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Terrorists target Assyrian Churches in Iraq
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Rob Wrote:

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+Shamasha Paul bar-Shimun de'Beth-Younan
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Christians in the Middle East have survived persecution by Muslims for about 1400 years now. Christians in the West should ask their governments to do something to help these persecuted Christians.

Iraq's Beleaguered Christians More Fearful Than Ever
Patrick Goodenough
CNS News

Aug. 2, 2004 - A spate of coordinated car bombings at churches in Iraq has shaken a Christian minority already deeply anxious about its future.

An Assyrian campaigner Monday predicted that the steady flow of Christians leaving Iraq would swell to a flood in the aftermath of Sunday's bombings, which killed at least 11 people.

Five churches in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul were targeted in the blasts, evidently timed to cause maximum casualties during evening services. Scores of people were injured and the number of fatalities was expected to rise.

The carnage was the worst faced by Iraqi Christians since the fall of Saddam Hussein, but this was not the first violence to target the community of between 700,000 and 1.5 million people.

Iraqi Christians are mostly Assyrians (sometimes called Syriacs or Chaldeans), a non-Arab ethnic group that pre-dated the 7th century Muslim-Arab conquests of the Middle East.

Traditional Assyrian lands include parts of Iraq, southeast Turkey, Syria and northern Iran, although they enjoy no autonomy despite claiming a history that goes back to the 8th century BC.

Today's main Christian denominations include Chaldean Catholic, Assyrian, Syrian Orthodox and Armenian.

A number of news reports have characterized life for Christians under Saddam as tranquil.

But according to Prof. Walid Phares, an expert on Christian minorities in the Middle East, oppression of Assyrian Christians increased after the Ba'athists seized power in Iraq.

A report by the U.S.-based Chaldean News Agency a year before the war that toppled Saddam described anti-Christian discrimination on the part of former regime.

They included regulations forbidding Iraqis from giving newborn children any names other than Arab ones; a decision to place all church properties under the control of the government Ministry of Islamic Property; and a ruling that Christian churches publishing religious calendars had to include saying of Saddam alongside those of Jesus.

Hermiz Shahen, an Australian-based representative of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, an international umbrella group, said Monday the Ba'athist regime deliberately classified Assyrians as Arabs.

That was one reason why estimates of the size of the community vary so much, he said.

Saddam's government razed hundreds of Assyrian villages in an attempt to assimilate the minority into Arab society.

In the north, Assyrians also faced discrimination at the hands of the Kurds, who Shahen said had taken over "where Saddam failed."


Shahen said Assyrians had in general welcomed the liberation of Iraq and Saddam's departure.

But maltreatment under the secular regime's "Arabization" policies has been replaced since the fall of Baghdad by attacks motivated by religious zealotry.

Many Iraqi Muslim associated Assyrians with the West, and therefore saw them as the enemy. "Hatred is now twice [as bad] as it was before."

Islamist organizations in Saudi Arabia were also known to have "invested lots of money to Islamize the Assyrian lands," he said.

Christian charities, aid organizations and campaigning groups have recorded a number of attacks targeting Christians over the past year.

Two weeks ago, Hani Matti Betti, the Christian owner of a restaurant in Mosul, was murdered, reportedly after being accused of serving Americans. The militants blinded and cut off the hands of his business partner, a Muslim.

On June 26, the sister of a Catholic priest in Mosul was injured when two men threw a hand grenade from their passing car towards the church.

On June 7, seven people were killed in two drive-by shootings apparently targeting Christians in an Assyrian district in Baghdad.

In February, five Christian roadside vendors were shot dead by gunmen in Basra, and last Christmas Eve, a Christian was shot dead while doing last-minute shopping in the same city.

On a number of occasions, bombs have either gone off in churches without hurting anybody, or have been found and defused before detonation. Offices and representatives of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, a Christian party, have been shot at or otherwise targeted for attack.

Apart from those and other attacks, Christians have also faced numerous threats.

Posters have been pasted in the north warning Christians to covert to Islam or leave Iraq. Priests and lay Christians have been threatened with death or kidnapping.

One warning notice, which has been posted on an Assyrian website, instructs a Christian family to convert and for the women and girls to wear the hijab (Islamic veil). Disobedience would result in death and the destruction of their home.

In Baghdad, Assyrian owners of liquor stores have been ordered to close or be killed.

Last April, when coalition forces were besieging the terrorist stronghold of Fallujah, a militant group sent the al-Arabiya television channel a faxed warning that it would kill priests and other Christians and destroy churches unless the siege ended.

In Basra, members of the Christian community have been terrorized by Shi'a groups including one named "Allah's Vengeance" which are trying to force Christians to convert or leave.

'Looking to the West'

According to Shahen, hundreds of Assyrian families fearful for their safety were already leaving Iraq each week, mostly heading for Syria or Jordan.

