Tuesday, October 27, 2020

RLPB 573. October Update, incl. Artsakh, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Pakistan, Papua (Indonesia), Sudan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 573 | Wed 28 Oct 2020
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OCTOBER 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

OCTOBER 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

* TURKEY, AZERBAIJAN, ARTSAKH AND THE ARMENIANS [RLPB 570 (7 Oct)], where neo-Ottoman Turkey and its jihadist proxies are backing Azerbaijan in a war to seize control of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). Long a province of Armenia, Artsakh has been inhabited by Armenians for some 4000 years. In 1923, Joseph Stalin mischievously and fatefully made Orthodox Armenian Artsakh an autonomous region (or oblast) of the Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, setting the stage for today's conflict. Inexplicably, the UN dismisses as irrelevant the expressed will and rights of the residents (the right to self-determination), while accepting as inviolable the dictate of Joseph Stalin.

UPDATE: In 1918, the Ottoman Minister of War, Enver Pasha, ordered the formation of the 'Islamic Army of the Caucasus' that would drive out the Armenians and establish a pan-Turkic empire extending from Anatolia to the oil fields of Baku. Numerous massacres later, the Turks were ultimately driven out by Russian Bolshevik forces. Today, the Turkish dream is being revived by the neo-Ottomans of President Erdogan's AK Party.

On 8 October shells struck Shushi's Ghazanchetsots (Holy Saviour) Cathedral [drone footage]. Consecrated in 1888 (30 years before Azerbaijan even existed as a nation), the fully renovated church is both historic and symbolic. Women and children were sheltering there at the time; fortunately there were no casualties. Hours later, however, more shells hit the cathedral, this time wounding two Russian journalists, one critically. [For images, and video of Armenian-born cellist Sevak Avanesyan performing a lament amidst the rubble, click here: ClassicFM.] 

LAMENT: Outside the Armenian embassy, Moscow,
20 October 2020. (Photo- Natalia KOLESNIKOVA - AFP)

Of course, the destruction of property, even of historic and symbolic architecture, is nothing compared to the loss of human life; many hundreds of Armenian sons, brothers and fathers are today dying defending their homeland from Azeri, Turkish and jihadist aggression. Doctors from the Armenian diaspora have arrived in Stepanakert to treat the wounded. They report dealing with horrendous injuries believed to be from exploding cluster bombs. Multiple ceasefires have been brokered and broken. Since failing to take Artsakh in a blitzkrieg, Azeri-Turkish-jihadi forces have swept across the south of Artsakh, through the lowlands close to the Iranian border. A pivotal battle looms for control of the Lachin Corridor, a strategic mountain pass through which the sole highway linking Armenia to Artsakh passes.

Please pray for peace in the South Caucasus, and that Armenians' plea for and right to self-determination might be heard and respected before the Turks enact another genocide of Armenians. 

* IRAN [RLPB 571 (14 Oct)], where the cost of discipleship is high indeed. Not only are Christians harassed, intimidated, threatened and imprisoned, but a court has ruled that a Christian couple be denied parental rights over their adopted daughter, Lydia (adopted legally as an abandoned infant), deeming them 'not fit' to raise her. The ruling has shattered converts Sam and Maryam and will traumatise Lydia (2). It will also cast terror into the hearts of all adoptive Christian parents and deep sadness into the hearts of every infertile Christian couple. Please continue to pray that Iranians will be enraged by this ruling and that it might be overturned or at least never enacted.

* IVORY COAST [RLPB 572 (21 Oct)], where political violence - which plays out along ethnic and religious lines - is escalating ahead of the profoundly controversial and potentially explosive 31 October presidential election. The election crisis of Nov 2010-April 2011 pitted Islamic militias from the north (backed by France) against the Ivorian Military and police. After his inauguration, Ouattara rewarded the militias by incorporating them into the military and police. This raises the stakes considerably! Please pray.

OCTOBER 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month

* CYPRUS: GREEK CYPRIOTS FACING NEO-OTTOMAN STORM

click on map to enlarge

UPDATE to RLPB 560 (29 July) which reported that neo-Ottoman Turkey is upgrading its military forces and building up its troops in Turkey-occupied northern Cyprus, raising alarm among Greek Cypriots.

