In the Syrian city of Amudah, near the border with Turkey and 30 kilometers from Qamishli, the First International Conference of Religions and Beliefs in Mesopotamia was held on January 10-11, bringing together Muslim, Christian, Yazidi and Alawite scholars and conference participants from Syria and other countries.
"Based on the two-day speeches and debates", Abdul Rahman Badrakhan, a member of the organizing committee, told Suroyo TV, "the conference participants discussed the decisions that need to be made in order to walk the path of peaceful commonliving. And they discussed the contribution that faith communities can make to the processes necessary to secure peace and to consolidate the principles of democracy and peaceful coexistence in society".
Apart from the participants' positive declarations of intent, the location where the event took place and the names of the local and international representatives who attended the event are also of particular importance in a Syrian context where the competing strategies of both regional actors and global powers collide.
The city of Qamishli is in north-eastern Syria, in a region removed from the control of the government in Damascus and under the so-called Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, which is ruled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led coalition formed during the Syrian conflict forces and militias, which announces its intention to establish a secular and democratic federal-style government in the region.
The conference was also attended by representatives of the Syrian Union Party (SUP), a political organization that sees itself as representing the local Syrian Christian communities and has been allied with the Kurdish forces since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, which in its programmatic statements affirms its intention to establish a secular and democratic federalist government in the region.
The entire area continues to be subjected to heavy raids by the Turkish army. The government in Ankara wants to prevent the creation of an autonomous unit controlled by Kurdish political forces and militias in the Syrian areas near the border. In recent months, Turkish military operations have therefore also hit towns and villages in the Khabur Valley, which are traditionally inhabited by Christians. During the interfaith meeting in Amudah, Islamic Democratic Conference member Abdul Karim Sarukhan condemned the recent Turkish bombing of the city of Kobanê and recalled the civilians killed in that airstrike.
Nadine Maenza, President of the United States Committee on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), also attended the conference and expressed her satisfaction with the success of the initiative via Twitter.
According to SyriacPress, the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Mor designated Ignace Youssif III. Younan, in his message to conference participants, described the initiative as "a platform for promoting love between religions".
In Syria, still marred by a post-war period fraught with unresolved tensions and the suffering of millions of vulnerable people, the Mesopotamia Conference of Religions regretted that issues of religious freedom and protection of diverse faith communities had become a terrain in which contrasting strategies and propaganda pursued by regional and global political subjects confront and compete with each other.