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Iranian Intelligence agents stormed a 100-year-old church, which is a National Heritage site, and tore down the cross from the tower.
(Article 18) The Assyrian Christian community in the northwestern city of Tabriz has been left it a state of shock, after the Presbyterian church was forcibly closed earlier this month.
Intelligence agents stormed the 100-year-old church, which is a National Heritage site, on Thursday, 9 May, changed all the locks, tore down the cross from the church tower, and ordered the church warden to leave.
“They made it clear that the Assyrian people are no longer allowed to hold any worship service there,” explained a trusted source to Article18.
The source said church members had been fearful since just a few days after Christmas, when pastors from other churches were prevented from visiting the Tabriz church for a joint worship service with other Assyrian and Armenian Christians.
Then on 9 May “a large number” of agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and EIKO, an organisation under the direct control of the Supreme Leader, “entered our church compound and changed all the locks on the doors, removed the cross from the church’s high tower, installed some monitoring instruments and started to threaten and force our custodian to leave his place inside the compound immediately”.
The church, belonging to The Assyrian Presbytery, was “confiscated” by Revolutionary Court order in 2011, but church members had been able to continue using the building for services in the Assyrian language – until now.
“Many churches owned by Protestants have been confiscated in Iran,” explains Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, “In most cases the government has been unable to repurpose them, especially if they were listed. So they typically remain as empty buildings, often neglected, and turn into ruins before being demolished, as was the case with the church in Kerman.”
Christians from Iran’s historic Assyrian and Armenian communities are a recognised minority, who are usually able to freely practise their faith, providing they don’t open their doors to Muslim-born Iranians by holding services in Persian.
ANCA-Sponsored Conference on Christians in the Middle East Prioritizes Justice for the Armenian Genocide
Hundreds of Christian leaders, international religious-freedom advocates, and human rights defenders held over 400 Congressional meetings calling on legislators to reject Turkey’s Armenian Genocide gag rule and draw on the lessons of that crime in preventing renewed atrocities against Christians and other at-risk religious minorities across the Middle East.
The advocates were gathered for In Defense of Christians (IDC) 2017 Summit, “American Leadership and Securing the Future of Christians in the Middle East,” cosponsored by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), The Philos Project, and The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).
The meetings, which included Christian clergy from many denominations and supporters of diverse nationalities and creeds, focused on the summit’s five-pronged advocacy agenda, including support of H.Res.220, a bipartisan measure seeks to apply the lessons of the Armenian Genocide in preventing new atrocities across the Middle East, as well as efforts to advance security and stability in Lebanon; emergency relief for victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria; allies and accountability in the Middle East; and legal punishment for ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other perpetrators of genocide.
Images from the meetings are available on the ANCA Facebook page.
Prior to the Congressional visitations, a dozen members of Congress joined with advocates to share their personal commitment to support the safety and security of the Middle East’s historic Christian communities, and cited the importance of grassroots mobilization to advance those concerns. Among U.S. Representatives offering remarks were Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Ron Estes (R-Kans.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), Andy Harris (R-Md.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), and Randy Weber (R-Tex.). Read More
On March 21, extremist with ties to Al-Qaeda entered Syria through Turkey attacked and took control of Kessab, a majority Christian village. It is located in Latakia province and home to over 2,000 ethnic Armenians. Homes were looted, churches destroyed and eighty Christians were killed. Thousands more were displaced after the Islamic militants invaded the strategic Syrian town near the Turkish border, according to Barnabas Aid. Many worldwide have spoken out in protest against the attack, which caused the Armenians to flee their homes empty handed.
Not only Armenians, but also residents of other nationalities took shelter in in Latakia.
Armenia is accusing Turkey of supporting extremists. The reports coming in about the event have been conflicting.
Syria launched a counter offensive, to regain control of the region, but tensions increased after the Turkish military shot down a Syrian jet that had strayed over the border during the mission over Kessab.