On 1-2 October, the European Union opted not to sanction Turkey for its belligerent behaviour in the Eastern Mediterranean. A week later, on 8 October, Turkey's President Erdogan announced that the once-prized and internationally acclaimed Cypriot beach resort of Varosha in Famagusta - on the Turkey-occupied side of the 'Attila Line' and cordoned off since the Turkish invasion in 1974 - be reopened and re-inhabited under Turkish Administration. On 18 October a heavily-influenced presidential election in Turkey-occupied northern Cyprus culminated in a transfer of power from the pro-unification, anti-Erdogan moderate, Mustafa Akinci to the Turkey-backed, pro-two-states, pro-Erdogan, neo-Ottoman hardliner Ersin Tatar. The status quo is over!

Please pray for all Christian leaders on Cyprus - political, civic and religious; may they have wisdom and insight (Ephesians 1:17) to navigate the challenging days ahead. May God protect and preserve his Church along with all the Christian ministries that serve the Lord in freedom in Greek Cypriot-ruled Cyprus (e.g. Nicosia-based Sat-7).

'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.' (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

* ETHIOPIA: DESTABILISATION WOULD BENEFIT ISLAM AT THE EXPENSE OF CHRISTIANS 

UPDATE to RLPB 560 (29 July). A battle is raging for the future of Ethiopia, an empire that has expanded over the centuries to absorb many diverse peoples [44 percent Orthodox, 19 percent Protestant (including many recent converts from Islam), 0.7 percent Catholic and 34 percent Muslim]. It is a battle that pits Prime Minister Abiy's vision of a strong united Ethiopia against that of ethnic nationalists (who would tear Ethiopia apart) and Islamists (who have their own agenda). Foreign forces also play a part; in particular, Egypt, which is known to back the Oromo Liberation Front (OML).

Egypt - which has long cried 'The Nile is my own' (Ezekiel 29) - is falsely claiming that Ethiopia's Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will destroy Egyptian agriculture. In truth, the GERD will regulate - not stop - the waters of the Blue Nile. It will prevent flooding in Sudan, generate affordable electricity for sale to the whole region and lift millions of Ethiopians out of poverty. If Egypt were genuinely concerned, then it could tap into its vast reserves of underground water, just as Gaddafi did in Libya (see RLPB 560). That the White House is taking Egypt's side in the GERD dispute is 'reckless and uninformed', a betrayal of Ethiopia and definitely contrary to US and Christian interests. The destabilisation of Ethiopia would benefit Islam, be catastrophic for Ethiopia's Christian ethnic Amhara and put an end to the dream of a strong, prosperous and free Ethiopia. Please pray.

* MALI: NEGOTIATING WITH JIHADISTS

BACKGROUND: In December 2018, al-Qaeda's branch in Mali and West Africa, Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM, or the 'Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims') released a video explaining that they would no longer release regular videos providing proof-of-life and demanding ransom for their captives. With that, the Malian desert went dark! [RLPB 487 (29 Jan 2019)]. Over the years, jihadist activity has escalated and advanced. Frustration over corruption and a decade of unsuccessful counterinsurgency culminated in a military coup in August 2020. Since his appointment on 27 September, Mali's interim Prime Minister Moctar Ouane (65, a civilian) has been eager to negotiate with the jihadists, despite opposition from former colonial power France.

UPDATE ON CAPTIVES: On 8 October 2020 JNIM released French missionary Sophie Petronin (75, abducted from Gao, northern Mali, in December 2016) along with two Italian aid workers and a Malian politician in exchange for 180 imprisoned jihadists. Petronin maintains she has converted to Islam. While this may or may not be true, it doubtless explains her release. Just a month earlier, JNIM executed Swiss missionary Beatrice Stockly (75, abducted from Timbuktu, northern Mali, in January 2016). Petronin reports that fellow-captive Sister Gloria Navarez (a Columbian nun abducted from Karangasso, southern Mali, in February 2017) is 'alive but needs care'. There is no word on Australian surgeon Dr Ken Elliot (86, abducted from Djibo in Burkina Faso's far north, in January 2016) whose skills as a doctor doubtless render him indispensable. Neither is there any word on American missionary Jeff Woodke (59, abducted from Abalak, northern Niger, in October 2016). Please pray for Dr Ken Elliott, Jeff Woodke and Sister Gloria Navarez; may God's grace sustain them; may Christ's love shine through them; and may the Spirit intervene for them to bring them liberty.

