Wednesday, August 20, 2014

RLPB 274. Ukraine: praying for a breakthrough

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 274 | Wed 20 Aug 2014

-- an extended prayer bulletin.

By Elizabeth Kendal

Independent from Russia only since 1991, Ukraine is not a monolithic state. Rather, it is an ethnic-religious 'fault-line' state. The north-west is predominantly ethnic Ukrainian, Ukrainian-speaking and Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic. The south-east is predominantly ethnic Russian, Russian-speaking and Russian Orthodox. The divide is reflected in voting patterns, making Ukrainian unity extremely fragile, something to be handled with great care. When Ukraine held elections in 2010, opinion polls predicted that Viktor Yanukovych would win -- and he did, convincingly. In the parliamentary elections of 2012, Yanukovych's Party of Regions won 185 of 450 seats, 84 seats clear of its next rival. As party leader, Mykola Azarov became Prime Minister. None of this was surprising. What was surprising was the rise of the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. Svoboda, formerly known as the Social National Party of Ukraine, won 37 seats in the parliament (almost 10 percent of the vote), having won none in the previous election. These groups are vehemently anti-Semitic and anti-Russian.

In November 2013 opposition forces protested in Kiev, unhappy that Yanukovych had signed a trade pact with Russia rather than the EU. Actually the deal being offered by oil and gas-rich Russia was much better than the deal being proposed by the cash-strapped, pro-austerity EU. In a democracy, protests are permitted with the expectation that they will be civilised. In Kiev, however, a coalition of anti-government, ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi forces -- including numerous neo-Nazi paramilitaries united under the umbrella of the Right Sector -- joined the protest, strengthening it and putting it on a dangerous course. Anti-Semitism soared to the extent that Israel was forced to airlift Jews out of Ukraine.

[See Ukraine: anti-Semitism rises as Neo-Nazis hijack 'Euromaidan',
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 Feb 2014.]

 As Kiev started to resemble a war zone, the EU (led by Germany) and the US  entered the fray, backing regime change. Eventually, Yanukovych fled to Russia and the US installed its man, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as Prime Minister. An interim government was formed that ensured the neo-Nazis and Right Sector militants, who had made regime change possible, were rewarded.

[See Ukraine's Neo-Nazis Win Senior Government Posts,
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 March 2014]

In their first act of legislation, the new regime voted to repeal the law that recognised Russian as an official language in Ukraine. Only when the EU objected did interim president Oleksandr Turchynov reverse the ruling. It is unsurprising that eastern Ukraine's ethnic Russians felt disenfranchised and threatened and that predominantly Russian eastern regions subsequently voted to secede. Rather than dialogue, Kiev opted for a punitive military campaign under the implausible pretext of 'anti-terror'. This campaign is  taking on all the characteristics of ethnic cleansing. Western silence seems to indicate that ethnic cleansing is permissible when the victims are ethnic Russians. That looks like racism to me (EK).

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reported on  5 August 2014 that Ukraine now has 117,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) with eastern Ukrainians making up 87 percent of the country's IDPs. On 1 July, President Petro Poroshenko ended a ceasefire and ordered his forces to purge the region of 'dirt and parasites'. Unsurprisingly, the number of displaced people from the Luhansk and Donetsk eastern regions has risen sharply from 2,600 in early June to 102,600 at the start of August, with a further 6,200 civilians forced from their homes in the first week of August.

The UNHCR has complained to Kiev about lack of co-ordinated relief efforts and the paucity of shelter, especially with winter approaching. Furthermore, the UNHCR reports that masses of Ukrainians are fleeing to Russia under the visa-free regime; Russian authorities estimate the figure to be some 730,000 Ukrainians. Jews are leaving for Israel. These refugees are fleeing endless shelling and the advance of neo-Nazi Right Sector militants. According to Kiev's own figures 1,129 civilians had been killed in eastern Ukraine and 3,442 injured by 28 July.

Russia is pressing for an unconditional cease-fire and the start of political dialogue but Kiev is resisting. Russia has appealed to the US to use its influence with Kiev to get the Right Sector paramilitaries reined in and disarmed. Right Sector militants have been engaged in such unlawful actions in eastern Ukraine that Ukrainian police have been forced to arrest them. Right Sector head Dmitry Yarosh (the interim government's Deputy Secretary of National Security) responded on Saturday 16 August by slamming the police as 'anti-Ukrainian'. He threatened 'to call off all our units on the front line, start a general mobilisation of reserve battalions and launch a march on Kiev'. The next day Yarosh called off the march on Kiev when the authorities had agreed to release all Right Sector militants who had been detained.

