Tuesday, October 16, 2018

RLPB 477. Assyrian Crisis in Iraq and Syria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 477 | Wed 17 Oct 2018

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International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2018: Sunday 4 or 11 November.
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-- plus update from Nigeria
by Elizabeth Kendal

As noted in RLPB 470 (29 Aug 2018), the Assyrian nation [the indigenous Christian nation of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq)] is in a struggle for its survival. While jihadist activity remains a problem, of greater concern is the less overt but more insidious threat posed by Kurdish nationalism. While there is no chance of a Kurdish state materialising any time soon, that is not stopping Kurdish nationalists from making every effort to change realities on the ground through 'divide and rule' (sowing division among the Assyrians), colonisation (occupying the lands of displaced Assyrians) and hegemony (dominance/control over Assyrians). Making things easy for the Kurds is the sad and shameful fact that their backers in the US-led West care little for the region's remnant Christians and, consequently, seem happy to turn a blind eye.

Ft Toma visits Iraq: Interview (Oct 2018)
Los Angeles-based Father Athanasis Toma, an Archbishop in the ancient Assyrian Church of the East, recently returned from a visit to Iraq. He warns of a deteriorating situation in which Assyrians face immense challenges including: gross insecurity, systematic discrimination, political marginalisation and land seizures. According to Fr Toma, Assyrian villages lack basic amenities, and most humanitarian aid organisations have left. Many youths and young families have lost hope and are looking to emigrate. Reports have emerged of Kurdish authorities blocking roads from the Kurdish provincial capitals of Dohuk and Erbil into the Nineveh Plains. This not only prevents displaced Assyrians from returning to their homes and lands, it also prevents Assyrians in the Nineveh Plains from gaining access to medical care or other services in Dohuk and Erbil, forcing them to make hard decisions. Many are convinced that a systematic, quiet yet aggressive campaign of immense pressure is being applied to drive Assyrians from their ancestral lands precisely so Kurds might colonise and eventually annex the Nineveh Plains into a future Kurdish state.

Asked if he thought Assyrians and Christians had any future in Iraq, Fr Toma replied: 'If we are not united and if conditions continue as they are, I believe we will diminish and soon not many will be left. Our lands, language, history and traditions will be all gone.'


Christians in Qamishli protest closure
of church-run school (28 Aug).
Syria's north-east province of Hasakah is under the self-declared rule of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian wing of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). While the situation in Hasakah is relatively calm, Kurdish hegemony is deepening. The PYD is insisting that all schools in areas under its control teach the Kurdish curriculum which is aimed at facilitating a Kurdish nationalist agenda. This is unacceptable (even offensive) to Armenians and Assyrians. Because the Kurdish curriculum is not accredited in Syria, many Kurdish and Arab Muslims choose to send their children to the Assyrian church-run schools. These schools, which have existed since 1935, teach the Syrian curriculum which is recognised internationally and allows freedom for the teaching of religion, culture and language.

On 7 August the PYD forcibly closed two Assyrian church-run schools that were refusing to teach the Kurdish curriculum [RLPB 470 (29 Aug)]. On 28 August, amidst protests, the PYD forcibly closed an Assyrian church-run school in Qamishli (on the border with Turkey). The next day the PYD issued a statement, in English, accusing the church-run schools of spreading 'lies' and serving the 'Syrian regime'. On 22 September Isa Rashid, who directs the church-run schools in Qamishli, was beaten outside his home just days after a meeting with Kurdish officials in which he refused to implement the PYD's curriculum; Rashid had to be hospitalised.

Assyrian writer Souleman Yusph
On Sunday 30 September at 9pm, a convoy of three vans arrived at the Qamishli home of Assyrian journalist Souleman Yusph (61). At least ten pro-PYD Assyrian policemen then seized Yusph and took him away. The next day the PYD issued a statement in which it denounced citizens who 'overstepped' their right to free speech in order to spread 'lies' that 'undermine democracy'. As far as Monsignor Jacques Behnan Hindo is concerned, Yusph was 'arrested for telling the truth'. Mgr Hindo notes that Syrian Kurds are not the problem; rather it is Turkish and Iraqi Kurds who want to occupy the area. Yusph was released on 4 October after he had been threatened and intimidated into silence.

Concerning the situation in Syria, Juliana Taimoorazy, the Founder and President of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council says: 'If the US continues to fail the Christians of the Middle East with [its] policies, I guarantee, in the next 20 to 30 years, it will be empty of Assyrians, the indigenous people of Iraq. If this policy of backing the Kurds blindly, blindly continues, we will not have any choice but to leave the land.'


* heal, comfort and encourage Assyrians who have been beaten, intimidated, threatened and terrorised not only by jihadists but by US-allied Kurdish nationalists. Lord, draw them close, give them peace and bolster their faith. 'Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

* intervene in this world for the benefit of the Assyrian nation -- raise up allies, mobilise support, facilitate provision of aid, magnify voices, sharpen consciences and stir up prayer.

* protect, sustain, unify, bless and encourage the Assyrians of Iraq and Syria, as he fulfils all his promises to their great nation, to 'Assyria, the work of my hands' (Isaiah 19: 23-25).


On 16 October, one month after it executed midwife Saifure Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa [RLPB 474 (26 Sep)] Boko Haram executed Hauwa Mohammed Liman, the other Muslim midwife it was holding. Khorsa (25) and Liman (24) were executed as murtads, apostates/traitors to Islam (for working for the Red Cross). In its statement Boko Haram said, 'If we see them [aid workers] we will kill the apostates among them, men or women, and choose to kill or keep the infidels as slaves, men or women. ... From today [Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu (15) and Christian nurse Alice Loksha Ngaddah (24, mother of two small children)] 'are now our slaves. Based on our doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with them.' Please pray.

'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows' (Jesus, in Matthew 10:29-31 ESV).


Assyrians are Christians and the indigenous nation of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq). While jihadist activity remains a problem, the threat posed by Kurdish nationalism is growing. The Assyrian remnant in northern Iraq's Nineveh Plains is struggling to rebuild amidst gross insecurity, systematic discrimination, political marginalisation and land seizures. Meanwhile, the Assyrian remnant in north-east Syria's Hasakah Province is struggling to retain its autonomy and culture as Kurdish authorities move to control the education sector. In both Iraq and Syria, Assyrian educators, writers and political figures who resist or criticise the Kurdish authorities are beaten, arrested and intimidated into silence. Kurdish nationalists aim to drive Assyrians from their ancestral lands so Kurds might colonise and eventually annex these lands into a future Kurdish state. Please pray for the Assyrian nation (Isaiah 19: 23-25).


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