Charles de Meyer is the co-founder, with Benjamin Blanchard, of the association SOS Chrétiens d'Orient. He looks back on its first years of foundation and evokes the news. Interview with an adventurer of modern times at the service of persecuted people.
You were born on December 8, 1992. You were 20 when you started this adventure. If these six years of activity were to be summarized in the service of Christians in the East, what words would you use?
Charles de Meyer: I would say faith, passion and reason. My key sentence is still the same: ′′Strengthen the ties between Christians of the East and Christians of the West". This sentence is one of my favorite because SOS Chrétiens d’Orient is not only a humanitarian association. It's more than that. We are part of a long history, an old friendship between France and the Middle East. In other countries, such as Germany, we don't talk as much about Christians in the East. Despite much higher means, in German public debates the subject appears little.
Exactly, what sensitive subjects concern you today?
What really worries me is the new rise of tensions in the Holy Land, Palestine and Israel. The conflicts that have struck the Middle East since 2011 are resolving and fading, although much remains to be done. However, it seems like there is a phenomenon of connected vessels: tensions are lowering on one side, to increase on the other. In concrete terms, in Palestine, there is a tension on the law of property, on the protection of real estate.
We have seen an increase in discrimination against Christians in Israel and the awakening of Islamic factions in Palestine. The second topic is rebuilding. How can the “international community” organize and operate the reconstruction of Iraq and Syria by the “international community”, as it participated in this tragedy? There's a lot of attention on the subject. For Syria, the spread of the civil war, with the weapons of rebels, was not without the support of part of the global or regional powers.
Third topic that concerns me: what is happening in Africa, with the destabilization of Sudan. This is already having an impact on the surrounding countries.
When we listen to you, we observe a gap: your actions, your words and your work within SOS Chrétiens d'Orient show great maturity, while you are still (very) young. You jumped steps, didn't you?
Yes, you are right and all the questions are good to ask. Even this one [laughing]. True, nothing was planned. But be careful, I'm not alone; and then I have a carrying family story: I was born in Ploërmel, near Coëtquidan, and I'm the eldest of five children. I've lived my entire childhood in Le Mans. I was a choir child in Notre-Dame-du-Pé. I know Solesmes well, the Notre-Dame-du-Chêne chapel. I had a happy childhood, and I've always been a leader. I was captain of rugby, class delegate. I liked being the chef... I rose to the concept of service later [laugh]. I was a military high school, made a preparation to join a great business school, but I never got in. Started working right away as a parliamentary assistant. I was thirsty for commitment.
In 2013, as you say in an interview book with Charlotte d'Ornellas, you decided to create SOS Chrétiens d'Orient, following events that are out of the ordinary: a demonstration, that of “La Manif pour tous”, a custody, where you meet Benjamin Blanchard, a major political decision: that of François Hollande, who decides to intervene militarily against the government of Bachar el-Assad in summer 2013, and finally the taking of Maaloula.
This beam of events is taking place and is part in your decision to commit to Christians in the Middle East. Am I sums up your first steps?
Yes, yes. I knew I wanted to commit to Christians in the East; with Benjamin Blanchard we started. I knew them very little, I say it in the book, I was not a huge fan of Middle East. I was completely ignorant of the thing. I had flown once in my life. And by Christmas 2013 we found ourselves in Syria under siege; when we arrived in Damascus, a power plant was under attack. I stepped out of my comfort zone. First of all, so you can understand what made me act, you have to talk about outrage. I was hurt by the politics of the French government.
This feeling of outrage, I've experienced it very strongly. As the Gospel says, "We must cry with those who cry", otherwise, we do not understand the meaning or the depth of what we try to do within the association. At 20 years old, in our student room, we understand that our action is not much about the Syrian problem. Yet, by launching SOS Chrétiens d'Orient, going to the mined field of the Middle East, we have changed a certain deal. We have removed the ties between Christians in the East and Christians in the West. And our commitment was virtuous: those who told us not to go yesterday support us today. From now on, we are hundreds, and tens of thousands of people support us. In 2013 there were two of us.
In 2013, precisely, you meet Benjamin, another co-founder. What sets you apart from him? How are you complementary in the association?
With Benjamin we have a dynamic team, and that's our strength. In a rugby team, in a company, in a start-up, you need good leaders.
We are complementary, we have things in common and differences. Benjamin is ten years older than me but we both have the passion for action. And we are going to the end of our commitments. Our meeting and what we've done since have been providential. We took a lot of chances, and we took on our part of madness. It is also the nobility of commitment: to commit is not to make a careful balancing calculations, it also means meeting national requirements and responsibilities. And we are not alone.
Tell us about your first mission in Syria. Personally, intimately, how did you experience it?
The first memory I have is the overwhelming weight of responsibilities. Remember I was 20 and we were 17 or 18 on the mission. These were our first volunteers. The second memory is Christmas Mass 2013 in Damascus. I saw a lot of anxiety, fear, and at the same time as a cry of hope. To my knowledge, we were the only French people on site. France had closed its embassy and repatriated its nationals. There was also the AFP correspondent. There was no doubt, the country was well at war. I still hear the bombing, I still see the rockets falling.
After this first mission to Syria, you decide to go to Iraq for the mission “Easter to Iraq”. What are your most memorable memories?
Yes, after “Christmas in Syria”, we participated on the mission “Easter to Iraq”. There the adventure was even more absolute. A jump into the unknown. We had no contact. We decided to go to the spot to organize the mission; we make incredible encounters, like this Syrian refugee we take in our taxi and gets arrested, on the Nineveh plain, at an Iraqi checkpoint.
Mission went well. Then we go back at the end of July. First to celebrate Saint Charbel, Lebanon, and three days later we are in Iraq. Mosul just fell into Daech's hands. On site I'm doing major dehydration. I find myself at Qaraqosh hospital, with Daech eight miles away. A week later, the hospital was falling into their hands... And I was recovering and I had left the hospital. I spent all summer 2014 taking care of Christians in exodus.