Lebanon’s Daily Star reported today that George Sabra, current president of the Syrian National Council and acting president of the Syrian National Coalition (not to be confused), revealed the location and condition of the abducted metropolitan archbishops of Aleppo, the Syrian Orthodox Mor Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim and the Greek Orthodox Boulos Yaziji, to Amin Gemayel, former Lebanese president and current leader of the Lebanese . According to the Daily Star’s report of Sabra’s phone conversation, the archbishops are still being held by “a rebel group” but are “both in good health.” Their location was identified as the town of “Bshaqtin” some 20 km northwest of Aleppo.
The report is the first real good news since the abduction over two weeks ago, but it is still frustratingly little. Which rebel group is holding them? Why are they being held? Are they being held by the same group that captured them in the first place, or have they changed hands? Why is Sabra telling Gamayel the location? Does he expect Gamayel or the Kataeb party to do anything about that fact?
As a case study in the frustrations of the case, even the location of “Bshaqtin” is problematic. One would not expect every Syrian village to have a website, or a Wikipedia page, but earlier today a Google search of the name produced no hits. Now a Google search primarily produces hits derived from this single news article, although a facebook post for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (and a derived blog) reported shelling of the village of “Bshaqtin” in October. But otherwise nothing comes up, and googling for the various Arabic ways of spelling “Bshaqtin” (بشقتين, بشقتن, بشقطن, بشقطين, بشاقطين, بشاقطن, بشاقتن, بشاقتين) produced nothing useful but a suggested spelling “Bshqatin” (بشقاتين – there’s probably a vowel between the first two consonants, but I don’t know what). Arabic Wikipedia mentions “Bshqatin” as a village in the nahiya (ناحية) of Darat ‘Izza (دارة عزة), within the mintaqa (منطقة) of Jabal Sem‘ān in Aleppo Governorate, west and a little north of Aleppo city, and this may be the village hiding behind the spelling in the Daily Star’s article. But I have not been able to locate it more precisely than nearby Darat ‘Izza.
We can only hope that the report of good health is accurate, and that they will soon be released safely. The Syrian National Coalition’s selection of Sabra, a leftist Christian, as acting President was clearly intended to increase support among Western nations, but the rebel abduction of two minority religious leaders should also raise alarm. If the group responsible for the abduction is identified, it will become possible to distinguish between the abductors and other opposition groups. Perhaps the reason why nothing was heard of the bishops for two weeks after their abduction was because their captors were attempting to pin the blame for the abduction on the Assad regime, in order to increase support for the opposition among either international observers or local religious minorities. If that is the case, it is likely to have backfired.
Update 5/13/2013: An Arabic translation of the article cited above, posted on the National News Agency of Lebanon, renders the village name Bashqatin (بشقاتين) and further specifies that it is located 5 km from Barad (براد). The Wikipedia pages list the coordinates of Barad, which can be clicked through to view where Barad is. On the other hand, since Barad is 30 km from Aleppo “as the crow flies”, it seems impossible for a village to be 20 km from Aleppo and 5 km from Barad.