Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Christian Persecution in The Middle East, Christian Suffering, Adversity
Volume 7 No. 425 July 14, 2017
II. Special: Christian Persecution in The Middle East

Christians Are The World’s Most Persecuted Religious Group, According To Studies

by Zoe Romanowsky

Approximately 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2016 worldwide, making them the most persecuted religious group in the world. That number - which amounts to one Christian killed every six minutes - is down a bit from 2015 when the number was estimated to be approximately 105,000.

According to a Fox News report, nearly a third of the deaths in 2016 were at the hands of Islamic extremists like ISIS, and others were killed by state and non-state persecution. Massimo Introvigne, director of CENSUR, told Vatican Radio that approximately 70 percent of the martyred Christians in 2016 were from tribal villages in Africa, and their deaths were partially a result of the fact that Christians often refuse to take up arms during conflicts.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity also studies Christian martyrdom, both historical and contemporary, and estimates that between 2005 and 2015 there were 900,000 Christian martyrs worldwide-which comes out to an average of 90,000 per year. The Center says historical, sociological, and theological arguments in quantifying Christian martyrdom throughout time must be considered. Their definition of a Christian martyr is: "Believers in Christ who have lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility."

The number of Christians martyred in 2016 is likely more than 90,000, however, because studies were not able to include data from China and India - two countries with large Christian populations, but with "underground" churches, so the numbers of persecuted and martyred Christians are hard to come by.


Condition of Our Churches and People in Iraq

By HH Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All The East,
Primate of The Universal Syriac Orthodx Church

"I want to tell you a story of two twins who were refugees from Northern Iraq, in the Kurdistan region that were expelled from Nineveh on August 10, 2014. I went to visit them immediately and I was there from August 10-13 visiting them and in that little village, in a tiny church, there were 70 families cramped in the church hall, living there and sleeping there.

As it is the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, I will call those young twins Peter and Paul for the story. So Peter comes up to me with his hands open and arms outstretched saying, "We have no place, we have no space." Of course listening to a child you would understand it as he has no place to sleep on his own or maybe he doesn't have a place to play with his friends. But for me, that was not what I understood from him. He was telling me, we as a people have no place, no space to call home. This was a metaphorical expression not only describing this young boy's dilemma but the entire situation of our people in Northern Iraq, Syria and in fact many parts of the Middle East...

During the six months following the attacks and invasions of Daesh on Mosul and nearer plains, I visited our people six times. I went and saw my own spiritual children in August and those of you who visited Iraq know what that means in terms of the weather. I saw them on the streets of (mentions towns and villages) and in tents with no water, no basic facilities. How do you feel about that when see such children in that sorry case?

Most of them today are in rented apartments paid for by our churches and unfortunately a good part of them have left that region, have left Erbil and other towns making their way to Europe, Australia and the US. I can assure you, for a fact, when I visited them in 2014, the majority said they wanted to go back and stay there, want to go back to our churches and our schools but the longer the violence stays the less people stay there.

While visiting them, in another small village, I enter the church, the Assyrian Church of the East, and as a patriarch they take me to the altar and ask me to offer a prayer for them. When I step in, I see blankets and mattresses spread all over the sanctuary, in the Holy of Holies. Of course, I was surprised at first as it was a strange setting for that's the most sacred place in the Church but then I look around and tell myself, 'These people here are more holy than this place. This place, the altar, is made holy by them.' You see, the Sabbath is made for the people, not the people for the Sabbath as the Lord says."- HH Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II

Courtesy: Wisdom Of the Fathers.
Source: SOCM-Forum

It's Unclear Whether Christians Will Return to Liberated Mosul

by Malo Tresca

On Sunday July 9, the Iraqi army regained control of almost the entire city of Mosul, which has been an ISIS stronghold for over three years. After the Iraqi army regained control of the city of Mosul, "La Croix" spoke to Faraj Benoît Camurat, president of the Brotherhood with Iraq organization.

Faraj Benoît Camurat, president of Fraternité en Irak (Brotherhood with Iraq), explains that "this liberation may encourage Christian refugee families who fled the town to return" but that they still fear the presence of "dormant jihadist groups".

