December 22, 2013 Leave a comment
Before 2003, there were over one million Christians in Iraq. Today, there are as few as 200,000.
A shocking and unacceptable systematic purging of Christians!
August 25, 2013 Leave a comment
For 15 years Canon Andrew White has led Iraq’s only Anglican church, in an increasingly menacing period for Christians across the Middle East.
Read on here.
August 24, 2013 Leave a comment
His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Great Antioch and All the East sent a message to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, in which he expressed his gratitude for the efforts that the Russian Orthodox Church makes to defend Christians in the Middle East.
In his letter, His Beatitude Patriarch John X mentioned the celebration marking the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism Russia, which was held in Moscow, Kiev and Minsk with the participation of the Primates and representatives of all Local Orthodox Churches, saying in particular, “I was… so happy to see the brothers gathering about the holy Divine Altar and praising the Author of Life, Our Lord Jesus Christ who blessed Russia and the Russian People and granted this great nation all his heavenly blessings to be a true and sincere witness of Christendom. The baptism of Russia is not only an historical event, but it is also a concrete and lived reality that all people and nations can “come and see” (John 1:46) and praise the Lord Jesus Christ.”
According to His Beatitude, “with deep feeling of respect and appreciation” he read the Statement by Heads and Representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches Assembled for the Celebration of the 1025th Anniversary of the Baptism of Russia. The main theme of the joint statement is the situation of Christians in the Middle East.
“I consider it my duty to raise an Antiochian thankful voice to support and share every word of the released statement,” Patriarch John’s letter reads. “Truly, Christians are persecuted and damaged in the Middle East, in the land of Jesus Christ. The salvation of Syria and of all the Middle East comes, as mentioned, through the logic of dialogue and peaceful political settlement. Extremism, fundamentalism and blind radicalism are the most great dangers which threaten not only the Christian presence, but the existence of the States and the peace of all the nations.”
His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Great Antioch and All the East expressed his wish to pay a brotherly visit to the Russian Orthodox Church and said in conclusion of his letter, “May Lord, Jesus Christ, the King of Peace give us His Divine Peace, grant you, the Russian Synod and the Russian People His heavenly blessings and bless the efforts of all the orthodox world to settle the peace in the Middle East and in all the world redeemed by the precious blood of our Savior.”
May 21, 2013 1 Comment
Col Ralph Peters writes that the entire Arab world is in the process of reordering itself.
April 29, 2013 1 Comment
The transformative political events in the Middle East over the past two years have had, among many other unexpected outcomes, profound effects on the direction of research in Near Eastern archaeology. War and civil unrest act as both a carrot and a stick, forcing the cessation of fieldwork in some areas, while promoting new investigations in places that might otherwise have gone unexplored. The geopolitics of the post-Arab Spring world are changing where we are able work, and by consequence they will shape the research questions we investigate, as well as the regions where future generations of scholars will likely specialize. But the present moment of realignment is far from unique—our discipline has been shaped from the beginning by the tumultuous political history of the Middle East…
Worth a read over at The ASOR Blog.
December 27, 2012 Leave a comment
A British think tank has released a lengthy report claiming that militant Islam is the greatest existential threat to Middle Eastern Christianity, bringing Christian communities in the region “close to extinction.”
The London-based Civitas, also known as the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, published the report in December. “Christianity is in serious danger of being wiped out in its biblical heartlands because of Islamic oppression,” reads a statement from the group issued Sunday.
“But Western politicians and media largely ignore the widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the wider world because they are afraid they will be accused of racism.”
Titled “Christianophobia” and written by reporter and Religion Editor for The Times Literary Supplement Rupert Shortt, the report details the persecution of Christians in Burma, China, Egypt, India, Iraq, Nigeria, and Pakistan…
Read on here.
While noting the large-scale persecution of Christians in societies that are Communist, Buddhist, or Hindu, Shortt stressed the growing impact of intolerance in Islamic countries.
“In the large area between Morocco and Pakistan, for example, there is scarcely a country in which church life operates without restrictions. Syria has been one of the exceptions until now,” wrote Shortt.
