THE IMMINENT GENOCIDE OF THE CHRISTIAN PEOPLE OF THE ARAB WORLD.
By Paul Merkley.
The Birthplace of Christianity.
For perhaps a decade or two following the Ascension of Jesus Christ, all of the people who accepted the Christian message were Jews – most of them living in Jerusalem. But then missions, headed originally by surviving apostles, went out beyond Judea and Samaria and sought converts among the many neighboring kingdoms that were, like the Jews of Judea, subject to Roman rule. Among the first of these Kingdoms to accept Christian faith as its national faith was Armenia — a prosperous Kingdom in part of what is today Turkey. Nearly six centuries later, Islam came into the world.
For perspective, we might note that several centuries would again go by before the language in which this essay is written came into the world. And yet it is safe to say that most people who imagine themselves well-informed about history nod passively before the politically-correct fiction that Islam is indigenous to the Arab world, and that where there are churches anywhere in that world these were imposed during recent centuries by European missionaries working hand-in-hand with political imperialists. It is Islam that was and is the imperialist in this story.
The Challenge from Islam.
Within a few decades of the appearance of the Qur’an, these Christians were faced with the terrible challenge of either surrendering to fanatical, illiterates everything they believed or converting, by simple vocal declaration. Ever since then, those brave souls who stayed with the faith have lived under the stigma of being subversive opponents of truth, denied the benefit of full participation in the circles of those who govern and subject to punishing taxes from which the faithful are exempt.
For several centuries, the incursion of Islamic warriors beyond Arabia was to some degree retarded by the circumstance that the political masters of that world were well aware of benefits for their regimes that followed from the exceptionally high levels of literacy, education, professional accomplishment, economic success and extensive connections abroad, of these venerable communities; and for these reasons they drew the Christians into eminent roles in the public life. The political leaders have always had to tread a fine line as they sought to sustain these valued minority communities, while fending off accusation from the Muslim majority that they are aggrandizing the enemies of Allah. In moments of extraordinary crisis in the public life of the Arab world, these political master simply surrendered the Christians to the Muslim mobs.
Two major extirpation campaigns of this kind that took place over the last century need examination here. One of these campaigns resulted in the absolute ejection from the Arab world of one of the most ancient Christian communities – the Armenians. The other resulted in the savage reduction of numbers and of political and social significance of the Assyrians, who still exist in scattered communities in parts of Iraq and Syria , but who are being targeted for annihilation by the Islamist politicians who have come to power during the so-called Arab Spring. While this has happened, Western governments and Western news media have looked the other way. [John Rossomando, “Hudson Panel: U.S.ignoring increasing Christian persecution,” The Investigative Project on Terrorism,” March 28, 2013.http://ca.mg206.mail.yahoo.com, March 28, 2013.]
At the end of the Nineteenth Century, Christians in the Middle East were 13% of the whole population. (Today, they are under 1%.) The two largest communities were the Armenians and the Assyrians. Under cover of preventing massive Armenian betrayal of the national interest, the Turks conducted a popularly-supported pogrom remembered as “the Armenian massacre” of 1915. While there is no doubt that the government of the Turks carried out this attempted genocide, there is equally no doubt that the exercise was immensely popular, and, more important, its validation derived from Islam.
Armenian sources today put the numbers of deaths as high as 1,500,000. Although the estimate may be high – who can really know? — there can be no disputing the result: the liquidation of up to one-half of the Armenian people of the time and the disappearance of the homeland of the Armenians. [http://www.armenian-genocide.org/genocide.html ]
The remnant who fled across the border into land ruled by Russia, did so just in time to be incorporated into the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – a declared atheist regime, but whose leaders had the good sense to permit a considerable degree of “cultural” independence, thus providing, unwittingly, for the emergence when the USSR itself collapsed in 1990-1991, of a new “Armenia,” still clinging to its religious traditions.
The irreducible significance of this event is best borne out in the remark of Adolf Hitler to his generals as they went off to carry out their assigned tasks in connection with the invasion of Poland in August 1939 and the implementation of the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” [http://www.armenian-genocide.org/hitler.html]
The Imminent Extirpation of the Assyrian Christians.