Brotherhood with Iraq is a French NGO which aims to support Iraqi religious minorities and victims of violence.

La Croix: Is it too early to be talking about the "liberation" of Mosul?

Faraj Benoît Camurat: Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al Abadi, made his first visit to the city on Sunday, July 9 and spoke of a victory "achieved" by the army.

However, he did not want to officially declare Mosul liberated out of respect for the soldiers who are still fighting there.

As expected, there are still pockets of jihadist resistances in the city.

Nor should we forget ISIS's ability to surprise us by bringing back men who were thought to be dead…

Therefore, we will need to remain cautious in the coming weeks as jihadi groups may try to counter the idea that Mosul has been liberated and pacified.

The situation in the city is still complex as it is still very fractured.

The eastern part, which was liberated in January and February, is more or less well preserved and the houses are still in good condition. However, the western part where there is a great deal of Salafist influence is very damaged.

Reconstruction will take much longer in the latter area.

Q: Are the Christians who fled Mosul already thinking about returning?

FBC: The city's liberation is a symbol that affects not only the people of Mosul but all inhabitants of Nineveh. Since the Iraqi army intensified its efforts to retake Mosul in September, refugees have been telling us that they would only feel safe and at peace once Mosul was liberated. There may be an incentive for them to return now following the removal of this sword of Damocles - the proximity of jihadi fighters in Mosul, only a few dozen kilometers from the camps where they took refuge. For now, we don't really know yet whether there are any Christian families who have resettled, even in the eastern part of town. They have suffered great trauma and many still fear the presence of dormant jihadi groups in the city. No one knows whether the families will be able to reclaim the land and houses expropriated by ISIS. The question they ask themselves now is whether they should return to Mosul or settle in another Christian town in Nineveh.

Q. What kind of projects will need to be prioritized in rebuilding the town?

FBC: All essential infrastructure that provides access to drinking water, electricity and medical aid will have to be rebuilt. Many buildings have been badly damaged and a huge amount of work is needed. I believe ISIS has left two sad legacies from its three years in Mosul.

First, there are the mines and explosives left in the city and on the Nineveh plain.

They have also built up walls of mistrust between the Christian, Yazidi and Sunni communities. By creating mistrust among these communities, ISIS has incited them to show their backs to one other and pitted them against each other.

Apart from the huge de-mining task, little by little we will also need to rebuild trust between these different components of Iraqi society. This will not happen overnight but will develop from small inter-communal initiatives, whether local or commercial, which will allow stereotypes and ISIS "fatwas" to be gradually dispelled.

Source: Las Croix International
© 2016 - Bayard – All rights reserved

The Middle East: No Peace, No Future

Keynote Address of His Holiness Mor Ignatius Aphrem II
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
and Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church
In Defense of Christians – September 11, 2014, in Washington DC

Your Beatitudes, Eminences,
Reverend Fathers,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow us first to thank the organizers of this conference who invited us to take part in this summit. The aim is to defend Christians who are suffering from all sorts of atrocities and are subject to violation, expulsion, homelessness and above all genocide.

The Middle East: No Peace, No Future

We bring with us the voice of millions of Christians and non-Christians suffering in the Middle East. The voices of Sunnis that are killed by Sunnis, Shias that are targeted by Islamist fanatics, Christians and Yezidis that were expelled from their homes and towns, children that have lost their parents, and millions of people who desire to live in peace with each other, but international politics and religious fanaticism prevent them from doing so.

The gravity of the events that are taking place in the world in general and in the Middle East in particular, is beyond all which we have seen or heard of in the past. History is not even equipped with the appropriate terminology to accurately describe what we are witnessing. The aspirations of the people of the Middle East to live in peace and prosperity have been shattered. The smaller religious communities are especially affected by these tragic events. What kind of future awaits these communities? How can young people fulfill their dreams? Will there be any future for them in their own homeland?

Without peace, there will be no future for humanity. Without peace, humanity is in misery and it will collapse under the heavy weight of massacres and genocides. Peace creates harmony between different races and proves the possibility of life in mutual understanding and love despite differences.

While peace is a requirement for a free life; for Christians, it is a way of life. Christ is the Prince of peace, who calls the peacemakers as the children of God.