Turkey has backed and provided the Islamist rebels with supplies and has allowed the rebels to freely cross its borders.
A parliament member said, the Armenians with help from local defence forces and the Syrian Army fled Kessab and are now staying in the area of an Armenian church on the coast of Latakia. Only a few elderly remained in the village that is “occupied by militants from the al-Nusra,” he added.
60 km from the village, some of the residents took refuge in St. George’s Armenian monastery in Latakia, according to the video agency Ruptly.“
Father Maron, a priest from the town told Ruptly.
“40 more people remained in Kessab – mostly the old and immobile – but we managed to gather the majority and most of the families came to Latakia.”
Speaking to RT, Arman Saakyan, Armenian MP from the Republican Party returned from the Syrian town of Latakia. While there, he was able to speak with Kessab refugees. He also claims the militants entered Syria from Turkey.
“In the early hours on Saturday [March 22] Turkish border guards disappeared and terrorists, representatives of different countries, attacked Kessab from there with the support of artillery,” he said.
International law Professor Daoud Khairallah from Georgetown University told RT.
“Ankara has been supporting the jihadi fundamentalists in this war against Syrian regime from the very beginning. It has opened its borders for the fundamentalists coming from all over the world. So to say that now what they did in Kessab is not much different from what it has been doing all along. Now it is very difficult to think that this has happened against Kessab – overwhelmingly majority Armenian – without the knowledge of the Turkish government. It is a border town and it knows that Armenians had been there. And the Armenians had been traumatized by the Turks – there is a long history, probably it was the first genocide in the 20th century, the genocide against the Armenians, as historians say.”
Turkey has a history of helping the armed people coming from all over the world against the Syrian regime and facilitating their entrance into Syria, training them. For Turkey to say we didn’t know or we couldn’t stop it is a little bit ridiculous.
He also said,
“The only authority that can tell whether Mr. Assad or his government is legitimate or not is the Syrian people. The Turkish government has taken a position from the very beginning of events in Syria that is not justifiable in international law, international practice.”
RT also asked, How will the international community react?
I don’t think we can expect much from the international community. The international community has been divided; and the international community has disregarded international law from the very beginning with respect to the Syrian crisis. Some countries have let their borders open. They have helped outsiders come into Syria without any justification internationally.
If the international community would act, it would act through the Security Council. We know where the US stands: it has a veto power. And I doubt that the United Nations, and the Security Council in particular, is acting in conformity with international law and this crisis from the very beginning.
Read more on RT
The Armenian Weekly – “A delegation of priest from the Catholicosate of Cilicia who had visited Latakia to assess the needs of Kessab Armenians and express solidarity returned to Antelias after the Sunday Badarak.
According to the delegation, the local Armenian community, the International Red Cross, and the Red Crescent are providing assistance to those who have sought refuge in the city. An estimated 2,000 Kessab Armenians are currently in Latakia.
‘Many Armenian families are staying with relatives and friends, while others have sought refuge in the Armenian Church and the church’s hall,’ said Syrian Armenian community activist Nerses Sarkissian during a phone interview with Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian.
‘The Aleppo Armenian Prelacy as well as the Red Crescent are providing relief and assistance to these families in Latakia,’ Sarkissian added.
Extremist fighters engage in robbery and desecration
The fighters, mostly from the extremist Nusra Front, who have entered Kessab are desecrating churches, pillaging houses, and destroying government buildings, Sarkissian told the Weekly. A few Syrian Armenians have been unable to leave Kessab, and their fate is unclear, he added.
Sarkissian underlined that the fighters came from the Turkish side of the border and are receiving support from the Turkish military. He noted that the injured among them are being transported back to Turkey to receive medical attention…
Perched in the northwestern corner of Syria, near the border with Turkey, Kessab had, until very recently, evaded major battles between the army and rebels. Many Syrians had taken refuge there because of the relative calm in the area over the past three years.” Read more.