‘I will die, but I will not abandon my flock’
The pleas are getting louder and more desperate from Middle Eastern Christians whose ancient homelands stand in the path of the rampaging Islamic caliphate ISIS.
The latest sign of desperation came in the voice of the Syrian archbishop, cracking with emotion and dismay as he described the plight of more than 200 Assyrian Christians kidnapped from their homes by ISIS in northeast Syria in late February near the Turkish border.
“Many were plucked from their beds at dawn,” CBS News reported. “A man who refused to leave his home was set on fire along with his house.”
ISIS is still holding as many as 220 of the Assyrians Christians, an indigenous people who trace their roots back to ancient Mesopotamia, where the Apostle Thomas brought the gospel in the first century. It was in Antioch, Syria, where followers of Jesus first called themselves “Christians.”
The archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, issued an urgent appeal through ABC News on March 8, begging the West to intervene and stop the slaughter of more Christians in his country.
ISIS has torched their churches, some dating back 1,800 years, and destroyed their ancient Bibles and relics.
Their language, Aramaic, is the same language spoken by Jesus. If their communities are destroyed, the language will eventually also disappear from the face of the earth.
“We in this country, Christians in this country, used to live quietly, safely and friendly with the Muslims in Syria,” the Syrian archbishop said. “But now that ISIS came, they are doing whatever they could to frighten Christians, push them away, and perhaps, so often to hurt them in many ways. Execute them.”
Earlier this year, Jeanbart divulged to an Italian publication what he said was a plot to empty the Middle East of all Christians, whom he said ISIS fears more than any other non-Muslims because of their connection to the West.
“As pastor of this church, I will never leave this people,” he told Italian journalists of the 300,000 Christians under his care. “I will die, but I will not abandon my flock. I am convinced that the Lord will ask me an account of my commitment, my courage and my hope for this portion of his people that He entrusted to me.”
The attacks on Christians in Syria were touched off by the so-called Arab Spring, he said.
‘They are killing our history, our memory’
Jeanbart told ABC News he was afraid that America and European countries do not have enough interest or understanding of how desperate the situation is for Syrian Christians.
“We are in front of savagery, and we do not know what they will do if they arrive in other cities,” he told the network. “It’s terrible what we have seen. They are killing our history, our memory. All this culture we had and we have was supposed to help us to find understanding.”
He said Syrian Christians are confused as to why those with the same faith in the West, who are supposed to share the same values of peace, love and freedom, continue to stand off at a distance. Many have called for air raids on ISIS strongholds in Syria.
“They do not understand that civilized countries and people who believe in the freedom and dignity of humans and the rights of human beings may let down human beings, let them die,” Jeanbart said.
“It’s sad. I do not understand that. I do not understand, and I suffer a lot. ”
Dr. Andrew Bostom, author of “The Legacy of Jihad” and several other books about Islam’s history, said even the “peaceful times” that many Middle Eastern Christians refer to is a relative term.
“All the jihad campaigns waged in the Middle East were targeting Christians primarily. That’s why there is so little Christianity left in the Middle East,” said Bostom, a Jewish physician and scholar. “Everywhere you turn, you see the persecution of churches, the burning of churches.”
One of the sources Bostom cites in his research is the 1,000-page tome by Jewish historian Moshe Gil, “A History of Palestine: 634-1099.” In it, Gil says the destruction of Christian communities was so complete that archaeologists were still unearthing destroyed churches from the Byzantine era in the second half of the 20th century.
In “Legacy of Jihad” Bostom includes a table showing the widespread atrocities of the Ottoman Empire’s jihads.
“It takes the reader through all the towns they destroyed. It’s just overwhelming,” he said. “It’s sickening.”
“It’s the Ottomans, it’s the Arabs, the Persians, and it’s just the mass destruction of Middle Eastern Christianity,” he said. “There’s just an overwhelming historic record going back to the beginning of Islam.”
The “living side-by-side in peace” meme is largely a false narrative perpetrated by Western historians, Bostom said. Peace compared to what? ISIS? Perhaps some were not as brutal, but even the most peaceful living arrangements in the Middle East have not involved Christians being treated with equal justice under the law, and having legal and professional opportunities on par with Muslims. That never happens in Muslim countries living under Shariah law, Bostom said.
“It’s not even true of the recent history. Going forward from the genocide of the Armenians and the Syriac Orthodox Church, you will see steady persecution. There was a big program in 1933 in Iraq, a big massacre of the Christians that were left when the Ottoman Empire was defeated,” he said, referring to the slaughter of 3,000 Assyrian Christian men, women and children in northern Iraq by Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish irregulars.
“We see this from every historical period,” Bostom said.
The persecution of Christians in Iraq’s Nineveh plain after the fall of Saddam Hussein went largely unreported in the years after the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation, but the U.S. did not do a very good job of protecting the Christian minorities there.
‘Crucified just like Jesus’
In 2007, the Assyrian Christians were being forced from their homes in Iraq by Islamic thugs unleashed by the imams. The orders for such activity invariably come from the mosques.
“We’ve got families that are being butchered, crucified, just like in Jesus’ time,” Mona Oshana, an Assyrian activist and author living in Arizona, told reporter Joe Dana of ArizonaCentral.com in September 2007.
“Talk to any local Assyrian (in Phoenix, Arizona), and they will likely be able to tell you a story about a sibling, cousin or friend who has been given the infamous ultimatum by religious Islamist extremists: Convert to the Muslim faith or else you will be forced out of your home,” Dana reported. “The targeted Christians are usually given a couple days to make their decision. If they don’t act, they are killed.”
That was in 2007, four years before anyone in the West had heard the word “ISIS.”
Since then, hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Assyrian Christians have been targeted for religious cleansing by Islamic terrorists. ISIS has picked up where al-Qaida left off, only on a larger scale: crucifying, beheading, burying Christians alive, shooting them execution-style, dowsing them in oil and burning them alive, cutting the Assyrian Christian children in half in front of their parents, raping and murdering girls and women, and selling the most beautiful Assyrian Christian women into sex slavery. The Greek Catholic Relief Agency has reported that 300,000 Syrian and Assyrian Christians refugees have been seeking resettlement in the U.S. through the United Nations refugee program, but they have been rejected by the U.N. and by the Obama administration.
Now, the news is finally starting to get out that Christians in the Middle East are under the gun. The slaying of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya drew massive media attention and is still being talked about in Christian social media circles and blogs. But it’s still hard to get church leaders in the U.S. to take seriously the topic of Christian persecution in the Middle East.
Written by LEO HOHMANN
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