Moreover, for Christians, true peace is that which is given by our Lord Jesus Christ to us: "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14: 27). The peace of Christ is given to us in the midst of turmoil and chaos. It is a peace that cannot be taken away from us. It is the everlasting peace everyone is searching for.

The real challenge is to relay this concept of peace to a family living in the middle of a war zone. In so doing you will come to realize how this divine peace is foreign to this world. Very few are those who, totally submitting to God's will and simply believing that the Lord is a source of peace in our troubled world, will be able to fully grasp and accept this.

Allow us now to share with you some of what we have observed during our recent visits to our suffering people in different countries in the Middle East. It will give you an authentic picture of the conditions under which Christians and others are living now. It remains up to you to imagine what peace means for these people.

Iraq: Patriarch's Visit

We have visited twice our people in Iraq who are suffering from persecution and expulsion: the first time we went to northern Iraq on June 13-16, 2014 and visited the more than fifteen thousand people who were driven out of their homes in Mosul by ISIS. They took refuge in the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain. Our second visit took place on August 20-25 of this year. Together with a delegation of the patriarchs of the East we visited these same individuals who were expelled for the second time in a few weeks. This time more than one hundred and twenty thousand Christians and other minorities were all driven away from their homes in the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plains into the region of Kurdistan.

During that visit we arrived in the village of Araden where some fifty families have taken refuge in the local church. While meeting with these people in the church hall a three years old child approaches me with his twin brother. He widely opens his arms and innocently says in Syriac/Aramaic : "ܠܝܬ ܠܢ ܕܘܟܬܐ we have no place". They were living with more than 70 people in this small church hall; they did not have a place in that crowded small hall, yet, these two boys were luckier than many other children who are still sleeping under tents on the streets, in the parks and inside unfinished buildings.

During each visit, we have observed that Christians still held hope in the power and mercy of the Lord: His power that will lead them out of their present misery and His mercy that will move Him to save them.

In each visit, we have spoken to the displaced Christians; we wanted to assure them that it is not too late, that there is still hope to find a solution. We have addressed the politicians, locally and internationally, asking them to provide these people with international protection. We have written to the UN Secretary-General, the Security Council, the European Union, the UN Human Rights Commission. We have also motivated the Lebanese government to report to the International Criminal Court and ask them to investigate these evil acts, which constitute crimes against humanity.

A peaceful solution for these suffering refugees ought to result in their return to their homes in the Nineveh Plain and the city of Mosul. It should also help them defend themselves against future attacks.

Lebanon: Sectarianism

The situation in Lebanon is also very worrying: sectarianism is in control of the political life in the country, division is established and schism between the different constituents of Lebanese society is growing beyond manageable. ISIS, Alnusra front and other armed groups are having a strong hold on several Lebanese towns and villages. The small town of Arsal, which lies on the Qalamon mountainous region on the Syrian-Lebanese border, continues to present a big challenge to the government of Lebanon. Some thirty Lebanese soldiers are being held hostages by these terrorist groups. Every now and then a soldier would be slain.

In Lebanon, unity is most needed; in fact, it is the only element that can bring peace into the complexity of confessional groups: unity of will to build together the future for the young citizens, to help elect a new president for the country.

Syria: Humanitarian Tragedy

As the crisis in Syria was unfolding, we came to realize that the war benefitted no one. Although there were some legitimate calls and need for political reforms, this did not justify all the barbaric acts of kidnapping, beheading, killing and destroying everything. Even old trees were uprooted or burnt, the monuments were also destroyed and statues beheaded!

Syrian people in general became victims of this senseless war. While Christians were not specifically targeted for their religion, they took more than their share of suffering and martyrdom. Sadad is an exclusively Syriac Christian town of about fifteen thousand inhabitants. Sadad was attacked by Alnusra Front and other groups. In one day 45 people were killed. During my last visit to Sadad, I had to look into the eyes of a father who lost his wife, his two children, his uncle and his mother in law, together with two other members of his family. They were all killed and thrown into a well. How can we speak of peace with this heartbroken father?

Today, more than four million Syrians are living on the handouts from the International Food Program and other charity organizations in a country that was self-sufficient and debt-free for many decades.

