x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Syrian truce as Jesus statue erected on mountain

Giant bronze statue goes up under cover of a truce among three factions in the country's civil war.

Workers prepare to install a statue of Jesus on Mount Sednaya, Syria. Samir El Gadban / AP
Workers prepare to install a statue of Jesus on Mount Sednaya, Syria. Samir El Gadban / AP

BEIRUT // In the midst of a conflict rife with sectarianism, a giant bronze statue of Jesus has gone up on a Syrian mountain, apparently under cover of a truce among three factions in the country’s civil war.

Jesus stands, arms outstretched, on the Cherubim mountain, overlooking a route pilgrims took from Constantinople to Jerusalem in ancient times. The statue is 12.3 metres tall and stands on a base that brings its height to 32m, organisers of the project estimate.

That the statue made it to Syria and went up without incident on October 14 is remarkable. The project took eight years and was set back by the civil war that followed the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar Al Assad.

Christians and other minorities are all targets in the conflict, and the statue’s survival is not assured. It stands among villages where some fighters, linked to Al Qaeda, have little sympathy for Christians.

So why put up a giant statue of Jesus in the midst of such setbacks and so much danger?

Because “Jesus would have done it”, organiser Samir Al Ghadban quoted a Christian church leader as telling him.

Mr Al Ghadban said that the main armed groups in the area – Syrian government forces, rebels and the local militias of Sednaya, the Christian town near the statue site – halted fire while organisers set up the statue.

It took three days to raise the statue. Photos provided by organisers show it being hauled in two pieces by farm tractors, then lifted into place by a crane. Smaller statues of Adam and Eve stand nearby.

The project is run by the London-based St Paul and St George Foundation, which Mr Al Ghadban directs. It was previously named the Gavrilov Foundation, after a Russian businessman, Yuri Gavrilov.

Russians have been a driving force behind the project – not surprising given that the Kremlin is embattled Mr Al Assad’s chief ally, and the Orthodox churches in Russia and Syria have close ties. Mr Al Ghadban is Syrian-Russian and lives in both countries.

Majority Sunni Muslims dominate the revolt, and militant Islamists make up some of the strongest fighting groups. Other Muslim groups along with the 10 per cent Christian minority have stood largely with Mr Al Assad’s government, or remained neutral.

* Associated Press