Mairead Maguire reports on the 2014 Peace Pilgrimage to Syria

I’ve had the privilege of joining Mairead and her team on both of her recent visits to Syria. She is an inspiring leader whose wisdom is only overshadowed by her humility.

What follows is her personal report of our April 2014 mission. Her experiences were slightly different to mine just as her goals were slightly different.  She wasn’t there to box, but she was there to spread love and hope, both of which she exudes in abundance!

Father Dave

meeting up with Mairead Maguire in Tehran

meeting up with Mairead in Tehran


5th April, – 14th April, 2014.

Ann Patterson and I were honoured to participate in the International Peace Pilgrimage to Syria via Iran, from 5th – 14th April, 2014. During an international delegation to Syria last year, we had both promised to return to Syria, and we also fulfilled a long-held intention to visit Iran.


We arrived in Iran on 5th April, and joined an international delegation of 14 from Lebanon, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, the UK and Germany.   We were invited by the Unified Union of Unified Ummah’s, who organized this peace and humanitarian mission via Iran.  Although Iranians are themselves suffering economic duress from some of the same nations oppressing Syria, they choose to show solidarity with Syria by sending large amounts of aid, purchased with the individual contributions of thousands of caring Iranian citizens.

We spent four wonderful days in Iran, where we visited Tehran, (for the main meetings and conference), Isfahan (a centre for Iranian and Armenian Christians), and Qom (a religious centre for Shia Muslims, where we met with Shia scholars).  There was also a major event at Tehran University, where we spoke to students, and children sang and presented toys, including their own, for Syrian children.  We also met with the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament and other political representatives.

I was deeply moved by the warmth and friendliness of the Iranian people, and was particularly impressed with the youth.  We asked some women students about their hope for the future of their country and they replied that they feared an attack by the US or NATO, but hoped otherwise.  We found this sad, as these young people are eager to travel and make friends in other countries, like most young people.

The cities we visited were modern, and the Islamic architecture magnificent, as was the Armenian church.  I would encourage people to visit Iran to meet its people and experience its beauty. Indeed I believe this is the only way to peace – people to people and country to country.    Foreign women are encouraged to wear the headscarf, out of respect for Iran’s tradition.

During our visit we also met with an Iranian friend, who shared her story of imprisonment and abuse, due to her human rights advocacy.  There is no doubt Iran needs to show greater respect for human rights, but many said that it is moving in the right direction.

It was a great inspiration to visit Iran, and I look forward to visiting again in the future.  I would like to extend our deepest thanks for our Iranian friends for their wonderful hospitality during our visit to their country.


On 10th April, forty people, including 24 of the most highly respected and well-known cultural and religious Iranian leaders, together with 16 internationals, flew from Tehran to Damascus.  We brought medical aid (co-ordinated by Iranian Red Crescent) and also toys and other gifts, all collected with donations from people of Iran and the international visitors.

We were welcomed in Damascus by Dr. Ahmed Khaddour, Mother Agnes Mariam, the Mussalaha organization, Dr. Declan Hayes, and Mohamed Quraish. I would take this opportunity to thank them for their central role in conceiving this project and bringing it to fruition.  Other pilgrims joined us from Lebanon, the US, Canada, and other locations.

During the next four days our delegation visited the Great Mosque, Chapel of St. Paul, the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque, (in the words of the Iranian Imam, ‘a dream come true for Iranian pilgrims’).  It was a great privilege to join and pray with our Muslim and Christian friends.

Our delegation also travelled to Latakia and Homs. We saw the damage and spoke to Syrians who were unable to live in their homes and have suffered unspeakable crimes committed by rebels against them. Outside our hotel in Damascus we heard two large explosions that killed a soldier and three civilians in two cars.  They were the result of random mortar attacks that plague a city otherwise apparently under control of government forces. Even the wife of the ex-president was killed in her home by such an attack whilst she was cooking breakfast.

In Latakia, Governor Abdel-Qader told us that the Syrian people are facing with steadfastness an international plot against their country.  He pointed to thousands of Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters that swarmed across the Turkish border on March 21, 2014, with Turkish military support to attack Christian Armenian Syrians north of Latakia. Eyewitnesses reported that 50-90 residents were massacred, others taken into Turkey against their will, and a large number sent in flight to Latakia. We visited some of these refugees, who were staying in an Armenian Church.