Abducted Archbishops Boulos Yaziji and Youhanna Ibrahim

Distinguished Audience,

More than 500 days have passed since the abduction of the two archbishops of Aleppo, Boulos Yaziji and Youhanna Ibrahim. We are still waiting to hear about their whereabouts and their conditions. These are two men of God who were on their way back from a mission to rescue two kidnapped clergy, when they were abducted. Isn't the international community ashamed of its silence about the abduction of these two prominent figures? We call upon all people of good will to do what they can in order to secure their immediate release.

Sayfo Centennial:

We are commemorating here the centennial of the World War I. Shortly after the start of the war, genocide was committed against Christians in the former Ottoman Empire. Together with some one and a half million Armenians, more than five hundred thousand of our Syriac speaking people were killed. These were targeted simply because they were Christians. It is a reminder that man can be monstrous and act in an outrageous way. We, in the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, are planning a year-long commemoration of the Syriac Genocide, Sayfo, in order to remind ourselves and others that the world should be united against terrorism and against the spread of hatred and extremism which threaten the basic rights of people.

Peace: a Global Engagement

God created the world in order to exist in peace and harmony among all its elements. Human beings ought to be the agents of such peace. Sustainable true peace is not merely the absence of war and violence, it is rather the result of a healthy relationship with our Creator. It is then reflected in our relationship to each other and with nature. Therefore, building a culture of peace should be a common goal for us all in order to prepare a better future for generations to come. In so doing, we need to draw on lessons learnt from our past experiences. World wars, genocides and religious and ethnic cleansings are shameful stains in the history of our human race. It is our and every generation's responsibility to promote true peace.

Distinguished Audience,

The explosive situation in the Middle East, including the recent violence in Gaza is heartbreaking; yet, hope for peace and optimism that a bright day is near, still exist in the hearts of people. We take this opportunity to call upon all people of good will to work together towards promoting peace in the world. Mindful of the impact of religion in the public life, we believe that our role as religious leaders in spreading a culture of understanding and acceptance of one another is paramount. Hence, we greatly appreciate all the efforts invested in the support the cause of Christians in the Middle East. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God" (Matthew 5: 9).

A 'Marshall Plan' for Iraq: Rebuilding Christian Villages on the Nineveh Plains

by Maria Lozano

NEW YORK - "Hope is coming back to the Nineveh plains!" That is the verdict of the Middle East expert of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the international Catholic charity.

Just back from a fact-finding mission to the region in northern Iraq recently liberated from the grip of ISIS, Father Andrzej Halemba said that "despite the many urgent questions that need clarification, people are willing to return to their villages." The biggest challenges include the illegal property appropriations of abandoned homes, an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the destruction of Christian houses, and - for those Christian families who contemplate going home - the ongoing fears of assaults Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the return of Christians to their ancient homeland.

Father Halemba noted a major change in the attitude of the Christian IDPs - who have been cared for by the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil since their expulsion from the Nineveh plains in the summer of 2014. Last November - during a heightened stage of the battle for Mosul - an ACN survey showed just 1 percent of IDS wished to return. A current estimate holds that, presently, 50 percent of IDPs are willing to return. Meanwhile, ACN is called upon to continue caring for the IDPs pending their repatriation. For the next six months at least, 12,000 families will continue to rely on monthly food baskets, while 5,000 families need help paying their rent.

Taking the long view of the situation on the Nineveh plains, Father Halemba calls on the international community to launch "a new Marshall Plan," modeled on the historic US initiative of investment and development aid that helped Western Europe regain economic stability after World War II.

He said that the first order of business is a careful assessment of the damages done to homes and infrastructure - and the costs involved in the rebuilding process - in some 10 villages, with properties belonging to Syrian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox as well as Chaldean faithful.

The next step planned is a follow-up to the November 2016 survey of the at least 1,200 families of IDPs in Erbil, probing whether they wish to return to their former homes. Based on the assessment of destruction on the Nineveh plain and the survey of the intent to return, ACN will establish a special committee that will supervise a comprehensive Marshall Plan for the Nineveh plains.

