Today began with the good news that the two metropolitan archbishops abducted yesterday had been released and were now safely back in Aleppo. Reuters and the BBC cited “Greek Orthodox Bishop Tony Yazigi,” Reuters remarking that the bishop was a relative of the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yaziji who was abducted. Additional news outlets in English and French are cited in the blog “Notes on Arab Orthodoxy.” It seemed that the only remaining question, although it was a murky one, was who had abducted the bishops.
But that news was premature, evidently the bishops have not been released, and orthodox patriarchates have been issuing statements to deny the good news (Antiochian diocese in North America in English, and a joint declaration by the Greek Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox patriarchs of Antioch in Arabic). That lends the question of who abducted the bishops more than academic importance.
But if the veracity of the bishops’ liberation is problematic, the identity of the captors is even more so. Predictably, the state news agency blamed the rebels, and the opposition blamed the government. Church sources meanwhile refrained from assigning blame, or blamed foreign (even Chechen) extremists (here in Arabic, translated into English here).
The conflicting news just highlights the difficulty of getting any reliable information on the situation in Syria, and the complexity of that situation. Although the human penchant for thinking in binaries pits Assad and his Alawite minority against a Sunni majority “opposition” or “rebels” (depending on the political inclination of the commenter), substantial largely neutral populations join with fissures within the two combatant sides to yield intractable complexity. The fact that the bishops were abducted in “rebel-held territory” may suggest that they were abducted by “the rebels,” but which group? There are more than a few. And all sides in Syria have a vested interested in presenting a very skewed version of the events. Until some more reliable information escapes the warzone, we’ll have to wait and hope.