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(World Watch Monitor) Three years to the day since the Islamic State group took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul, a new report estimates that 50-80% of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
The arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”, according to the report, produced by Christian charities Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern.
The report also notes that for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several interviewees saying “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians”.
“There is little incentive to return, with several interviewees saying the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”
In a policy paper released alongside the report, the three charities call on the EU to help establish an “accountability mechanism” to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria.
“Creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities,” the charities write.
They urge the EU to “advocate for the establishment of the mechanism through its contacts with the Iraqi and Syrian governments” and to provide funding, technical support and monitoring. The mechanism, the charities add, “should be transparent and inclusive, ensuring all key stakeholders at all levels (government, community leaders, civil society and the public) are represented adequately”.
The report, ‘Understanding the recent movements of Christians leaving Syria and Iraq’, acknowledges the difficulty of producing definitive figures, as it estimates that the overall Christian population of Iraq has reduced from “well over 300,000” in 2014 to 200,000-250,000 today – “many” of whom are now displaced internally. In Syria, meanwhile, the charities estimate that the Christian population of around 2 million in 2011 has “roughly halved”.
“Factors for leaving included the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities,” the report notes. “While direct violence, such as the movements of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, was the tipping point for displacement, the ultimate decision to leave the countries was portrayed as an accumulation of factors over time.”
A greater number of Christians are thought to have left Syria, but only because the initial population was higher, according to the report, which adds that a greater proportion of Iraq’s Christians have left the country.
The Christians have emigrated via a range of routes, including resettlement programmes through churches, formal refugee registration and “illegal routes” – though the deaths of Christians trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have reportedly “dissuaded some”, while “the high price of these routes have made them unavailable for others”.
Lebanon has reportedly taken in the most Christians, while thousands more have resettled in Jordan and Turkey, and a smaller number in European countries such as Sweden and Germany. However, “recent policy changes, as well as living conditions, have made arrival or staying in many of these countries, such as Sweden, incredibly difficult”, the report concludes, adding: “There were reports of returns [home], but many expressed the sentiment that Christians have given up hope of returning.”
However, the charities note that “many” of those who remain “want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria. They want to be seen as Iraqi or Syrian citizens, enjoying the full rights of citizenship, such as equality before the law and full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship, practise, teach, choose and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority.”
(World Watch Monitor) The UN must urgently put in place measures to hold to account jihadists who have committed atrocities against minorities in Iraq and Syria, because existing conventions have become “obsolete”, the author of a book documenting recent violence against them has said.
Vienna-based legal counsel Ewelina Ochab, who authored ‘Never again: Legal responses to a broken promise in the Middle East’, accused the UN of breaking the pledges it made in the aftermath of World War II to prevent genocide from recurring.
Speaking at the book’s launch at the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva on 24 November, she argued that the conventions on genocide prevention had become “obsolete” because measures had not been taken to bring to justice members of the Islamic State (IS), whose attacks on Christians and other religious minorities amounted to “genocide”.
Ochab said the legal process against IS members could be carried out in one of three ways: by trying suspected perpetrators at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, by trying them at an “ad hoc” International Criminal Court set up specifically to deal with atrocities in Iraq and Syria, or by setting up a UN-backed court in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East. In the first two scenarios, she said national courts in Iraq and Syria should support the ICC’s work to prosecute all accomplices.
To introduce her work, Ochab held up a piece of a cross that she picked up in a destroyed church in the formerly IS-held town of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq, as well as a few pages of a Bible. Ochab’s book draws on testimonies collected by the Vienna-based charity ADF International. Never Again includes eyewitness accounts of IS atrocities, the international community’s response to recent genocides, and analysis of existing genocide legislation. She argues that the current legal safeguards have failed to protect vulnerable communities from ethnic, cultural, and religious destruction.
According to the last census before the US-led invasion of 2003, there were as many as 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Ochab noted that today there are thought to be fewer than 250,000. Many factors are behind the exodus of Christians from Iraq, which the chaotic aftermath of the invasion accelerated. The rise of IS in 2014 drove many of the country’s remaining Christians to abandon their homeland. Those who remained, along with [Yazidis], who were not given the option to flee, have told of atrocities and soldiers liberating IS-held towns and villages around Mosul have found many churches burnt out and badly vandalised.
A spokesman for the charity said: “We published this book to demonstrate clearly that the Christians of the Middle East are living through a genocide and so that the UN Security Council recognises that and fights the impunity of Daesh [IS] members.”
Citing the executions and crucifixions to which Christians and other religious minorities were subjected during the two years in which Daesh controlled territory in Iraq, spokesman Andreas Thonhauser said: “The impunity of Daesh must stop.”