This grand initiative will be executed by ACN in partnership with other charities. Besides reconstruction efforts, other important issues await addressing. Father Halemba said: "the legal issues need to be considered; this includes, for example, the right to full citizenship of Iraqi Christians and the involvement of the Iraqi government in the reconstruction process.

"The government should be responsible for creating structures and job projects, while making sure there is security for Christians in their villages." He also said the international community must get involved and that it is "very important to properly collate the documentation of the destruction and the violent acts persecution so that, in some way, a sense of justice and peace can return and help ensure this never happens again."

At first no families were expected to return before June, but a few families have decided to make the move already this winter. Father Halemba said: "we have to see if we can refocus part of our help for the communities in Erbil to a 'start-up support' plan for the Nineveh plains.

"These people also rely on the Church - they look to the Church as a sign of security and stability and so ACN has to help religious sisters and priests to go back with their flocks. ACN has to support these people in this decisive and historical moment for Christians in Iraq."

Directly under the Pope, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named "An Outstanding Apostle of Charity," the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative's launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child's Bibles have been distributed worldwide.

Source: Catholic Lane

Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East
[Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of AINA and Dr. Elizabeth Kendal and may not reflect those of Malankara World.]

(AINA) -- Elizabeth Kendal, an international religious liberty analyst and advocate, has published a book titled 'After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East'. The book explores the state and future of the Christians of the Middle East. Dr. Kendal authors the weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, serves as the Director of Advocacy for Christian Faith and Freedom (Canberra), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology, an affiliated college of the Australian College of Theology. Her previous book, 'Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today', presents a biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

The following is an interview with Dr. Kendal.

Q: Firstly, please explain the title.

"After Saturday Comes Sunday" is a popular Arab war-cry which essentially means, "After we (Muslims) get rid of the Jews (who worship on Saturdays) we'll get rid of the Christians (who worship on Sundays)." We cannot appreciate the magnitude of the Christian crisis in the Middle East unless we first appreciate the seriousness of this threat.

Anyone who thinks Christians and Christianity could not be eliminated from Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq), Egypt, and the wider Middle East needs to consider that the precedent has been set, for Jews and Judaism have already been eliminated from the Arab states. Christians and Christianity could be eliminated from Mesopotamia and the wider Middle East, and the only thing necessary for that to be achieved is that we do nothing.

Q. What motivated you to write this book?

Most media coverage of the Syrian conflict is thin on context, thick with propaganda, and driven by interests. Every night the newsreader tells us that the heavily armed, bushy-beared, black flag waving, Allahu Akbar (Allah is greater) shouting, "moderate rebels" on our screens are fighting for democracy, liberty and human rights. But as news of Islamic atrocities leaked out, Christians around the world grew increasingly concerned about the fate of their co-religionists.

Cognizant of a growing demand for information, I committed to writing a book that would not merely expose the suffering but explain the Christian crisis in the Middle East.

We need to understand what is happening, for not only do the Christians of the Middle East need all the help they can get, but Mesopotamia, long known as the cradle of civilization, is merely ground zero in the increasingly global battle for civilization.

Q. The conflict seems incredibly complex. How do you manage to unravel the complexity without losing people?

Conflicting narratives, manipulative "newspeak", and saturating propaganda all work together to make the conflict profoundly confusing. While many of the finer details regarding agendas, deals and relationships are riddled with intrigue and complexity, the overall geo-strategic framework is actually very simple. And once the geo-strategic framework is clear, it becomes much easier to separate truth (which fits the picture) from interest-driven propaganda (which does not).

Q. So what is the "geo-strategic framework" of the crisis in the Middle East?

A century of Western hegemony over the Middle East has come to an end and locked in a battle for hegemony over Mesopotamia are, the region's three imperial powers:

  1. NATO member Turkey, US ally Saudi Arabia, and ascendant Iran;
  2. Two Islamic sects: Sunnis versus Shi'ites;
  3. Two political axes: the north-south the Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis versus the east-west Iran-led, Shi'ite-dominated, Shia Axis or Axis of Resistance (comprising Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus, along with Lebanon's Hezbollah and other "resistance" groups such as Hamas)

