Wednesday, June 24, 2015

RLPB 315. June Update, Incl. Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Mesopotamia, Syria, Turkey

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 315 | Wed 24 Jun 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

JUNE 2015 UPDATE -- During June we prayed concerning...

* EGYPT (RLPB 312), where despite all assurances from the government, the indigenous Christian Copts are treated as dhimmis (second class citizens). Denied legal rights, the Copts are powerless and defenceless in the face of escalating religious intolerance in Muslim Brotherhood strongholds. We prayed also for Bishoy Armia (formerly Mohamed Hegazy), a Muslim convert to Christianity. In prison (again), Bishoy is being deprived of his Bible and nobody but his lawyer is permitted to see him. 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3a ESV).

* UZBEKISTAN (RLPB 313), where repressive legislation aimed primarily at controlling militant Islam and maintaining social cohesion is used extensively against Protestant Christians. The resurgence of Cold War tensions causes Russia-allied governments to deem Protestants potentially hostile, while the tendency of Protestants to witness to Muslims causes authorities to deem them problematic. For the dictatorial regimes of exceedingly volatile Central Asia, everything (including religious liberty) is defined with a view to stability. These are difficult days for Central Asia's Protestants.

* PRISONERS (RLPB 314), remembering especially the Reverends Yat Michael and Peter Reith in Sudan, as well as numerous Christian pastors and evangelists imprisoned in Iran -- especially those who have had their sentence extended or who have been transferred to the ultra-violent maximum security Rajai Shahr Prison.

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV).

JUNE 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...


States involved in multinational force;
showing location of Maiduguri,
Diffa and N'Djamena
In early June Nigeria's new president, Muhammadu Buhari, moved the command centre for the military operation against Boko Haram from the capital Abuja, to the Borno capital, Maiduguri: i.e. into the heart of the conflict zone. In a subsequent meeting, the leaders of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin ‎agreed to set up the headquarters of the 8700-strong multinational force to fight Boko Haram in N'Djamena, the Chadian capital. The multinational force [see RLPB 296 (10 Feb)] is scheduled to begin operations on 30 July. Boko Haram has responded by escalating its attacks.

NIGERIA (51 percent Christian; 45 percent Muslim).
On 22 June two teenage girls were deployed as suicide bombers in a crowded market area of Maiduguri. One girl exploded near a mosque, killing about 30 people; the other girl ran from the market, screaming as she went. Nobody else was killed when she exploded. As in other cases where young girls are used, these girls were most probably remotely detonated. There is grave concern that Boko Haram is strapping explosives to kidnapped girls, specifically kidnapped Christian girls. It was the fourth suicide bombing in Maiduguri this month.

NIGER (97 percent Muslim; 0.3 percent Christian).
On  17 June Boko Haram jihadist gunmen attacked Ungumawo and Lamina villages in Diffa, south-east Niger, killing at least 38 people as well as burning homes and property.

CHAD (53 percent Muslim; 39 percent Christian).
On 15 June Boko Haram suicide bombers on motor bikes rode into N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, exploding outside the national police academy and another police facility, killing at least 37 people and wounding more than 100. Following a directive of Chadian President Idriss Deby, Prime Minister Kalzeube Pahimi Deubet declared an immediate ban on the burqa (full body and face covering) which he said had no history in Chadian culture and was being used as 'camouflage'. Security forces were sent into the markets to seize all burqas and burn them. The proudly secular government also launched a crackdown on 'foreigners' and launched air-strikes on at least six suspected Boko Haram positions inside Nigeria.


Long War Journal (LWJ) has identified a total of 117 jihadist training camps across Mesopotamia, 85 in Syria and 32 in Iraq. At least eleven of those camps are used exclusively to indoctrinate and provide military training to children. Whilst some camps might be closed and others have been hit in coalition air-strikes, LWJ acknowledges there are doubtless many other camps that have not been advertised or identified. According to LWJ, Islamic State has operated 57 camps (30 in Iraq, 27 in Syria) and al-Qaeda's Al-Nusra Front has operated 23 camps inside Syria. A further 37 other camps (35 in Syria and two in Iraq) are run by other groups, including ethnic groups.  There are eleven camps for jihadists from the Caucuses (South Russia), four Uzbek camps, two Uighur camps, as well as Gazan, Moroccan and Kazak camps. While this presents an enormous threat to global security, it presents an even more immediate and existential threat to the Christians of Mesopotamia. Today, Mesopotamia's mostly Assyrian Christian remnant is hunkered down behind heavy security, mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan behind the peshmerger (Kurdish forces), and in government-controlled areas of Syria behind the SAA (Syrian Arab Army).

SYRIA: As they did in Idlib [see RLPB 303 (1 April)], rebel (non-ISIS) forces have united in a 'single operations room' for the purpose of storming Aleppo. However, according to al-Monitor, the alliance's foreign backers -- Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- did not include al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front. [This alliance does, however, include the US-backed Free Syrian Army.]

Pastor Eduard Petrosyan
On 15 June more than 300 rebel rockets rained down on Aleppo, killing 42 civilians and wounding more than 200. Despite having access to US-made anti-tank guided missiles, the rebels were not able to storm the city but were driven back by the SAA. When al-Nusra led the storming of Idlib, the first layer of attack was conducted by waves of suicide bombers. This layer was missing in the 15 June attack on Aleppo. Rebel shelling continues; two Armenians died when Qasser al-Baladi municipality was shelled on 20 June; they were Pastor Eduard Petrosyan, a missionary from the Word of Life Church of Armenia, and Garo Megerdichian (Abu Hagop) of Aleppo. The SAA is fighting back, mostly from the sky. The rebels will doubtless move to restore the siege around the government-held areas of Aleppo, which is still home to thousands of Armenian and Assyrian Christians. They may even seek to have al-Nusra brought into the alliance. Meanwhile, ISIS fighters are poised north of the city. If the rebels do manage to drive back government forces (which we pray they do not) ISIS will doubtless move in to absorb or overthrow the rebels. Pray for the Christians of Aleppo.

'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 57:1-2 ESV)


Hagia Sophia as seen
 from Kadikoy pier
 Tensions are escalating over calls to open the 6th Century Byzantine Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) church as a mosque. When Ottoman Turks conquered the Byzantine capital of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, they immediately turned the church into a mosque. World War One culminated in the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. In 1924 the Caliphate was dissolved and in 1935 the now UNESCO World Heritage listed Hagia Sophia was opened as a Museum. As fundamentalist Islam has revived, calls to open the former church to Muslim worship grow louder. On 24 May [i.e. just ahead of 'Conquest Day' -- see RLPB 213 (5 June 2013)], hundreds of Muslims protested outside the church, demanding it be opened as a mosque. Some pious Turks are asserting that the conquest is not complete until all traces of Christian heritage are erased. On the evening of 9 June in an attack that may or may not be related to the Hagia Sophia issue, a Muslim screaming 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greater) set fire to a door at the Hagia Triada (Holy Trinity) Orthodox Church in Kadikoy, Istanbul (just across the Bosphorus Strait from the Hagia Sophia). While damage was minimal, church members are understandably anxious. Pray for the Church in Turkey.

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