We also visited refugees from Haram, near Idlib, Syria.  They told us how over a year ago hundreds of foreign fighters had crossed from the nearby Turkish border, kidnapped over 300 people and brutally killed another 150.  Many had fled and were afraid to return to their area, seeking instead to live in as refugees in Latakia. They also reported that Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters received support from the Turkish military, and launched cross border artillery, tank fire and missile attacks against not only Syrian Army positions but at the civilian population of Latakia. (Some Syrians told us that Turkey has evolved into a major military operational base for a NATO backed invasion of Syria.)

In Latakia we met with Lilly Martin, an American immigrant to Syria who has lived there permanently for 24 years.  She told us that missiles are fired daily into Latakia from Turkish territory, upon the civilian community, and often killing many people on the streets of the city.  She said that Syria was “neither in civil nor sectarian war” and that the crisis that began in March, 2011 in Deraa, Syria, was not a popular uprising, or a revolution but rather a foreign funded and foreign planned attack on the Syrian government and its civilian population, for the express purpose of regime change.  When asked, “What do you see as the solution for Syria, and whom do you want to hear this message?” Martin replied, “The solution to the crisis in Syria will come when the United States of America will make a public political decision to stop aiding and supporting terrorism, and specifically the Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates who are killing Syrians daily.  I want President Obama to hear my message and the message of the Peace Pilgrimage to Syria, April 2014.”

In Homs, where the Musalaha movement began with Mother Agnes Mariam as one of its leaders, and where its members continue to work for peace and reconciliation, we met a group of ex-fighters who have accepted the Syrian government offer of amnesty (the 5th such) and stopped fighting. Some are now working with the Musalaha movement for a peaceful solution in Syria.   (Before leaving Damascus we learned over 100 rebels had agreed to give up their guns and that this is happening throughout Syria.)

We also met with six registered opposition parties.  They said that internal problems, such as marginalization of a big part of the Syrian society, was part of the conflict, but that Syrians could deal with these problems, without foreign intervention and internationalization of the crisis in order to implement foreign agendas.

During a reception, the religious leaders, including Grand Mufti Dr. Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun and His Beautitude, Patriarch Gregorios Laham, shared their message that Syria is united in its diversity, and their belief that Syrian people will be able to reach an understanding amongst themselves and resolve their differences in a national dialogue and without the use of guns.  They believe in a Syria that is created by Syrians and not by outside forces.  Like most Syrians, they are sure that if other countries will stop the flow of arms, fighters and other interference in Syria, the Syrian people will be able to reach an understanding amongst themselves and rebuild Syria together.  We were also informed that they all support the planned elections in spite of the fighting.

Our delegation left Syria inspired by and hopeful for the Syrian people, for peace in their country, and we ask our countries and indeed all countries, to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Syria.

To all those who have lost loved ones, we extend our deepest sympathy.  We thank our hosts and the Syrian people for their kindness and hospitality and assure them of our solidarity as they rebuild their country, which has suffered so very much.

Mairead Maguire
Nobel Peace Laureate
Member of International Peace Delegation to
Iran and Syria, April, 2014.…

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14 Responses to Mairead Maguire reports on the 2014 Peace Pilgrimage to Syria

  1. JOHN PITTS says:

    At Father Dave’s request, I shall copy here the response to Mairead Maguire’s report that I sent him via Twitter (his iPhone couldn’t handle 29 consecutive tweets..), prompted by what I consider significant inaccuracies re the Kessab story.

    This is a series of Tweets so might not make great prose:
    “You don’t know the #SaveKessab story ?
    After Kessab was captured by rebels in April, within days (hours?), the pro-regime Twitter network (which is legion & very organised if you don’t know, including multiple accounts working from Damascus offices), birthed a campaign using the #SaveKessab hashtag, which claimed that 100s had been killed, beheadings, burnt churches, & the attackers had been largely Turkish fighters.

    This was promoted with photos, including beheadings from elsewhere, pictures of a girl killed by a Crucifix that came from a HORROR MOVIE, a video claiming to be rebels executing Armenians that was in fact a radical group of rebels executing rebels from a moderate group in Aleppo earlier in the year; but most offensive of all, photos of dead children, who had in fact been killed BY THE REGIME.

    The aim was to whip up support against the rebels from Armenians and Christians, and to suggest that Turkey was behind an impending Armenian massacre.

    It worked.
    Armenians around the net became hysterical and it spread like wildfire, & then went viral after reality star Armenian Kim Kardashian added her weight.

    But the reality was:
    Yes the rebels came out of Turkey, but were not Turkish fighters;
    Most reisidents fled to Lattakia before the rebels reached the town;
    During the battle, ONE Armenian woman was killed in her car by a sniper who could have been from either side, and this was THE ONLY civilian death;
    NO Churches were damaged, & rebels produced videos to prove it;
    Elderly residents were later moved to Turkey by rebels for their SAFETY and left with Armenians there; taking them to Lattakia obviously not possible.