In the eye of the storm; in the buffer zone between the region's three imperialistic powers, on the sectarian fault-line between the region's two principle Islamic sects, at the flashpoint where the two political axes intersect, is the Fertile Crescent, home to Mesopotamia's minorities--Alawites, Yazidis, Kurds etc, and the region's indigenous Christians (mostly Assyrians and Armenians). Instead of defending Mesopotamia's integrity as a buffer zone, the West has been backing neo-Ottoman Turkey and Wahhabist Saudi Arabia while enabling and brokering deals with the revolutionary Shi'ite regime in Iran; aiding Shi'ites in Iraq and Sunnis in Syria. Meanwhile, under the cover of conflict, the region's minorities--in particular the exceedingly vulnerable indigenous Christians--are being eliminated: targeted, crushed underfoot and swept out of the arena, along with all evidence that they ever existed.

Q. We've been told the Syrian conflict is about advancing democracy and human rights; that it's about ridding the world of a repressive, evil dictator named Bashar al-Assad. Are you suggesting that is not quite the case?

Leaders in the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia insist that "Assad must go" because he is a brutal dictator who abuses human rights and has used force to put down popular protests. The very fact that the West's partners in this supposedly honorable and humanitarian, pro-democracy and pro-human rights venture are Turkey and Saudi Arabia--leading human rights abusers and oppressors who also use force to quell protest--should indicate that democracy and human rights are not the issue. The conflict in Syria is about a lot of things, but human rights is definitely not one of them, despite what the would-be regimechangers might say.

Q. So why do the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia insist that "Assad must go"? If the Syrian conflict is not about democracy and human rights, then what is it all about?

The rise of the Shia Crescent, and the ascent of Axis of Resistance leader Iran, has alarmed Israel and the US-allied Sunni Arab dictators, for an ascendant Iran is a threat to their security and to the Sunni Arabs' economic interests.

It was in this high-stakes context that the US and her Sunni Arab allies, along with neo-Ottoman Turkey, sought to exploit Syria's 2011 Arab Spring protests as a cover for illegal regime change in Damascus. The plan was to re-orient Syria by replacing the Alawite-led, Shia Axis-aligned, Syrian government with a Sunni Axis-aligned, Sunni regime more amenable to US and Sunni interests.

Q. So what went wrong? Why has the US-Turkey-Arab regime change plot failed?

The US assertion that the Assad government would fall quickly with little bloodshed, just as in Tunisia and Egypt, was totally unrealistic; for as Russia pointed out, Syria is not Tunisia, nor is it Egypt--the strategic situation was totally different, meaning the government would not fall quickly.

This should have been obvious, for the governments in Tunisia and Egypt were US-backed, and a key element in the fall of those governments was the withdrawal of US support. To the contrary, Syria's Alawite-led government is backed by ascendant Iran, which regards Damascus as an integral element of its Axis of Resistance. Tehran was never going to just sit back and watch Damascus fall into the hands of US-backed Sunnis. Furthermore, as a Doha Debates survey revealed in December 2011, though the majority of Arabs (Saudis, Qataris, Egyptians, Palestinians etc) wanted Assad to go, the majority of Syrians did not! In diverse, plural, prosperous, secular Syria, Assad had majority support--support that only escalated as foreign jihadis flowed in. What's more, Syria's minority Alawites--who dominate the military--had no illusions about what Muslim Brotherhood-led Sunni majority rule would mean for them: genocide! Any attempt to illegally engineer regime change in Damascus was always destined to set the country and the region aflame.

Q. How has the conflict impacted the Christians?

The impact on Christians has been phenomenal, especially as transnational jihadists have flooded the theatre. In Iraq, the indigenous Assyrian nation has been decimated--from a population of 1.4 million (1987 census) to some 200,000 today, virtually all of whom are displaced and destitute. Driven from their homes and from their historic heartland in the Nineveh Plains, they now survive under the protection of the Kurds, shielded by Kurdish peshmerger and Assyrian militias, although tensions exist, especially as Kurds lay claim to Assyrian lands. In Syria, Christians are surviving in the west of the country under the protection of the Assad government, shielded by the Syrian Arab Army. Hundreds of thousands are displaced. Like their co-religionists in Iraq, most have lost absolutely everything.

