Archbishop Clemis Eugene Kaplan, Claims that we are Arabs

Commentary by Beth Suryoyo Assyrian
October 29, 2001

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Archbishop Clemis Eugene Kaplan     Recently, we have received and read the letter that was signed by Archbishop Clemis Eugene Kaplan, Archbishop of the Western United States Archdiocese, in which he is claiming that he and his community are Syrian/Arab Orthodox Christians. The letter, which can be viewed at http://www.bethsuryoyo.com/HallofShame/EKArabized.jpg, was sent to the members of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Southern California as an insert inside the Sabro magazine (Vol. 3, July, August, September 2001, Issue 10), that is produced by Archbishop Kaplan. Archbishop Kaplan was originally born in Northeast Syria, but his family is originally from the city of Azakh/Beth Zabday in Southeast Turkey.

     The overall purpose of the letter was “Condemning Violence and Terrorism in the United States and Abroad” as Arab Orthodox Christians. We all agree and condemn the horrific act of terror that has struck the United States, in which thousands of innocent lives perished. These evil acts were condemned by all of our people in the United States and abroad. Sermons and prayers were conducted in our various churches for the people who lost their lives in these terrorist attacks. But the issue at hand is that, why is Archbishop Kaplan speaking on behalf of our people as “Arab Orthodox Christians”?

     Ironically, after the September 11th tragedy, even native Arab Moslems are attempting to not identify themselves as Arabs. This is in order to not trigger a retaliatory attack against themselves by some fanatics. We need to ask ourselves, how wise was the statement of the Arab Archbishop to label our church as Syrian-Arabs, when we are not Arabs? It is mind boggling to comprehend the logic behind his statement. Such a statement is endangering the lives of the members of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the US. There are at least two incidents of error in identity, where fanatics had retaliated against innocent victims, one of which was the murder of a Sikh person in Arizona and another was the murder of a Christian Copt in Los Angeles. How would this Archbishop feel if a member of the Syriac Orthodox Church was targeted and murdered by a fanatic thinking that he is retaliating against Syrian Arabs basing his action on the words of the Archbishop himself? Could Archbishop Kaplan imagine what could happen to him if he places a large neon sign at his place of residence in California saying “A Syrian-Arab Lives Here”?

     Many Armenians come from the same region in the Middle East, why did the Armenian Orthodox not sign that statement claiming themselves and church followers as Arabs? Why were they excluded, after all, we, as Syriac Orthodox, share the same Orthodox faith and doctrine with the Armenian Orthodox? What is Arabian in the Syriac Orthodox Church? Our language is Syriac; it is the language spoken by Jesus Christ, and completely different from Arabic, unless, of course, the Archbishop believes that Jesus Christ spoke Arabic? When the Kurds and Ottoman-Turks in Ottoman Turkey massacred our people in 1915, we were not being massacred for an Arab ethnicity that we do not possess.

     Over a year ago, the Church’s Holy Synods had issued a decree by which changing the name of the Church in the United States and Canada from Syrian Orthodox Church to Syriac Orthodox Church, in order not to confuse our people with those carrying the Syrian Arab citizenship. So far it seems that this Archbishop Kaplan has not accepted the name change and the order of the Holy Synod. The title that he is using on the Western Archdiocese headquarters in Burbank, California, is still Syrian. The magazine Sabro, produced by Archbishop Kaplan, is also using the name Syrian to refer to our people. In addition to all of this, we notice that in this letter signed by the Archbishop, he is using the title “Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Western USA” for himself.

     Archbishop Kaplan’s support for Arabism had reached its utmost peak when he supported and blessed the works of Fr. Dr. George Esa Al-Banna, who is under the Archbishop’s jurisdiction and heads the Parrish of Oregon. Fr. Al-Banna, who is originally from Iraq, had written a book in Arabic discussing his pride of, as he called it, “The Arabic Blood Flows Through my Veins”, in Arabic

     Almost a year ago, the Archbishop refused the publishing of the Boy Scouts’ newsletter because it contained a quote by the previous Patriarch, Mor Ignatius Yacoub III, in which he was talking about the history of the Syriac Church and its people. In the quote by Mor Ignatius Yacoub III, which can be viewed at the following link, he mentioned that our Suryoyo people are of Assyrian and Aramean descent. Obviously, the statement by Mor Ignatius Yacoub III contained neither “Syrian” nor “Arab” in reference to our people, and thus Archbishop Kaplan automatically rejected that and ordered the non-publishing of the Boy Scouts’ newsletter. This appalling act was met with a great deal of discontent by many people in the community, one of whom was a leader of the Boy Scouts who was handling the newsletter. He automatically handed in his resignation from the Boy Scouts after this incident. The resignation was immediately accepted by the Archbishop who was extremely pleased that now he has been able to silence the voices of those who are non-Arabs and non-Syrians inside the Church. His rejection of the former Patriarch’s quote implies that he believes the former Patriarch, Mor Ignatius Yacoub III, was wrong and that we are neither Assyrian nor Aramean, but rather Arabs.

     Recently, when Archbishop Kaplan was approached by the members of his Church complaining about his latest statements of claiming us as Arabs, he did not admit that it was a mistake, despite that many of the priests that fall under his jurisdiction have claimed it as an undesirable mistake. The Archbishop, instead, tried to find different excuses for his statement. His latest excuse was, “We have an agreement with those two Churches, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, and we must sign their declarations.” According to the Archbishop’s excuse, if tomorrow either one of the two Churches claims its followers as Nazis, then he must also claim our Church and People as Nazis!! Does his excuse indicate that he does not have a say in anything and our Church will follow whatever the two above-mentioned Churches say? What a ludicrous excuse!

     Many questions come to mind when reading the claims of Archbishop Kaplan and knowing his past actions. Who is the Archbishop trying to please? Is he getting paid for making these statements by some foreign government? What does the Holy Synod think of his actions? Are they supporting his statements? Does he think that his statements were wise? Do we want to have a leader in our Church such as this Archbishop, who would make statements such as these on behalf of our People, Church and Community? Are we, as followers of the Syriac Orthodox Church, going to accept an Arab as a leader of our Church? Does this Archbishop believe that he and his community share the same Arab roots as that of the terrorist Bin Laden? 

     It is apparent from his recent signing of this letter and the past actions of the Archbishop that he would like to refer to himself and our people as Syrian-Arab. What he wishes to call himself is his own personal business and none of us can force him to change that, but he does not have the right to change our people’s identity and ethnic origin and labeling us as Arabs, an ethnicity that we do not belong to, nor have we ever considered ourselves to be. For these many shameful acts committed by this Archbishop Clemis Eugene Kaplan in the name of our people, we are pleased to award him as the first member of our website’s Hall of Shame section. Anyone wishing to add his/her comments about this subject could do so by submitting them to us via Email (* emails sent to the website will be published as a commentary on this subject).

The name of this Archbishop will remain in the Hall of Shame section until he rectifies his deed by:

Recanting his statement in which he is claiming that he and his community are Syrian Arabs, by writing a letter apologizing for his comments and stating, “We, the followers of the Syriac Orthodox Church, are not Arabs”.  Then sending it to the other two Bishops that cosigned the letter with him and to every member of our community, as well as publicizing it in Sabro Magazine.

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