    A lot of people on Twitter spent much energy for next 2 weeks repeatedly explaining to 100s of retweeters how the stories + images were false in order to stop these lies from taking hold for good. A bit like fighting a furious forest fire.
    Slowly the truth started to seep through; but eventually, the MAYOR of Kessab – an Assad supporter – came forward to deny these stories. Armenians slowly began to accept this, & amazingly even Assad Trolls started to drop the story as it was debunked, which is akin to getting a crocodile to loosen its grip.

    Now most of this happened on Social Networks, but Kim Kardashian’s involvement meant it was also widely covered by various news networks. One would IMAGINE that ANYONE who would claim to be following Syria would be aware of it; it was a big story.

    So imagine my feelings on seeing that a prominent member of the Peace Pilgrimage – which after all relies on the patronage and protection of the Regime, and should therefore be EXTRA CAUTIOUS about what it believes and repeats – repeating a version of events in Kessab that was accepted as false by all but a tiny few WEEKS ago.

    What it shows is incredible naivity, if she takes everything she is told at face value, on a tour chaperoned by a Regime notorious for manipulation & controlled propaganda.
    Such inaccuracy and ignorance of the debunkation shows a gullibility that is just not good enough for anyone seeking answers to Syria’s situation and neutralises the credibility of anything else she might say.
    But it is also DANGEROUS. People expect what Mairead Maguire says to be true. So these things will be accepted without question.

    You probably realise Father Dave that, however well intentioned, I consider your mission to Syria at best ill advised and extremely naïve, at worst a depressing + dangerous propaganda tool for a vicious + deceitful regime.
    I do not question the SINCERITY of you + others involved ( forgive me as I cannot with honesty extend that charity to Mother Agnes. I wont go into why now – but I imagine you are aware she is despised + deeply unpopular with many people.)
    Nor do I BLAME anyone for being what I consider naïve about just how evil and deceiving the Assad regime is; indeed not, because they play by rules which are way beyond what decent people can understand. It takes A LOT – a lot of learning, a lot of looking into the “Dark Side” to believe their methods for keeping power more than 40 years. They cant change, they don’t know how or want to, and have shown not the slightest sign of changing.
    So I know you are well motivated. But sadly I do predict that one day you will see that you were used, and will regret having done anything to help prolong the life of this murdering + evil regime, if only for one minute.”

    • fatherdave says:

      Hi John,

      If you’re suggesting that Mairead was repeating propaganda spread via Twitter then I think you’ve misunderstood the process.

      We saw some of the damage in Lattakia ourselves and then we heard more from the Mayor. When then visited an Armenian church where dozens of families who had fled the violence were sleeping on the floors in crisis accommodation. Mairead’s impressions were gained directly from conversations with these people.

      I actually didn’t go into the church and talk with the Armenian refugees myself. Solomon and I stayed out on the street outside and boxed with the crowd of young people gathered there. I consequently didn’t get to hear what these displaced Armenians had to say. Mairead did.

      It is possible that these people from Kessab (if that’s where they were from) were lying or uninformed but you can surely appreciate as to why we would take their testimonies seriously.

      As I say, I wasn’t there to hear the first-hand reports of these people who had fled their homes. Even so, my understanding was that it was Jabhat Al-Nusra who were leading the attack on these people. Do you really mean to speak in defense of that group?


      • JOHN PITTS says:

        No, I am not suggesting at all that she got it from Twitter; quite the contrary.

        If she followed Social Media, or studied other various media sources to a degree I would consider imperative, or even adequate, for someone choosing to get this involved in this subject – where the knock on effect of misinformation can result in LIVES BEING PUT AT RISK – then she would have been aware, and immediately cautious about what she was told re. Kessab, or careful to check before repeating that or anything else she was told on your trip.

        Maybe Mairead’s policy is to ignore all media and just go on what she sees. Great idea, in an ideal, honest world, but in this case very dangerous.

        You need to realise that people like her and others in your group are trusted and believed by many, so everything is taken at face value. That brings much responsibility. You are also taking along with you many frightened and worried people who want, understandably, to believe that a peaceful, reconciliation solution is possible, and need a narrative that suits that, so want to believe you. There are other people out there now who also don’t follow the media closely, who now believe there was a massacre in Kessab – simply because Mairead Maguire says that’s what she was told.