Only the United States, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and Britain’s House of Commons have recognised the atrocities by IS against Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq such as Yezidis as genocide. Canada has recognised a genocide of Yezidis.
IS militants are known to come from Europe, Russia, Central Asia, China and North America, as well as North Africa and the Middle East. Some campaigners have called for them to be prosecuted by the countries in which they have citizenship.
Ochab said the jihadist violence seen in Iraq and Syria forms part of a larger push by Islamic extremists “to eliminate the Christian presence from the Middle East”.
After the Second World War, haunted by the atrocities committed by the Nazis, the international community vowed to never again allow such barbarity. However, Ochab argued that the atrocities experienced by peoples of the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda demonstrated that the promise was fragile. She said in such circumstances that it was necessary to “leave the silence” and “denounce what turns out to be genocide”.
(World Watch Monitor) Life hasn’t been easy for 28-year-old Syrian mother Kristina, a Christian of Armenian descent, who lived with her husband in Aleppo long before the civil war started in 2011.
It was in that besieged city that Kristina gave birth to her firstborn daughter, 18 months ago. She’s brought the little girl to the house where a World Watch Monitor contact meets her. While her mother talks, the toddler explores the room.
“Please close the door, I’d like to keep an eye on her,” Kristina asks, not letting her child out of her sight.
With the pain still visible in her eyes, Kristina recalls her first days of being a mother in the spring of 2015 – the war raging outside, electricity, gas and water cut off most of the time and her family unable to visit and help her.
“The first two weeks after my daughter was born were the hardest in my life,” Kristina says. “It was so cold that we put our mattresses on the living room floor, the warmest room in the house. There we lived for two weeks on the ground, wrapped in blankets.”
As soon as it was safe, Kristina, her husband and her baby daughter travelled to neighbouring Lebanon to safety. At first it was intended to be a short trip, but when the violence increased and also the Christian part of Aleppo was being bombed, the young family decided to wait for the end of the war before returning to Syria.
“I can’t let my baby girl grow up amidst all those dangers,” Kristina says.
With the violence continuing and worsening, gradually more Christians left Aleppo. In Kristina’s church, now only 10 per cent of the regular church-goers are left, she hears from friends.
“But you know what’s surprising? The church is still full; displaced people take their place. Especially Muslims are coming to the church now,” she says.
In Syria, the Christian children’s activities draw the most attention, Kristina says. A lot of Syrians from other parts of Aleppo – the fighting is heaviest in Muslim areas – have fled to the Christian areas to seek refuge. For many Muslims, it is the first time they have mixed with Christians.
“Many Muslims were genuinely surprised when they met Christian women in our churches willing to serve them. Their image was that all Christian women spend most of their days dancing in night clubs and drinking alcohol! Meeting each other was a shock, both for them and for us,” says Kristina.
Kristina also says the Muslim women were surprised to see that churches offered support and programmes for all Syrians, not just for Christians.
“Their mosques don’t do that,” Kristina says. “Many are re-thinking the faith they grew up in and have dropped their hostility towards Christians.”
A growing number of Muslim children have been attending the children’s activities, where the Bible is opened daily.
“The mothers are okay with that,” says Kristina. “They see it as positive if their children learn about God. It’s the husbands who are stricter, usually.”
But, gradually, also the mothers and, in some cases, whole Muslim families have found their way to the church activities, including the services.
“That absolutely did not happen before the war,” Kristina says. “Still the Muslims are afraid – especially when entering and leaving the building – but they are there. The children have opened the church’s doors, then the women followed, and finally the men.”
Kristina says Muslim women “feel liberated when they notice the church doesn’t see them as merely machines only fit for cleaning, giving birth to children, and raising them, like many Muslim men do”.
“In Islam, many women don’t have any rights. When they feel how Christians really care for them, it feels like heaven for those women. They see it’s possible to live as independent women, to dream,” Kristina says.
Despite the war, Kristina speaks of a “golden age” for the Church in the Middle East.
“For the first time in history, Muslims are coming to us. The only thing we have to do is tell them the good news; they are waiting for it,” she says. “They realise that, when living in a Christian environment, the [Christian message] will be shared. They may even see it as a sign of weakness if it isn’t.”
VOP Note: Pray for the church in Syria. Pray that many Muslims to come to faith as they see the Lord’s light in our brothers and sisters. Oh Lord, how great are your ways! Thank you for taking this horrific situation to bring many into your flock. All for Your glory, we bless your name. In Jesus Holy name, we pray. Amen
(Voice of the Persecuted) Today, the Christian and Muslim children of Aleppo, Syria are gathering together to pray for an end to the violence and devastation upon their city and nation. They’re drawing pictures about their lives to send to Pope Francis, to the United Nations and to two of the most important players in determining the outcome of the war, the United States and Russia.