With the latest bombings, he expected the figures to rise dramatically.

"A huge number have left already and this incident will encourage others to leave. We don't want that to happen. This is our homeland."

Shahen said many Assyrians in Iraq looked to those in the diaspora - most live in the U.S., Australia and northern Europe - as their only hope. It was up to diaspora Assyrians to lobby governments on behalf of the homeland.

"There is a plan, there is some plot to remove the Christians from Iraq. And we've been asking [Western] governments to do something about it," said Shahen, who has lobbied Australian leaders, and also met with former U.S. Iraq administrator Paul Bremer in Baghdad earlier this year.

He noted that President Bush had mentioned Assyrians by name in his statements falling the fall of Baghdad.

In a April 2003 address in Dearborn, Mich., the president assured Iraqis they would enjoy a future where all would be free to practice their faith: "Whether you're Sunni or Shi'a or Kurd or Chaldean or Assyrian or Turkoman or Christian or Jew or Muslim, no matter what your faith, freedom is God's gift to every person in every nation."

"If the allies are talking about bringing Iraq to democracy, they have to somehow implement that," Shahen said, adding that the task would have to include finding a way "to protect the Christian community."

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My personal opinion is that the Head of the COE sholud apply to United Nations Council, United States Congress, Senate etc. The Assyrians should go to the US White House to carry out meetings, involve press, collect signatures and petitions etc. I believe when they start doing this the other Christians will help them. The Western Christians have been not knowing about the holocausts. As much as I remember the first time I heard from Paul Younan about persecutions of the Assyrian Christians. I lived in the civilized world and I did not know this.
The muslims who spread their religion by sword and blood continue killing, killing, and killing. The America must stop this!!! they have all the power to do this, but who will shake and move the America to do this?
I hope that new Iraqi constitution will protect the Iraqi Christians, but this is just hope.

Our Allmighty Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, protect and save the Iraqi Christians!
I am sad to hear that many Christian pastors in America are more interested in helping the Jews in Israel than their fellow Christians in the Middle East.

I am not against helping the Jews but we need to do more for those who share our faith in Yeshu'.
One of the first owners of the facsimile of <a href=""><b>Codex Leningrad</b></a>
Dan, I completely agree with you.
I think that Assyrians are a nation and think that United NATIONS Organization must include Assyrian nation too.
I admit the possibility of the problem that it was told to the western Christianity that Assyrians are Christians heretics, nestorians (followers of the heretic). In Christian History heretics were disregarded usually. I think that the Roman Pope possibly was interestins in disappearance of this kind of Christianity. I regarded these Christians as heretics until about as I met with and other sources and saw that they are faithful and good Christians. This is my point of view as a western Christian.
Now, the attention of the world is on Iraq and the persecutions of the Christians. And this is good because the people learn the situation.
One can hear a lot about Israel on TV, radio, media and nothing about the essence of the Middle Eastern Christianity. There are many things that we are afraid to talk about but we have to. The open opinions can be considered as insults to some ..., as one of my posts was deleted from this forum.
My opinion is the possibility that the USA invaded Iraq because of many reasons and one of the reasons could be destroying of the totalitarian islam (because it became extremely dangerous to the world ) and installing democracy of the western type. Under this type of democracy the Christianity will be free from persecutions but close to corruption from inside.
God bless the Middle East Christianity in the name of Jesus Christ.
Shlama Akhay,

One of the reasons many Christian supporters of Israel here in the states don???t seem to support Christians in the Middle East is due to the fact that those supporting Israel are from fundamentalist evangelical circles.

Many of these folks hardly consider Middle East Christians as actual Christians. Rather, they consider them traditional or nominal Christians in need of "salvation" according to their formulas.

Many American Christians support Israel out of a perceived guilt for the atrocities committed against the Jews by their European forefathers, all of whom associated with western protestant and Catholic churches.

Yes, it is an atrocity that Western "Christians" reject their Eastern brethren, while having an intense love affair with a people whose primary religion is extremely anti-Torah and anti-Christian.
I don't think it's necessarily true to say Western Evangelicals "don't support" Eastern Christians in principle. The atrocities against Eastern Christians are generally not publicized primarily due to the fact that Post Modernity thinks it best for Christianity to stay out of Islam, and hence, any aggression against Christianity in Muslim nations are viewed as natural defense mechanisms. Time and Newsweek have both openly mocked Christianity for sending missionaries into Muslim nations. This news is an exception to the rule since it is in correlation with the war.

On the flip side, support for Israel is based on both Zionism and Political agenda. The holy land is full of historical, archeological and academic attractions, while also, there is the unwavering faith in Israel's corporate ethnic salvation. I do believe in both, but not to the "neglection" of other sufferings.