Q. Why do we hear so little about this Christian crisis?

The massacres and expulsions of Christians in Syria, and the genocide of Christians in Iraq, is an embarrassment to the post-Christian West's "progressive" establishment elites who cling to utopian fantasies about Islam while nurturing neo-Marxist hostilities towards Christianity. Having sold us a narrative of democracy and human rights, our political leaders seem to believe it is in their interests to keep the truth from us, lest we be appalled to discover what is really going on. And so the Christians of the Middle East are pushed deep into the fog of war, buried under a mountain of propaganda, and rendered invisible by a shroud of silence. Indeed, there is little sympathy amongst the post-Christian West's "progressive" political, academic and media elite for what they regard as the Middle East's politically incorrect Christian relics. This has shocked the Christians of the Middle East, for they had believed that the "Christian West" would help them, or at least would never harm them by arming, training and funding Islamic militants whose declared aim it is to kill Christians (in the broadest sense imaginable) and attack the West. The shock, horror, and heart-ache of Middle Eastern Christians, as it dawns on them the extent to which the West has betrayed and abandoned them, has been for me the most painful thing, filling me with deep sadness.

Q. What do you make of Russia's involvement?

Just like the US, UK, or EU, Russia has its own interest in Syria, not the least of which is its naval base at Tartus on Syria's Mediterranean coast, an asset it doesn't want to see in the hands of al-Qaeda. After many decades of close and friendly ties, Russia has a lot invested in Syria, such that it is in Russia's economic and geo-strategic interests to preserve the status quo of a strong, secular Syrian state that is safe for minorities and good for business. Of course this means reigning in Syria's Muslim Brotherhood and defeating transnational jihadists. While this aligns with the agenda of the Alawite-led Syrian government, it conflicts with the agendas of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran, all of which are advancing sectarian agendas. What's more, there are more than 2,500 "Chechens" (code for Russian citizens from the North Caucasus) fighting with alQaeda and Islamic State in Syria, and Russians generally agree that is better to fight these terrorists in Syria than to have them return to commit terror at home. On top of everything, Russia--and I do mean Russia, not the communist Soviet Union (the Cold War is over)--has a long history of fighting in defense of persecuted Eastern Christians. A lot of Russians care deeply about the plight of the church in Syria; this is not a "pretext", this is real.

Q. And as you have noted, a lot of Western Christians care deeply too, but are at a loss to know how to proceed. What action can we take to help the Christians of the Middle East?

Because no house divided against itself will stand (Matt 12:25) Christians need to demonstrate solidarity: free Christians helping persecuted Christians across denominational lines. Christians need to speak out, give generously and get serious about the serious business of intercessory prayer. There is information on my website and in the book's two appendices, on how this can be done. In terms of the military campaign against resurgent militant Islam: the West needs to stop arming Islamic militants and we need solidarity and co-operation across the Dar al-harb / House of war (i.e. those outside the Dar al-Islam / House of Islam), otherwise Islam will continue to play West against East for its own advantage.

Q. Despite the situation being so bleak, and despite the fact that "After Saturday Comes Sunday" is issued as a genocidal threat, you maintain that Christians have grounds for hope. Explain.

In chapter 12, I feed the threat, "After Saturday Comes Sunday", through a theology of the cross, and what emerges is a message of hope. For as the cross reveals, our God is a God who comes, who enters hostile territory himself to subvert evil, defeat it from within and redeem it for blessing in fulfillment of promise. The cross tells us that even when it appears that God is dead and the world has won; even when it appears that hopes have been dashed and promises have failed, we can know that God is alive and active in the midst of the darkness, subverting evil, defeating it from within and redeeming it for his glory in fulfillment of promise. So, despite all appearances, this is not the day to disengage! To the contrary, the Christ of the cross commands us to take up our cross and follow him, by speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9), giving generously (James 2:15-16) and devoting ourselves to the serious business of intercessory prayer (Ephesians 6:12-18) in faith that Sunday is coming.

Source: AINA © 2017, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved. 