Please join Voice of the Persecuted as we intercede on their behalf, lifting them to the Lord and asking for mercy and to heal their war torn land.
Almighty Father, how great You are! True hope and everlasting love is found only in You. There is no other above You. We love You, worship and give glory and honor to You with all our hearts. Thank you for being our Deliverer and the One who saves those lost and in need. We pray for an end to the violence in Syria. Only in You can there be true peace. Draw near to those who are suffering and help the afflicted. Oh Lord, wash away their tears and touch their grieving hearts. Heal these traumatized children and bring them out of the darkness. Comfort them and supply their needs.
We have heard the Syrian people are experiencing dreams and visions of Jesus, including the children. Many are giving their lives to our Lord and Savior. Thank you for being their Light and their Hope. Help us, Father to receive Your heart and love others as you do. Help us to pray Your will for Your Kingdom purpose for all on this Earth. Give us the strength, compassion and boldness needed to share the life saving message of Christ with the lost. By the power of his blood, we pray and cry out all this in the Holy name of Jesus. Father, hear the pleas of the Syrian children and of those praying together with them. Amen
Please remember to keep them in your daily prayers.
Voice of the Persecuted asks that you will participate, share with many and take this appeal seriously as if you or your own family were suffering. It is time for the Body of Christ stand up, speak out and unite against all evil in this world. Jesus said that he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. His power is greater than the power of the enemy. When there is a head-on conflict between the power of the enemy and the power of God, the power of the enemy will lose every time. It is time to recognize that we are the Church with the power that is rooted in Christ.
Aleppo (Agenzia Fides) – Hundreds of boys and girls in Aleppo, Christians and Muslims, will meet on October 6, to pray so that the spiral of death unleashed in recent days especially on their defenceless children stops in the battered city they live in, and throughout Syria. This is what Archbishop Boutros Marayati, at the head of Armenian Catholic archieparchy in Aleppo reports to Agenzia Fides. The initiative will primarily involve school children. They will also put their signatures and their fingerprints on an appeal to ask world rulers to put an end to the massacres especially towards children, who in all wars are the most vulnerable. “But above all, they will pray. They will pray for all of their peers. And we trust in the fact that children’s prayer is more powerful than ours”, added Archbishop Marayati.
The bombings and massacres of civilians in Aleppo have expressed, in a devastating manner, the fragile and partial truce declared less than two weeks ago. In this regard, Archbishop Marayati is able to provide first-hand information on what is happening in the Syrian metropolis: “On Wednesday – reports the Armenian Catholic Archbishop – the representatives of the government and the Syrian army convened a meeting to explain that soon an appeal would be spread to the civilian population settled in the neighborhoods under rebel control. The appeal warned that gates would be left open to allow the population to leave those areas, and head for areas considered safe, without fear of incurring in retaliation. In fact, many civilian families left those neighborhoods and were welcomed in areas controlled by the government army, confirming that the appeal had somehow arrived at its destination. For groups arriving, housing facilities were set up for the reception. But it was not a mass evacuation. Perhaps many cannot leave. And the appeal also contained an expiration date, and the ultimatum expires in coming days. New blood will be shed if the powers behind the two warring parties do not decide to really put an end to this dirty war”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 24/09/2016)
Pray With The Children Of Aleppo Syria (JOIN THE EVENT)
The have faced death and suffering, on October 6, 2016, the children of Aleppo Syria are praying for peace to put an end to the massacre of children. Join VOP Advocate, C. Refsland who has created an event on Facebook to unite us together to PRAY with them. Please click on the highlighted link above to join this event. For those without a Facebook account, we will share updates to encourage and remind you of this event. Your PRAYERS can make a difference.
Contact Your Elected Officials (ACT NOW)
As they put their signatures and their fingerprints on an appeal to ask world rulers to put an end to the massacres, let us also help by joining them and ask our elected officials to do more and all they can. Click on the highlighted link above to find your elected officials contact information. CALL, WRITE and EMAIL them today. Be heard, send multiple requests. Your VOICE can make a difference.
Church Youth Group/Sunday School Leaders
This will also be an excellent opportunity to get our Church Youth Groups/classes involved by joining these children in prayer. Let’s teach our children the importance of prayer. To petition the Lord in a world increasingly chaotic. The importance of caring for and encouraging one another, even beyond our own borders. To be the Church, the hands and feet of Christ.
SYRIA – Aleppo still under bombs. Bishop Audo: we live among the desolation of war and the consolation of God
July 10, 2016 – “We are again under bombs. We do not know what is about to happen. Even last night we could not sleep, and this morning an artillery shell also fell in the street of our cathedral, resulting in one death and three injuries. Also for this reason we have decided not to reopen the Caritas offices, which had been closed for a few days during the Muslim feast for the end of Ramadan”.