Quote:Many of these folks hardly consider Middle East Christians as actual Christians. Rather, they consider them traditional or nominal Christians in need of "salvation" according to their formulas.
This is true, Dean, but you must remember that we are also anathematized by most of these Ortho-Catholic faiths openly by creed and dogma, not just by generalization.
Rob Wrote:This is true, Dean, but you must remember that we are also anathematized by most of these Ortho-Catholic faiths openly by creed and dogma, not just by generalization.

While all of our churches are arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, we're about to lose one of the most ancient Christian strongholds in the middle east.

Mesopotamia - the land of Noah, Shem, Japheth, Ham and even Abraham. Pick any one you want, the land is that of *your* forefathers who all dwelt there at one time or another.
+Shamasha Paul bar-Shimun de'Beth-Younan
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Many Christians Flee Iraq, With Syria the Haven of Choice

Published: August 5, 2004

DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug. 4 - Abdulkhalek Sharif Nuaman likes to talk as he works, removing bubbly Iraqi bread from his ovens on long pallets. The baker is a cheerful man, yet his florid face darkens as he explains why he decided to flee Iraq.

Two months ago, Mr. Nuaman says, he was both a member of Iraq's small Mandaean sect, and a patriot with high hopes for the country's democratic future. Then Islamist extremists began attacking Christians in his Baghdad neighborhood, and his 9-year-old son was kidnapped, dragged into a moving car as he played near the family home.

After relatives scraped together $5,000 to ransom the boy, the family decided enough was enough and left, driving across the desert into Syria to apply for refugee status.

"We are safe here, and so we feel free," Mr. Nuaman said of his new home in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana. "The Syrians are brothers to us. There is no discrimination here. That is the truth, and not a compliment."

Iraq is home to some of the world's oldest religious communities, including Assyrians, an early, now independent Christian sect; Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics who recognize papal authority; and the Mandaeans, who follow John the Baptist.

Yet, attacks on Iraq's tiny Christian minority have been steadily increasing since late spring, culminating in the bombing of five Christian churches in Baghdad and Mosul on Sunday. As a result, according to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Christians are now fleeing the country in record numbers.

Ajmal Khybari, an official at the refugee agency's Damascus office, said about 4,000 Iraqi families had registered as refugees in Syria. Although they represent less than 5 percent of Iraq's population, Iraqi Christians now make up about 20 percent of the total refugee flow into Syria from Iraq, Mr. Khybari said.

Rita Zekert, the coordinator of the Caritas Migrant Center, a Catholic charity in Damascus that provides food, medicine and other aid to new refugees, said last year's wartime influx of Iraqi refugees included Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and Kurds in percentages roughly proportionate to their numbers in Iraq. "But nowadays, 95 percent of the people coming to us are Iraqi Christians," Ms. Zekert said.

Though Iraqi Christians are heading to Jordan and Lebanon as well, Mr. Khybari said, Syria is the preferred destination, for its low cost of living, cultural similarities with Iraq and policy of freely issuing visas to citizens of other Arab countries. "For people of a very depleted economic status, Syria is an easier choice," he said.

Yet most of Syria's newest Iraqi Christian refugees say the decision to leave their homeland was anything but easy. They tell of Christian shopkeepers killed by Islamist gangs for daring to sell alcohol, of family businesses sold to ransom stolen children. They say life in Syria is hard for them, as new refugees are often barred from jobs and schools. They left Iraq, they say, only because they were too terrorized to stay.

Solaka Enweya, 56, an Assyrian Christian who arrived in Syria with his three sons on June 27, explained that attacks on Christians had become common since Saddam Hussein's government was toppled, in part because of the perception that Iraqi Christians are aiding the Americans. But like other refugees here, he said attacks on Iraqi Christians increased this spring.

"When we heard that the Americans were going to liberate Iraq, we were so happy," Mr. Enweya said. "Yet our suffering has only increased."

He said his family had been receiving vague death threats since the start of the war, in March 2003. But beginning in April, he said, a local Islamist group began directly threatening his sons because of their faith. Then they blew up his van. Mr. Enweya had run a small delivery service, and with the loss of the van, his whole livelihood disappeared.

"Saddam didn't allow for people to incite religious life like this," he said. "We Christians have suffered so much. Our only choice was to come to Syria."

Suhair Mikhail, 33, recalls walking home from her church in Baghdad this spring with a friend, a young woman from her choir.

"A car stopped, and three men got out," she said. "They began tearing my friend's clothes. They said, 'Because this is the first time we see you unveiled, we will only strip you. The next time, we will kill you.' "

Despite the growing frequency of attacks and humiliations, the leaders of Iraq's Christians are urging their members to remain in Iraq or, if they have already left, to return.

