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Syriac community voices outrage over decision to revoke citizenships

The Daily Star 14/11/2011

BEIRUT: Members of the Syriac community voiced their outrage over the weekend at a recent government decision to revoke Lebanese citizenship from nearly 200 people, among them some two dozen Syriac families.

Dozens of Syriac Lebanese gathered at Zahle’s Lady Mary Church Sunday to protest the state’s decision to cancel citizenship for the families who, according to Syriac officials, have lived their entire lives in the country and have served in the Lebanese Army.

President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel signed a decree last month to revoke Lebanese citizenship from individuals who, according to a ruling of the Shura Council eight years ago, attained it in a fraudulent manner.

A statement made by the Syriac Union Party over the weekend strongly condemned the move, arguing it targets a Lebanese community that, like other sects, has served the country and fought in its defense in times of war.

“Doesn’t our sect [Syriac] deserve Lebanese citizenship after having 1,132 martyrs in defense of the nation?” said the statement.

The government’s decision became official last week when the Cabinet published the names of more than 200 people in two separate decrees, one for Palestinian refugees and another for people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.

According to decree 6691 published on Oct. 10 in the official gazette, the people whose names are included in the decree are believed to have gained Lebanese citizenship “by mistake or “through various fraudulent manners.”

Article 1 of the decree says “Citizenship is revoked from all those whose names are listed above and others who have gained their citizenship through them, whether by marriage, birth, judicial or administrative decision.”

Ibrahim Mrad, the head of the Syriac Union Party, attacked the government’s decision and vowed to reclaim the rights of 25 Syriac families through legal and judicial channels.

“We are collecting all the necessary documents from the Lebanese Syriac families and we will file a lawsuit against the Shura Council’s decision, which the government ratified,” Mrad told The Daily Star Sunday.

“There is a two-month deadline for us to file a lawsuit against the council’s decision … we are prepared to challenge the decision with a group of lawyers and strong evidence that the families have, proof of ownership and family records,” Mrad noted.

“These families’ roots have been based in Lebanon for more than 50 years and many of them hold positions in the public sector and serve in the army,” Mrad explained.

Mrad said that their case against the decree won’t be simply a “reaction but an action to regain basic rights.”

According to Mrad, the families were surprised when they were notified that their names were listed in the official gazette last week, in which most of them were listed as Turkish.

“None of these families have any Turkish documents or Turkish roots whatsoever, many of them resided in Lebanon during the Ottoman era but failed, like so many others, to receive their Lebanese citizenship until the early 1990s,” said Mrad.

Despite having legal residency permits, nearly 200,000 people were given a special status, “citizenship in review,” until 1994 when former President Elias Hrawi signed a decree granting them citizenship.

“The community’s campaign to regain their rights is also being supported politically,” said Mrad, who held meetings all day with MPs and community officials in Bekaa’s Zahle.

“I have recently met with the Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and he agreed to follow up on the matter,” said Mrad, adding that the community has also received support from the March 14 coalition.

When asked about the community’s options should the legal action against the Shura Council fail in the next two months, Mrad said all options would remain on the table.

Zahle’s Syriac Orthodox Bishop Bulos Safar described the move as the “displacement of people in the name of the law.”

“We were displaced from Iraq under bloody oppression,” he said, “and today families are being displaced from Lebanon under the pretext of the rule of law.”

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/ArticlePrint.aspx?id=153973&mode=print

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