“The prognosis for the rest of the Middle East is hardly encouraging: there is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands…
November 16, 2012 Leave a comment
Last night I was watching CNN and Jenny (5) said, “What are those? Rockets?” It was footage of the fighting between Hamas and the IDF. I answered (without thinking about it), “Yeah, they’re firing rockets at Israel,” and then quickly added, “But not here.”
So soldiers are being mobilized and it looks like foot soldiers will be going into Gaza.
In truly worrying news, a rocket from Gaza recently reached the suburbs of Tel Aviv, which is the hub of the entire country. That little coastal strip from Tel Aviv up through Haifa is where most of the population of this little country lives. (Israel is about the size of New Jersey, incidentally.) If the guys in Gaza get better missiles from Iran (which is where they are coming from) then you will start to see serious casualties on the Israeli side, and the government will not permit that.
In the past Egypt could more or less be counted on to make smuggling arms into Gaza hard. No more…
Meanwhile, the fighting in Syria is spilling over into the always-unstable country of Lebanon. And fighting among the various parties (and there are several, not just two) in Syria recently made the Israeli army fire the first warning shots in decades in the Golan cease-fire area. It appears that the Syrians had not intended to cross the cease-fire line, fortunately.
Our neighbors in Jordan, which has the reputation of being a stable country, have recently eliminated fuel subsidies, which has caused massive protests over there. A line has been crossed, in fact, in that some people are openly calling for the abdication of King Abdullah. If he does not abdicate, force will have to be used to suppress dissenting voices. If he does abdicate the monarchy will be abolished, or a sibling of his will become monarch. Either way, Jordan will go the way of Egypt and become much more Islamist-leaning in its politics and foreign relations.
In my e-mail inbox this morning I had a message from the US Embassy-consulates are closed today and the embassy hours have been reduced. Also, diplomats may not travel through the West Bank because of the instability in both Israel and Jordan. Jordan, meanwhile, is trying to figure out what to do with tens of thousands of refugees from Syria. Jordan does not even have enough food or water for its own population.
We have been living in the Middle East now for many years, and I’m quite used to the occasional instability or violence. But it was always isolated to this or that area. The instability is too widespread now. I’m not an alarmist, but I don’t see how any of this ends up happily. That having been said, I do not feel our family is in any imminent danger, I am glad to say.
Would you please pray for peace in the region? Pray that the local churches would be part of the solution and not just close their eyes and ears to these difficulties? And pray for us, that in the midst of all of this we would be people of light and hope and witnesses to the grace of our Creator and the love of our Redeemer.
August 9, 2012 1 Comment
Wherever you go in the Middle East today, you see the Arab Spring rapidly turning into the Christian winter.
The past few years have been catastrophic for the region’s beleaguered 14-million strong Christian minority.
In Egypt, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has been accompanied by anti-Coptic riots and intermittent bouts of church-burning. On the West Bank and in Gaza, the Christians are emigrating fast as they find themselves caught between Benjamin Netanyahu’s pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised and pro-Hamas Sunni Muslim neighbours. Most catastrophically, in Iraq, two thirds of the Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam.
It was Syria that took in many of the 250,000 Christians driven out of Iraq. Anyone who visited Damascus in recent years could see lounging in every park and sitting in every teahouse the unshaven Iraqi Christian refugees driven from their homes by the sectarian mayhem that followed the end of the Baathist state. They were bank managers and engineers, pharmacists and businessmen – all living with their extended families in one-room flats on what remained of their savings and assisted by the charity of the different churches.
“Before the war there was no separation between Christian and Muslim,” I was told on a recent visit by Shamun Daawd, a liquor-store owner who fled Baghdad after he received Islamist death threats. I met him at the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, where he had come to collect the rent money the Patriarchate provided for the refugees. “Under Saddam no one asked you your religion and we used to attend each other’s religious services,” he said. “Now at least 75 per cent of my Christian friends have fled.”