Because the West has supported undemocratic regime change, ignored the rise of anti-Semitic and anti-Russian Ukrainian ultra-nationalism and is now tacitly supporting the ethnic cleansing of the eastern regions, it has made itself into an enemy. This puts all Protestants and evangelicals living and especially ministering in the eastern regions in serious danger as rebel fighters will assume they are aligned with the enemy. Recently four volunteers with Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC; gospel radio) in eastern Ukraine were taken captive and then savagely beaten to death, reportedly by militants from a separatist militia. Two of those killed were brothers and one was the father of eight children. FEBC's radio towers in eastern Ukraine have been crippled in the fighting and a partner church has been overrun by rebels. If ever Ukrainians needed to 'tune in' to the gospel, it is now. So too the belligerent, self-interested foreign powers that are fanning the flames of this totally unnecessary conflict.


* break through the darkness and speak peace into the chaos so that an unconditional cease-fire will be brokered and the killing ended; may talks start and healing commence. 'And God said ... And it was so.' (From Genesis 1)

* impress on the consciences of local and foreign leaders the urgent need to trade ambitions and 'interests' for peace-making and healing so that Ukraine's real and deep-seated problems will be addressed peacefully in the interests of the people.

* raise up religious leaders who are gifted and empowered to advance reconciliation and unity in the Body of Christ; may the Church break through historic ethnic and denominational barriers to lead by example. Remember: our God is baal perazim, the God of the breakthrough. 2 Samuel 5:20

* magnify the voices of Christian leaders who are denouncing racial hatred and all manner of violence; may he supply FEBC and all other Gospel ministries with all their needs so they can speak grace and hope into this desperate situation and witness to the power of the Holy Spirit.


The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reports that Ukraine now has 117,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), 87 percent of whom are from predominantly Russian eastern Ukraine. Furthermore, the UNHCR reports that masses of Ukrainians are fleeing into Russia, which estimates the figure to be 730,000. Jews are leaving for Israel. The refugees are fleeing Kiev's endless shelling and the advance of neo-Nazi Right Sector militants. The violence has escalated markedly in recent months and now has the characteristics of ethnic cleansing. Russia is pressing Kiev for an unconditional cease-fire ahead of talks. Western silence is shameful. May the Lord of the Breakthrough (2 Samuel 5:20) empower the Church to break through the historic ethnic hatreds and lead the way in peace and reconciliation.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RLPB 273. IRAQ: Christians Flee the Killing Fields

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 273 | Wed 13 Aug 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

In June ISIS flooded into Nineveh, northern Iraq, and captured Mosul in a blitzkrieg, forcing thousands of Christians to flee for their lives. After a failed attempt to advance on Baghdad, ISIS consolidated in Mosul, declared a Caliphate covering north-east Syria and north-west Iraq, and renamed itself the Islamic State (IS). It then expelled Mosul's remnant Christians, who limped into exile with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Now it appears IS has fixed its sights on the oil-rich frontier of Iraqi Kurdistan. Whilst officially Kirkuk is disputed territory, the Kurds exploited insecurity in July to seize control of the oil-rich territory they have long claimed is rightfully theirs. Just 107 km north of Kirkuk is the city of Arbil (also spelt Erbil or Irbil), the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

On Wednesday 6 August, as IS advanced towards Iraqi Kurdistan it overran Bakhdida, just 32km south-east of Mosul. It is the largest and oldest Assyrian city in Iraq and is also known as Qaraqosh or al-Hamadiniya [see RLPB 52 (5 May 2010)]. As in Mosul, the attack on Qaraqosh commenced with mortar fire and ended with expelling the entire Christian population. Richard Spencer reports from Ankawa, an Assyrian district on the northern outskirts of Arbil: 'The last day of Qaraqosh's time as a Christian town, a time almost as old as Christianity itself, began with a mortar shell at nine in the morning. It came through the roof of Melad and Marven Abdullah's house on Wednesday [6 Aug], killing them instantly. Melad was nine; his cousin, Marven, four. ... The family's next-door neighbour, Enam Eshoo, had popped in to deliver some fresh drinking water; she too died where she fell. The day ended with an order to evacuate. Within a couple of hours, the city's tens of thousands of inhabitants were crowding the road to Kurdistan ... .'

Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the UK said that IS's capture of Qaraqosh had marked a turning point for Christians in the country. 'Now we consider it genocide  -- ethnic cleansing,' he said. 'They are killing our people in the name of Allah and telling people that anyone who kills a Christian will go straight to heaven: that is their message.' He said IS had burnt churches along with invaluable ancient books and manuscripts, and that some churches had been converted into mosques.

Patriarch Louis Sako, the Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, issued a statement on 10 August through the Catholic charity 'Aid to the Church in Need'. He warned that Iraqi Christians 'are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide'. According to the Archbishop, some 70,000 displaced Christians had arrived in Ankawa, Arbil. Some are with relatives, others have crowded into churches and monasteries and still more are sleeping in the streets and open fields in the scorching summer heat; their situation is dire. A further 60,000 Christians have arrived in Dohuk, 80km north of Mosul, 'and their situation,' he said, 'is even worse than those in Arbil.' Other Christians have travelled to Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah and Baghdad. 'The churches are offering everything within their capacity.' 

Archbishop Sako reports that all the churches from Mosul to the border of Kurdistan are deserted and desecrated. 'The level of disaster is extreme,' he said, lamenting that the US is only interested in protecting Arbil and not Christians facing genocide throughout Nineveh [and in fact across the whole 'Caliphate']. On the night of Thursday 7 August, US air strikes forced IS into a strategic withdrawal. US assistance will indeed be 'limited' -- limited to protecting US personnel and interests. The US, Turkey and Iran will all want to help the Kurds keep IS at bay, without enabling a future Kurdish declaration of independence. Archbishop Sako laments: 'The confirmation that this terrible situation will continue until the Iraqi Security Forces will fight along with Peshmerga [Kurdistan forces] against the ISIS militants is very depressing. There is no strategy to dry up the sources of manpower and the resources of these Islamic terrorists.'

Indeed, the Iraqi Security Forces will not be fighting terrorists in the north any time soon. When Iraq's newly elected parliament failed to elect a Prime Minister, and with most agreeing that the incumbent PM al-Maliki -- a polarising figure -- should not lead the next government, the president stepped in to resolve the crisis. Under the Iraqi constitution, the president may appoint the chosen nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc to form a government. On 11 August Iraqi President Fouad Massoum announced he had approved the nomination of Haider Abadi for PM. Al-Maliki immediately rejected this, insisting that it was his constitutional right to be nominated for a third term on the grounds that he heads the largest party in the largest bloc. Refusing to step aside, al-Makili has mobilised his troops, having spent his last eight years as PM consolidating his power by promoting military officials on grounds of loyalty rather than merit. So Baghdad fiddles while Iraq burns.

UPDATE: on Thursday 14 Aug, Nuri al-Maliki stepped aside after his own party turned against him. A new government will now work to unite Sunnis in what will be a long fight against IS.


* shield and protect Christians in their places of refuge. May the Lord have mercy on this traumatised and threatened remnant; may he protect and preserve them and eventually return them to their lands. (Isaiah 19:23-25)
[See Elizabeth Kendal's message in solidarity with Syrian and Iraqi Christians.]

* feed the hungry, heal the sick, house the homeless, comfort the distressed and defend the vulnerable. 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' (From Matthew 25:31-46 ESV.)

* turn back the battle at the gate. 'So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.' (From King Hezekiah's prayer in Isaiah 37.)

[Please pray and give. Aid can be channelled through Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant charities or through any of the various persecuted church aid and advocacy groups. 'For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.' (James 2:26 ESV)]


Genocide is being perpetrated in Nineveh as Islamic jihadists purge the province of all who refuse to submit to Allah, cleansing the land of everything 'un-Islamic'. Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, has been totally ethnically and religiously cleansed. Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Assyrian Christian city, has been totally purged. Archbishop Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church reports that some 70,000 displaced Christians have arrived in Ankawa, an Assyrian district on the northern edge of Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, while a further 60,000 Christians have arrived in Dohuk, 80km north of Mosul. Others have travelled to Kirkuk and as far as Baghdad. Archbishop Sako says, 'The churches are offering everything within their capacity,' but the situation is dire. These churches are in desperate need of aid. Please pray and give. (Matthew 25:31-46)


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).