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Assyrian Community Groups Call Peace After Church Attack
By Tony Ibrahim, Sean Tarek Goodwin, and Maryanne Taouk
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Jacqueline Gerges says she feels violated after an attack at her church on Monday night. ( ABC News/Tony Ibrahim)
For many in Sydney's Assyrian community, the images of violence at the Christ The Good Shepherd Church on Monday evening brought flashbacks of war.

Jacqueline Georges arrived in Australia in 1984, fleeing Iraq.

Monday night's attack has shaken her.

"We felt devastated, shocked and violated," she said.

"We left our countries because of these things. We were persecuted all the time as Christians, as Assyrians, and today we're facing this here in this free country."

Assyrians are an almost entirely Christian minority group who are native to historic Mesopotamia, which sits across current-day Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey.

Ms Georges is an active member of the Assyrian Orthodox Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley.

The Bishop, Mar Mari Emmanuel received lacerations to his head during a mass service that was broadcast online.

She has known Bishop Emmanuel since she arrived and said the shock of the event provoked an extreme reaction in the community.

"You came to listen to word of God, and a bible study and you are happy, and some violence, savage violence, like this happens in front of you, that is too much to bear to handle."

The 53-year-old religious figure underwent surgery and a 39-year-old man also sustained cuts and a shoulder injury while attempting to intervene, New South Wales police said.

Carmen Lazar, a Fairfield councillor and member of the Assyrian Resource Centre, is "heartbroken" for her community.

"I don't just mean Assyrians that I am devastated for. I am devastated for all the people, I think of everyone here as my friends and family," she said.

Ms Lazar works with newly arrived migrants and refugees who have an Assyrian background, many of whom have been driven out of their home countries or discriminated against.

Outpouring of support

While the community leader says there is anger from many she has had an outpouring of support from Islamic groups in south-western Sydney.

"I've had so many Muslim organisations calling me, they have been paying their respect," she said.

"There is anger and we are in mourning, it's like an exposed nerve, but it's crucial to demonstrate our strength ... I'm not just talking about what happened to us yesterday. I'm talking about Bondi as well, we must be one humanity."

Bilal Rauf from the Imams Council of Australia said that the Muslim community is also affected by the violence.

"The incident is horrific and it's one that really does ... affect all of us," he said.

"We need to stand together and be united, and we do so in really opposing violence, which is just abhorrent and should not be engaged in. But secondly, also not jumping to conclusions, nor speculating, and allowing the police to undertake their inquiries."

Hundreds of people attended the church after the alleged attack was broadcast live, and two police officers were injured in a riot that unfolded.

They were taken to hospital, but were later discharged.

In Wakeley, where the attack occurred, Gabrielle Essey was one of many who arrived at the church after the stabbing.

"They feel hurt about what has happened to them."

Mr Essey, who follows the bishop online, said the riots and revenge statements have "fractured" the community.

"It paints the picture of what people were doing here [on Monday], but the community just wanted to come together because one of their own was attacked."

"They're torn between wanting to get retribution for their bishop and protect their community ... and keeping Jesus and forgiveness with them."

More broadly the Assyrian Australian Association have asked members of the religion to be calm.

"We call on all the communities affected to exercise restraint and calm in dealing with this matter. As law-abiding citizens of this country, we must show respect to our police personnel and let the authorities deal with this difficult matter."

Flashbacks of war

Another member of Sydney's Assyrian community, 21-year-old journalism student Jennifer Shahin, was distressed by the event.

"Any triggering incident like this, actually brings flashbacks of war and I, personally, having been born in Syria and having fled the Syrian war in 2015," Ms Shahin said.

She said in some ways, that trauma explained the extreme reaction from some outside the church on Monday night.

"They lost the plot ... because we have been through so much and we don't want to go through it in such a peaceful country like Australia again," she said.

Across the city and country, groups have joined together in calling out the attack.

The Chaldean Catholic Diocese, a religious group also based in the ancient Mesopotamia region of Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey released a statement following the events in Wakeley.

"We pray for the healing of the injured and for the comfort and tranquillity of all souls," the St Thomas the Apostle Chaldean Catholic Diocese said in a statement.

"We pray and beseech ... the Lord that the people of Australia as well as worldwide, may live in harmony, peace and love."

Mayor of Fairfield Frank Carbone said attention should turn to the investigation as the 16-year-old alleged attacker remains under police guard in hospital.

"We need to let the police do their job," Mr Carbone said.

For Ms Georges, she hopes Sydney channels its rage into "grace, forgiveness, and a commitment to cohesion".

"This is the time we unite, this is not the time to show our anger to show our frustration," she said.

"This is the time we unite as Australians, as Christians, as Assyrians, all of us communities, we pray for each other, we help each other."

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