        If the Regime didn’t see how they could use your visit to further and boost their aims, you would never have been allowed to go, or at least been seriously inhibited. I watched the PressTV report, always a pro regime organisation, with mounting disappointment. The regime, basically, got out of you what they wanted.

        More another time.
        PS. Not exactly true to say the rebels were “attacking these people” really. They were attacking the SAA because they wanted to take Kessab for strategic reasons, that was the purpose.
        And no. I am not an Islamist in case you are wondering.

        • JOHN PITTS says:

          ..and don’t get me wrong. We all WISH that a truly peaceful solution was possible, we all want to believe it.
          We just don’t all believe that its remotely possible as things stand, or that the path you are pursuing is based on the truth about the real situation.

        • fatherdave says:

          I find it hard to take seriously any suggestion that the media is pro-Assad! Media propaganda depicting the Syrian rebels as Robin Hood and his merry men has been dominating all major Western media outlets since the beginning of the violence in Syria.

          And I’m afraid I do put more faith in what I see with my own eyes and what I’ve heard directly from people who have clearly suffered through the conflict. I’ve talked to people recovering in hospital and had grieving mothers clinging to me and showing me pictures of their dead children. I don’t believe any of that was stage-managed.

          One graphic memory for me was a wonderful lunch I shared with a hall full of soccer players. They were all grieving some of their players who had been killed when one of their games was shelled by mortar fire!

          I find it impossible to believe that anybody could shell soccer players and spectators in the belief that this is going to promote democracy. I’m sure you realise that democracy and freedom for Syria are not the agenda of Jabhat Al-Nusra or ISIS or any of these takfiri.

          • JOHN PITTS says:

            ?? I never said that “The Media” were pro-Assad, I said that PressTV have always worked in favour of the regime, only that.

  2. Nicola David says:

    I’m afraid this reads like a piece of pro-Iranian propaganda, and comes off – at BEST – as hopelessly naive.

  3. JOHN PITTS says:

    PS. I forgot to add:
    Once Kessab was in rebel hands, in time it inevitably came under heavy bombardment from the SAA.
    You can be pretty damn sure that any resulting damage to churches, etc, will be placed firmly at the feet of the rebels by the Assad propaganda machine..

    • fatherdave says:

      I should point out too that Mairead never actually mentioned ‘Kessab’ as such. It is possible that you are referring to different incidents.

      • JOHN PITTS says:

        Paragraph 5, of “FROM IRAN TO SYRIA” is unquestioningly referring to Kessab, in all its details. Or at least, to the false story re Kessab.
        If even the MAYOR of Kessab long ago confirmed that these stories were untrue, do you really think it likely that the GOVERNOR of Lattakia will not have heard this ?
        And yet here we have him, repeating these falsehoods to Mairead Maguire. Why ??
        Well we know which side he is on in this conflict.

        The fact that it was him, and not someone who might not know better, only goes to forcefully prove my point that using untruths to enforce a narrative is a long practiced second nature for this regime. Its bedrock, in fact.
        And to show how they would use you if they could. I’m sure he would have had a “back-up” had she questioned what he said, but as she didn’t, that’s what she repeated.
        I’m not denying any of the genuine suffering and grief you encountered there, but I think you are trying hard to avoid what’s staring you in the face. And I haven’t heard you say “Its wrong to repeat things that aren’t true and we need to be very careful because it can cause harm”. Though I imagine you agree.

        I find myself thinking you were also unaware of what happened at Kessab, either the false story, the true story, or the controversary surrounding it. Am I right ?

        I’m afraid I would find that quite disturbing.

  4. I’m a journalist for “Digital Journal.” I lived in Turkey and interviewed Syrians who had escaped. I have published several articles about the torture and killing of Chrisitans in Syria–by Islamist groups that hijacked the freedom revolution against Assad in order to create an Islamist State. My information is not false, although “John” keeps claiming that it is. I obtained photos, a video, and testimony from reliable sources, including international newspapers. The Islamist rebels in Syria are not a Boy Scout Troop and should not be defended. #SaveKessab.

    #Islamists execute #ArmenianChristians in #Syria. #SaveKessab:…

    #Islamists execute #ArmenianChristians in #Syria. #SaveKessab:…

    Here’s the video of #ArmenianChristians being murdered by #Islamists. #SaveKessab.…

    #Islamists are torturing and killing #ChristiansInSyria and liberal #media wants this #truth hidden. #SaveKessab:…

    #Islamists hate #FreeSpeech and the world knowing what they are doing to #ChristiansInSyria. #SaveKessab:…

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