"These terrorists are playing on the sectarian conflicts," said Emmanuel Khoshaba, a spokesman for the Assyrian Democratic Movement, a political party of Iraq's Assyrian Christians. "Before, they were tampering with Sunni-Shia relations. Now it's the Christians' turn."

He is especially worried that the church bombings will bring a new wave of refugees. Mr. Khoshaba counsels Christians to be patient.

"Iraq is in a new stage of its history," Mr. Khoshaba said. "We have free speech, and places in the national assembly. Chaldeans and Assyrians are some of Iraq's most ancient people. It will be terrible if they leave before we can taste the fruits of Iraq's democracy."

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Quote:While all of our churches are arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, we're about to lose one of the most ancient Christian strongholds in the middle east.
Too true Paul, but I'm willing to gander more than 30
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Iraqi Christians Face Uncertain, Dangerous Future

Roch Hammond
CNS News Correspondent

August 5, 2004

Sunday's bombing of Christian churches in Iraq highlights the precarious standing of one of the nation's most historic, but smallest religious groups, according to a group dedicated to religious liberties.

"Increasingly in recent months, Iraqi Christians have felt significant harassment and intimidation as many of their shops and businesses have been targeted by Muslim extremists, but the Sunday bombings change everything," said Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International.

The July 31 attacks were directed at four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul, leaving a total of 11 people dead.

''Of the various factions that hope to disrupt and rise to power in Iraq, some, if given the chance, would slaughter all Iraqi Christians and completely destroy any trace of Christianity," Jacobson stated.

After the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime by a United States-led invasion in April 2003, various militant Islamic terrorist groups surfaced and have been increasingly targeting Iraqi Christians, according to news reports.

In southern Iraq and in the vast Shi'ite slum of Sadr City in Baghdad, radical Islamic militiamen loyal to wanted hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr have reportedly been directing security and seeking to impose strict Islamic law, rather than constitutional law.

The targeted violence includes several bombings aimed at Christian merchants who in some cases sell alcohol that is forbidden by Islamic law. Christians have also been victimized by murders and kidnappings, allegedly because they did not adhere to the laws of Islam.

The transitional Iraqi constitution is protective of individual rights. The document recognizes equal protection under the law for all citizens, guarantees free and fair trials and elections, religious freedom and the protection of private property, among others.

However, Article 7 names Islam as the official state religion and "a source of the legislation" in Iraq. One excerpt reads: "This constitution respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi population while guaranteeing freedom of all other religions and practices."

Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, said there is not only a "war problem" in Iraq, but also a "cultural" problem.

"[U]ntil order is restored in [Iraq] and the bad guys are caught, [violence] is going to happen," King said.

King believes that Iraqis need "moderates," such as most of the Iraqi Transitional Government, to gain and maintain power in order to achieve a culture of freedom, individual rights, democracy and tolerance.

Jose Fuentes, spokesman for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said there are no specific programs or aid for Iraqi Christians.

USAID has been at the forefront of reconstruction efforts in Iraq, helping to rebuild infrastructure, providing humanitarian assistance, educational reform and improvements, as well as teaching Iraqis about democracy.

And Fuentes thinks the attacks are being conducted to derail democracy in Iraq, rather than as a way to intimidate Christians.

"These attacks are more driven by [insurgents] who are still there that don't want democracy to continue. They've been attacking Shi'ites, and now they attack the Christian population in Iraq," Fuentes stated.

While Fuentes admitted that it is a "daunting task" to rebuild Iraq and teach its citizens the virtues of freedom, individual rights, tolerance and democracy, it is well worth it.

He said the Coalition Provisional Authority and USAID are "educating the public on how democracy works" so disputes among people with divergent ideologies and viewpoints can settle their differences non-violently and so the Iraqi people can begin to govern themselves effectively.

Estimates of Iraq's Christian population range from 600,000 to 800,000 -- roughly 3 percent of the country's overall population of around 25 million.

The Christian population has steadily declined from well over 1 million since Operation Desert Storm in 1991. United Nations sanctions imposed after the Persian Gulf War hit Iraq hard and it's believed that Saddam Hussein's regime began to "Islamicize" the country in order to increase the level of hostility toward the United States and the West.

As a result, many Christians who feared that a hard-line Islamic regime would eventually replace Saddam in Iraq sought political asylum abroad.

Many Muslims in Iraq believe that the Iraqi Christians are collaborators with the United States and Coalition Forces, and thus, are "enemies" of Islam.

Lt. Col Barry Venable with the U.S. Department of Defense said the insurgents view the new Iraqi government as "pawns of America" and "illegitimate." He said the insurgents include Sunni Arab "rejectionists" motivated by Arab and Iraqi nationalism; Shi'ite Arab "oppositionists" seeking to impose Islamic law and general criminals seeking to capitalize on the unstable security situation.

"Basic criminals," he said are "by far the largest security problem in Iraq.""

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