Wednesday, April 27, 2016

RLPB 354. April Update, Incl. Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia; China, Syria, Turkey, Vietnam

 Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 354 | Wed 27 April 2016

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Elizabeth Kendal

APRIL 2016 ROUND-UP -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* NAGORNO-KARABAKH (NK), an Armenian Christian enclave in Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan (RLPB 351), which, over 1-5 April, saw the worst hostilities since the 1994 ceasefire.

UPDATE: it has emerged that, while the Azeri military was shelling Nagorno Karabakh (NK), Azeri soldiers who managed to invade NK were committing atrocities. In the NK village of Talish, Azeri soldiers brutally murdered three elderly civilians, mutilated the bodies of 18 Karabakh soldiers, and beheaded a young Armenian Yazidi soldier. On the night of 7 April -- two days after the ceasefire -- Azeri forces shelled Karmir, Ttudjur, and Baganis, three villages in north-east ARMENIA. Fortunately there were no casualties. Tensions are high. Wedged between belligerent NATO-member, neo-Ottoman Turkey, and belligerent, US-allied, oil- and gas-rich Azerbaijan, the remnant Christian Armenians need our prayers.

* NIGERIA (RLPB 352), where Boko Haram terror and Muslim Fulani predatory migration are inflicting appalling suffering on the Christian peoples of northern Nigeria. May God intervene to bring justice, security and peace.

* SUDAN (RLPB 352), where the Arab-Islamist Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and allied militias continue to press in on the predominantly Christian African Nuba peoples of South Kordofan. Fighting continues to rage, but the 'rebel' Sudan People's Liberation Army-North is holding its ground. May God intervene to 'turn back the battle' (Isaiah 28:5-6).

* LIBYA (RLPB 353), where a decimated remnant Church may soon come under increased pressure, as the dark storm clouds of war gather and the battle for Libya intensifies. 'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.' (Psalm 57:1 ESV)


APRIL ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* CHINA: GU RELEASED; DING MURDERED

After three months in 'black jail' detention for criticising Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy, Rev 'Joseph' Gu Yuese, of Hangzhou's 10,000-strong, CCP-approved Chongyi Church, was released on 31 March. He remains under house arrest. On 14 April, when bulldozers arrived at Beitou Church in Zhumadian, Henan Province, Pastor Li Jiangong and his wife, Ding Cuimei, stood defiantly in front of the machines. Their efforts to prevent the demolition of the church were, however, in vain. Urged on by his supervisor, the bulldozer operator proceeded not only to demolish the property, but to deliberately bury the couple alive. Li survived, but Ding did not. China Aid reports that in response to an outcry, the demolition crew has been arrested and an investigation is under way. Pray for the Church in China.

* SYRIA: DAMASCUS CELEBRATES, ALEPPO SUFFERS 


Easter in Damascus,  April 2016
source AsiaNews
With the support of Russia, a re-energised Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has brought a greater level of security to the country's west, specifically the densely populated north-south Aleppo-Damascus corridor and the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus. Consequently, this year's Easter celebrations were reportedly the best for five years. This was especially so in Damascus, where Christians (many thousands of whom are displaced) filled the churches and the streets where Muslims joined in the festivities.

The battle for Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, is heating up. Though most of Aleppo's estimated 200,000 Christians have fled and are now displaced in Latakia and Damascus, many remain and are gravely imperilled. Rebel shelling has targeted Kurdish and Armenian districts; many have been killed. There are also reports that the rebels are attempting to ethnically cleanse Kurds, Armenians and Assyrians out of the city. North of the city, al-Nusra and IS are fighting each other. South of the city, they are co-operating in an effort to cut the Khanasar Road, the only government-held road into Aleppo, critical for supply into government-held areas. May God intervene on behalf of the imperilled remnant Church trapped in Aleppo.

April 22 marked the third anniversary of the abduction of Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Bishop Boulos Yaziji of the Greek Orthodox Church. The bishops had been abducted by foreign jihadists while travelling north of Aleppo. They had been to the Turkish border to negotiate the release of two priests abducted six weeks earlier. Their driver (a priest) was killed [see RLPB 207 (23 April 2013)]. The fate of the two bishops and two priests remains unknown to this day. Please pray.

* TURKEY: GOVERNMENT SEIZES ARMENIAN CHURCHES

As part of its war against its Kurdish minority, Turkey has been bombing the predominantly Kurdish city Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey, a city that essentially functions as the Kurdish capital.  Situated on the eastern edge of the city, historic Sur district has been the focus of particularly heavy shelling. At the end of March, the government seized some 6,300 plots of land and ordered the residents out, saying the district will be rebuilt. Sur's Kurdish and Armenian populations suspect they will not be able to return and that what is happening is the ethnic cleansing of Sur district.  Of particular distress to the Armenians is the government's acquisition of six churches. Unlike mosques which are state owned and funded, the churches are the private property of their foundations.

Surp Giragos 
One of the churches seized is Surp (Saint) Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the largest Armenian churches in the Middle East. After WWI, this church, which had been a focal point for Armenians before the genocide, fell into disrepair, but the Kurdish administration backed its renovation. Since its re-opening in October 2011 Surp Giragos has become a focal point not only for Armenian Christians, but for 'Hidden Armenians' -- the descendants of Armenian Christians (often orphans) who were Islamised and raised as Kurds or Turks. The Church has been key to many 'Hidden Armenians' rediscovering their identities. Whilst dozens have been baptised, Church leaders believe there could be as many as half-a-million 'Hidden Armenians' in Turkey.  Surp Giragos Church is preparing to take legal action. Pray for the Armenians of Turkey.

* VIETNAM: TRIAL OF NGUYEN VAN DAI
Nguyen Van Dai

As reported in RLPB 340 (15 Dec 2015), Christian attorney and religious liberty defender   Mr. Nguyen Van Dai was brutally attacked by officials of the Vietnamese Communist regime on 6 December 2015.  Subsequently, on 16 Dec, Dai was arrested at his home, charged under Article 88 of the Criminal Code ('spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam') and jailed in Hanoi for four months pending trial. Four months is now up and Dai is still in prison with no date set for the trial. If found guilty Dai would face between three and twenty years in prison. Denied access to her husband, Dai's wife, Vu Minh Khanh -- a strong Christian and active church worker -- is currently travelling in the US, speaking to supporters and members of the Congress and Senate to raise awareness of Dai's plight. [She will be in Australia on 29 and 30 June.] Dai has already spent five years in prison in Hanoi (2007-2011). Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today  (Deror Books, Dec 2012), which provides a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Her second book, ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday’: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be released shortly.