Noose is Tightening Around Christian Minority in Turkey

by Samuel Lieven

The Syrian Orthodox Church is condemning the Presidency of Religious Affairs in Turkey for seizing 50 churches and monasteries in the southeast of the country. This is happening in the context of a hardening of the policies of the ruling AKP party and is weakening, even more, the already fragile position of a Christian minority deprived of all legal rights.

The ancient Syrian Orthodox Monastery of Mor Gabriel has been subjected to constant and unfair legal attacks since 2008. It has now fallen under the control of the all-powerful Diyanet, which governs Islamic Turkey (99.8% of the population).

The Mor Gabriel Monastery was founded in 397 by the ascetic Mor Shmu'el (Samuel) on the Tur Abdin plateau, "the mountain of the servants of God", in southeastern Turkey. This sacred site of Eastern Christianity is one of the 50 churches and monasteries that have been seized by the Diyanet, according to Kuryakos Ergün, the Chairman of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation.

"We are in the process of identifying the properties that have already been seized," Ergün told the Turkish-Armenian newspaper, Argos. "We have so far filed lawsuits with regard to twenty property titles, and we're going to do the same for thirty more."

A legal marathon

This legal struggle goes back to 2008. In that year, an updating of the land registry requalified 250 hectares within the Monastery's boundaries as "forests", on the grounds that they were not "cultivated".

What followed was a long series of lawsuits, each one lost because of false accusations: Christian proselytism, the supposed existence of a mosque under the monastery's foundations - even though it was built well before the advent of Islam.

Now, it's the administrative change of Mardin Province to a "metropolitan municipality" that is serving as the excuse for the seizing of property. The authorities set up a "Committee of Liquidation" in order to redistribute any property that no longer has a legal entity.

Initially transferred to the Treasury, the 50 churches and monasteries are now under the control of the Presidency of Religious Affairs.

The increasing harshness of the Islamic-Conservative authorities.

These developments are occurring in the context of an increasing hardening of the policies of the Islamic-Conservative President Erdogan and his AKP party, in power since 2002.

A law passed in 2002 supposedly opened the way for the recovery of about a hundred properties seized from minorities since the creation of modern Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. This should have allowed the restitution of goods and properties confiscated by the State from non-Muslim minority foundations.

Since then, however, this has come to a dead end. Ever-decreasing Christian communities are increasingly oppressed by the State and by a society that is being re-Islamized.

In its 15 years in power, the AKP has thus ground away at the secular principles that were defended tooth and nail by the Kemalists, such as the prohibition of the veil in universities and government offices.

This year, just before Easter, the Turkish President even planned to pray with members of his Party and Islamic clerics at Saint-Sophia. This great Christian Basilica, built in 537, became a mosque under the Ottoman Empire's rule. It was transformed into a museum by Ataturk in 1935. Now, it is a symbol that is increasingly coveted by Erdogan's Islamist government.

More recently, on Thursday 22 June, Mehmet Görmez, the President of the Diyanet, participated in a Muslim prayer service that was broadcast by State television.

Christians deprived of legal status

Most Christians in Turkey (0.1% of the population) do not have any legal status. The Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which gave rights to non-Muslim minorities, recognized only minority groups of Armenian, Greek Orthodox, and Jewish origin. Syrian Orthodox Christians (whose numbers have fallen from 70,000 in the 1970s to about 2,000 today) and Roman Catholics (between 10,000 and 15,000) are therefore excluded. They can only battle the courts to try to keep or to recover property confiscated from them by the State.

Similarly, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, has been fighting for the Greek-Orthodox Seminary of Halki to be re-opened, forty years after it was closed.

The collapse of Christianity's presence in Turkey over the last century

At the beginning of the last century, Turkey itself was home to the largest Christian population in the Middle East: 20% of the population. Now, there are only 80,000 Christians (of all denominations).

The Armenian genocide of 1915 and departure of a huge number of Greek Orthodox Christians in the early 1920s largely account for the collapse of Christianity's presence in Turkey.

Although the Christian minority in this country is not being subjected to the same degree of violence as in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, Christians and intellectuals have nonetheless been assassinated during the past few years. Those killed include the Catholic priest, Andrea Santoro in 2006; the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, and the Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, Mgr Luigi Padovese, in 2010. Needless to say, investigations into these deaths are going nowhere.

Source: Las Croix International
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