Almost all of the Christians living today in Iraq and Syria belong to churches whose origins go back several centuries before the origins of the major churches of the West. Only –hyper experts can sound off the names of the many “denominations” that emerged after these many centuries of sectarian / theological conflict. For convenience, commentators today group them all together as “the Assyrian churches.” (See my essay, “How Christian Communities Die in the Middle East: Lessons from the Sorry History of the Assyrians,” www.thebayviewreview, July 29, 2013.) In Iraq, Christians – almost all of them Assyrians — numbered about a million and a half in 2003, representing about 6% of the population. That was before the U.S. –led invasion. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Assyrians had looked to the dictator as their protector against popular hostility. The moment that Saddam Hussein fell, Muslim mobs acting on the advice of their religious teachers, began attacking the churches. Even before the Islamic State got into the game a few months ago, hundreds of Christians had been kidnapped and murdered by other Iraqis because of their Assyrian ethnicity and their Christian faith. In 1947, 4.7 million Iraqi Christians represented about 12% of the population; in 1987, they were 1.4 million, or 8% of the population; by 2013 the number had dropped to perhaps 450,000; since the ISIS campaign of liquidation, their numbers are now estimated to be as low 200,000. As they fled in terror, their neighbours marked their homes with the Arabic equivalent of the letter N (for “Nassarah” = Nazarenes or Christians)—an open invitation to looting ,
Meanwhile, nearly a third of Syria’s Christians, about 600,000, have fled that country. Tens of thousands have joined the Muslim swarm that is now beating down the borders between European countries. ISIS has executed more than 11,000 people in Iraq and Syria (See http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/10/05/report-syrian-christians-cry-jesus-isis-mass-beheading; and see “The Islamic State’s Treatment of Christians,”“ MEMRI (email@example.com, August 15, 2014. Many thousands of those who survived now languish in refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Syria.
Catholic writer George Weigel has studied this dreadful scene and concluded that it is entirely reasonable to speak of Genocide – even though official Washington vigorously rejects the notion:
Christians who can flee have done so. Yet they cannot take shelter in U.N.-run camps, where they are often targets of Muslim violence. And the U.S. State Department treats Iraqi Christians fleeing ISIS to autonomous Kurdistan as “internally displaced persons” who have no claim to resettlement…. Thus far, the West’s response has been craven and cruel…. Today, western politicians seem to fear that naming the genocide of Christians for what it is, or treating Christian refugees as refugees, will be taken as a gesture of disrespect for Islam. This is shameful. (George Weigel, “ISIS, Genocide, and Us, http;//www.firstthings.com, February 20, 2016.
The Case for Assyrian Autonomy.
At the time of the Versailles Conference (1918-1920) when it seemed that Woodrow Wilson and the Allies had it in their hands to shape the political map of the world forever along lines of liberalism and nationalism, there was a powerful sentiment in favor of knitting together the many Assyrian communities scattered throughout Syria, Iraq and parts of Turkey and forming an independent State of Assyria. It would, of course, have had a Christian majority. The project did not survive. The long-and-short of it was that the European governments became embarrassed by the appearance of having a loyalty to Christianity. At the same time, these same Western leaders grievously over-estimated the resources for nation-building that were then being claimed by Arabs and by their British champions – most powerfully, by the egregious Lawrence of Arabia.
And so they dropped the Assyrian cause . It was a bad bargain. for all concerned.
Today, leaders in the Assyrian diaspora are struggling heroically to raise awareness for their cause. keep the cause. Their stirring manifestos and the record of their vigorous lobbying at the UN and in capitals around the world can be discovered at the website of the Assyrian International News Agency http://www.aina.org/news In a recent item from this site we find this insight – one that has not yet grabbed either our policy-makers or our opinion-makers: “While the government of France), for example, has announced its intention to grant asylum to Christians forced out of Mosul … [what is needed is] … a permanent safe-haven in the Middle East itself: the birthplace of Christianity. (Nujri Kino, “The U.S. and U.N. must establish a safe haven for Assyrians in Iraq,”http://www.huffingtonpost.com, August 5, 2014.
We have to think past the present moment of unfocussed sympathy for the suffering Christians of Iraq and Syria and take up again the case for internationally secured autonomy for the Assyrian Nation – the case that Britain, supported by the other western powers, turned its back upon in the 1930s.