* MOZAMBIQUE: JIHAD TRIGGERS HUMANITIARIAN CRISIS

UPDATE to RLPB 564 (26 Aug). On 11 August well-trained jihadists armed with sophisticated weapons attacked Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique's northern-most province of Cabo Delgado. The military fled, leaving Islamic State affiliate Al-Sunna wa Jama'a (ASWJ) in control of the strategic port city. Two months later, the military remains paralysed and ASWJ remains in control.

Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Pemba told Aid to the Church in Need that the parishes in Pemba Diocese have received more than 250,000 displaced people (mostly Muslims), many of whom fled with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. The diocese is training priests, sisters and lay pastoral workers in trauma counselling, creating support groups in parishes and implementing new pastoral strategies to address the ongoing crisis in Cabo Delgado. Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK), comments, 'In caring for displaced families we are helping to offer the love of Christ to those in such need.' These churches will rely on donations and need to be sustained by prayer. May the Lord redeem this suffering for the glory of his kingdom. Please pray.

* PAKISTAN: NO GIRL IS SAFE

UPDATE to RLPBs 564 (26 Aug) and 569 (30 Sep). Having escaped from her Muslim captor, Maira Shahbaz (14) remains in hiding along with her mother and siblings. With the family receiving death threats, Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need (UK) is appealing to the British government to grant the family asylum in the UK. Please pray.

Arzoo's parents with her picture. 
photo: Fahim Siddiai/White Star, DAWN 24 Oct 2020
 

Meanwhile, a Catholic teenager has since been abducted in Karachi. Arzoo Raja (13) was kidnapped on 13 October, converted to Islam and forcibly married to her Muslim abductor, Azhar Ali, who is known to the family and 'at least 45'. Before he abducted her, Azhar Ali (whose brothers are police) had fake papers produced stating that Arzoo was 18, which would make her conversion and marriage legal. On 24 October Christians, Hindus and Muslims rallied together outside the Karachi Press Club in a protest led by the 'National Peace Committee Interfaith Harmony'. They called for Arzoo to be returned to her family and for an end to what is nothing other than human trafficking across religious lines. Prominent Muslim attorney, Ms Noor Naz Agha is taking up the case. Please pray.

* PAPUA (INDONESIA): INVESTIGATION INTO KILLING OF PASTOR YEREMIA ZANAMBANI

UPDATE to RLPB 569 (30 Sep). After a 14-day investigation, an Indonesian government-sanctioned joint fact-finding team has reported that it found indications that security forces were involved in the killing of Papuan pastor Yeremia Zanambani, who was shot dead in Intan Jaya Regency, Papua Province, on 19 September. It is now up to law enforcement agencies to investigate the findings. According to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) - which was not part of the government team - the killing of Reverend Zanambani is not a stand-alone incident, but rather one of a series of violent incidents involving at least 18 other cases. Please pray for the indigenous Melanesian Christians of Indonesia's Papuan Provinces; may persecution and impunity come to an end.

* SUDAN: REVOLUTION ON BRINK OF COLLAPSE

UPDATE to RLPB 569 (30 Sep): A Plea for Sudan.

Last week, under immense pressure from the US government, Sudan's transitional government agreed to pay compensation for terrorism committed by the now-ousted regime and normalise relations with Israel. Courageous, reformist Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok had pleaded with the US not to link sanctions relief to recognition of Israel, for not only is Sudan exceedingly fragile and volatile, but as an un-elected body, the transitional government does not have a mandate to change foreign policy.

As soon as the deal was struck, support for the transitional government started unravelling. Sudan's Popular Congress Party (PCP), the second most prominent component of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) political coalition, rejected the deal, as did several other members of the FFC. Former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, who leads Sudan's largest political party (the National Umma Party) rejected the deal, as did Kamal Omar, a PCP leader, who slammed the transitional government for overstepping its mandate. A coalition is now being formed to oppose the transitional government. Protesters have taken to the streets of Khartoum, burning Israeli flags and chanting 'no peace, no negotiation, no reconciliation with the occupying entity' and 'we will not surrender, we will always stand with Palestine'. Sudan's military leader, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan - Chairman of the Sovereignty Council - and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemeti) both insist that Sudan stands to gain much by normalising ties with Israel. That is certainly true. But if Sudan descends into chaos, the only ones to gain will be the military and the Islamists. Sudan's revolution is on the brink of collapse. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com