Those Iraqi refugees now face a second displacement while their Syrian hosts are themselves living in daily fear of having to flee for their lives. The first Syrian refugee camps are being erected in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon; others are queuing to find shelter in camps in Jordan, north of Amman. Most of the bloodiest killings and counter-killings that have been reported in Syria have so far been along Sunni-Alawite faultlines, but there have been some reports of thefts, rape and murder directed at the Christian minority, and in one place – Qusayr – wholesale ethnic cleansing of the Christians accused by local jihadis of acting as pro-regime spies. The community, which makes up about 10 per cent of the total population, is now frankly terrified.
For much of the past 100 years, and long before the Assads came to power, Syria was a reliable refuge for the Christians of the Middle East: decades before the Iraqis arrived the people of Syria welcomed the Armenians escaping the Young Turk genocide of 1915. In 1948 they took in the Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, driven out of their ancestral homes at the creation of Israel; and during the 1970s and 80s their country became a place of shelter for Orthodox Christians and Maronites seeking a refuge during Lebanon’s interminable sectarian troubles.
For while the regime of the Assad dynasty was a repressive one-party police state in which political freedoms were always severely and often brutally restricted, it did allow the Syrians widespread cultural and religious freedoms. These gave Syria’s minorities a security and stability far greater than their counterparts anywhere else in the region. This was particularly true of Syria’s ancient Christian communities. The reason for this was that the Assads were Alawite, a syncretic Shia Muslim minority regarded by Sunni Muslims as heretical, and disparagingly referred to as Nusayris, or Little Christians: indeed, their liturgy seems to be partly Christian in origin. Alawites made up only 12 per cent of Syria’s population and the Assads kept themselves in power by forming what was in effect a coalition of Syria’s religious minorities, through which they were able to counterbalance the weight of the Sunni majority.
In the Assads’ Syria, the major Christian feasts were national holidays; Christians were exempt from turning up to work on Sunday mornings; and churches and monasteries, like mosques, were provided with free electricity and were sometimes given state land for new buildings. In the Christian Quarter of Old Damascus around Bab Touma, electric-blue neon crosses would wink from the domes of the churches and processions of crucifix-carrying boy scouts could be seen squeezing past gaggles of Christian girls heading out on the town, all low-cut jeans and tight-fitting T-shirts. This was something unknown almost anywhere else in the Middle East.
There was also widespread sharing of sacred space. On my travels, in a single day I have seen Christians coming to sacrifice sheep at the Muslim Sufi shrine of Nebi Uri, while at the nearby convent of Seidnaya (recently shelled by government forces) I found that the congregation in the church consisted not principally of Christians, but instead of heavily bearded Muslim men and their shrouded wives. Now that precious multi-ethnic and multi-religious patchwork is in danger of being destroyed for ever.
As in Egypt, where the late Coptic Pope Shenouda supported Hosni Mubarak right up until his fall, the established churches of Syria marked the beginning of the revolution by lining up behind the regime. My friend Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, the urbane and multilingual Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, was quoted as saying: “We do not support those who are calling for the fall of the regime simply because we are for reform and change.”
Initially many of the flock were unsure of the wisdom of that position, and young Christians were among those calling for the end of the Assad regime, hoping for a new dawn of freedom, human rights and democracy. But, a year on, pro-revolution Christians are much harder to find. There are more and more reports of violent al-Qa’ida-inspired salafists fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army, while Turkish backing for the opposition Syrian National Council has terrified the Syrian Armenians.
As criminality, robbery, lawlessness and car-jacking become endemic, even in places where outright fighting is absent, and as the survival of the regime looks daily less and less likely, the Christians fear they will soon suffer the fate of their Iraqi brethren.
As ever, the Christians here remain mystified by the actions of Christian America. When George W. Bush went into Iraq, he naively believed he would be replacing Saddam with a peaceful, pro-US Arab democracy that would naturally look to the Christian West for support. In reality, nine years on, it appears that he has instead created a highly radicalised and unstable pro-Iranian sectarian battleground. Now US support is being channelled towards opposition groups that may eventually do the same to the minorities of Syria.
As in 80s Afghanistan, a joint operation between the CIA and Saudi intelligence could end up bringing to power a hardline salafist replacement to a brutally flawed but nonetheless secular regime. If that happens in Syria, the final death of Christianity in its Middle Eastern homelands seems increasingly possible within our lifetime.