimated 800,000 have left, 40 percent of those previously living in the country. Sr. Annie assures that, although the community is decimated, the faith is far from being extinguished. Instead, it is even more alive.