The “Arab Spring” and the future of the Assyrians and other Christian nations in Iraq and Syria
Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 at 02:01 PM UT
Most Christians in Iraq are ethnically Assyrian. Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, who have a history that spans over 7000 years. Today’s Assyrians are the descendants of the ancient Assyrian Empire that was one of the earliest civilizations to emerge in Mesopotamia. The Gospel was preached to the Assyrians by the Apostle Thomas himself, shortly after the Resurrection of Christ. The majority of the Assyrian population had converted to Christianity by the second century, giving the Assyrians a legitimate claim to being the first Christian nation in history.
Fired by their new faith, the Assyrians began one of the most successful missionary enterprises of all time. By the end of the twelfth century the Assyrian Church spanned the Asian continent, from Syria to the Philippines. Marco Polo reported that during his visit to China in the thirteenth century, he was astonished to find Assyrian priests in the Chinese royal court, and tens of thousands of Chinese Christians. The Assyrian missionaries had been there since the sixth century, and had made such an impact that the first Mongolian system of writing used the Assyrian alphabet.
Over the next centuries, however, Muslim rule and its attendant repression eventually reduced the Assyrians in number and sapped the vigor of their culture. By the mid-1800s wholesale slaughter of Assyrians was being reported at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, under whose control their homeland had fallen. Between 1914 and 1918, two-thirds of all living Assyrians were murdered in a genocide the world has chosen to ignore.
Today, on its ancestral soil, all that is left of the world’s oldest Christian nation is a desperate minority of less than one million people.
Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant. He led his people into senseless wars that resulted in hundreds of thousands of them killed. But, Saddam and his regime did have at least one redeeming characteristic – the genie of Islamic militancy was ruthlessly bottled up. Now that the U.S. and Britain have seized control of Iraq, the cork has been popped.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Assyrians in Iraq have been the targets of numerous fatal attacks by Islamic terrorist groups. Within the last twelve years over 65 churches had been bombed and many destroyed, hundreds of Christians were killed, the worst of all have been the kidnappings targeting children and teenagers. Therefore, the new Iraq from the time of its liberation has been a nightmare and has witnessed a huge exodus of Christians.
In the Kurdish enclave of Northern Iraq, America’s Kurdish allies have also been paying attention to the Christians in their midst. It has been reported by Assyrians in various villages scattered throughout Northern Iraq, that they have been illegally forced out of their own homes and off their land. They report being constantly pressured to convert to Islam in exchange for guarantees of their safety from the Kurds. The worst is that the Islamic militancy is growing, and appears to be gaining steam. To make matters worse, civil wars appear to be brewing within, as well as between, the major ethnic factions such as the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurds.
On the other hand the recent war in Syria is growing increasingly worse every day, and it is affecting every Syrian citizen, regardless of ethnicity or religion. The situation for Assyrians and other Christian minorities is even more horrifying, reports indicate that Christians have been targeted and killed by Syrian rebel forces. They have become the number one target for criminals and terrorists. They are fleeing massively, about half a million of them have already escaped even though they make up more than 10 precent of Syria's population.
In General the “Arab Spring” is unleashing forces that are having a devastating effect on the Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Many of our church leaders are calling Christians and all people of “Good will” to stand in solidarity with the members of these ancient indigenous communities, asking their political leaders to exert more pressure where it can protect these Churches, many of which have survived centuries of hardship but now stand on the verge of disappearing completely. “When one part of the body suffers, all suffer” (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26). Christians in the West, have the vital responsibility to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters who live in fear for their lives and communities at this moment. Assyrians need your support for a semi-autonomous province, with extra security, which would provide a safe haven near the Nineveh Plains northwest of Mosul.