Bishop Antoine Audo SJ, at the head of the Chaldean Diocese of Aleppo, explains to Agenzia Fides the daily horror that continues to disrupt the martyred city worn away by five years of war.
The new upsurge of bombings and mortar attacks on neighborhoods in Aleppo must also be considered, according to the Chaldean Bishop, as a reaction to the operations with which the army took control of the so-called “road of the Castle” by cutting the connections between areas occupied by rebel militiamen – including those related to jihadist acronyms – and Turkey. “They launch a hail of bullets to show they are not happy, that they are dangerous and are still strong”, notes Mgr. Audo.
In addition to fear and the count of new victims, the Chaldean Bishop also keeps track of the persistent signs of a life of faith, in the presence of factors that he defines as “a mysterious and wonderful paradox”. On one side – says the Bishop – “we are all heartbroken by what is happening, on the other side there are many that in this state meet to celebrate the sacraments, pray, share a spirit of hope and mercy.
I have just been called by the participants in a spiritual retreat organized on the mountains by the Focolare members. There were two hundred people, with ten priests. From next Thursday we will meet in Tartus with 175 operators and Caritas volunteers from all over Syria, for a few days of formation and meetings. It is a mysterious and wonderful paradox: on one hand there is the desolation of war, and on the other there is the consolation of God”.
(AINA) — Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim of the Syriac Orthodox Church issued a statement on the assassination attempt on his life last week. On June 19, while the Patriarch was leading a commemoration service for the Turkish genocide of Assyrians in World War One, a suicide bomber attacked the service but was stopped by the Assyrian Sutoro military forces in Qamishli, Syria (AINA 2016-06-19).
Here is the text of the statement.
The Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East
Damascus, Wednesday June 22, 2016After returning safely to the Patriarchate in Damascus following his pastoral visit to the city of Qamishly, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, offered prayers of thanksgiving and condemned the suicide bombing which took place during His Holiness’ visit. On Sunday June 19, 2016 following the celebration of the feast of the Pentecost and after the inauguration of a monument for the Syriac Genocide Sayfo which His Holiness presided over, the faithful were gathered inside the auditorium of St. Gabriel School to celebrate the 101st annual Sayfo commemoration when a suicide bomber set himself off a short distance from the place. Two members of the Sutoro Protection Units fell martyrs and several were injured. This terroristic act is planned and executed by people who want to spread hatred and create division among the people of the region. Such acts cause great suffering to the people and aim at destroying the unity of our beloved country Syria.
His Holiness gives thanks to God Almighty for protecting him and all the others who participated in the said event, by His divine care.
He prays for the souls of the martyrs, especially the two young people who lost their lives as a result of this act of terrorism, and offers condolences to their families. He likewise prays for the quick recovery of the injured. His Holiness expresses his thanks and gratitude to their Holinesses and Beatitudes the Patriarchs of the sister churches, as well as different governments and community leaders who offered their sympathies and prayers for His Holiness’ safety by calling or writing. He, likewise, thanks the hierarchy, members of the clergy, and the entire faithful of the church who offered their prayers and expressed their concerns through phone calls, emails or text messages.
His Holiness prays the Lord to bless Syria with peace and security so that these difficult times come to an end and life returns to normal in this dear country Syria.
Syria (AINA) — A suicide bomber disguised as a priest attempted to enter an Assyrian genocide commemoration event in the al-Wusta district of Qamishli but was stopped by Assyrian forces. The bomber detonated his bomb outside the hall, killing himself and three members of the Assyrian Sutoro security forces and wounding five. It is believed the bomber was targeting Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who was leading the commemoration.
The explosion occurred at the intersection of al-Quwatli and El-Kindi Park road in a neighborhood heavily populated by Assyrians. According to AssyriaTV, the 5 wounded Assyrians have been identified as Gawriye Ado, Riad Habsuno, Marios Malke, Fayez Farman and Siwar Hassan. The deceased have not been identified.
This is the fourth attack on Assyrians in Qamishli in the past six months:
- May 22, 2016: an attack by ISIS in the Assyrian al-Wusta district of Qamishli, Syria killed at least five persons, three of them Assyrians, and injured more than a dozen.
- January 24, 2016: Two explosions rocked an Assyrian neighborhood in Qamishli. The first targeted the Star Cafe, where a bomb was placed on a bicycle that was left in front of the store. The explosion killed 3 Assyrians and injured 20. The second blast targeted Joseph Bakery.
- December 30,2015: Three explosions targeted Assyrian businesses in Qamishli, 16 were killed.
No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attack.