12 November 2014
Christians gather for Evening Prayer outside St. Joseph’s Church in Erbil.(photo: Don Duncan)
The Autumn edition of ONE is online, and focuses a spotlight on The Middle East-most notably, with a dramatic look at life among refugees in Erbil, Iraq:
On talking to many Christian families and individuals who have taken refuge in cities across Iraqi Kurdistan, the master narrative is the same: ISIS, the jihadist Islamic terrorist movement seeking to create a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, had made rapid advances across large swaths of Iraq, and by early August, seized the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq — a historic Christian stronghold.
The sixth day of August promises to be a date that will be seared into the Iraqi Christian psyche for quite some time: That is the day Iraqi Christendom finally — and maybe definitively — succumbed to extremists and much of the population was sent fleeing.
The exodus was rapid and frantic, beginning in the evening of 6 August. Families recount how they had 15 minutes to half an hour to grab what they could and leave, ahead of the rapid arrival of ISIS. The roads were choked with families in cars and on foot — Chaldean and Syriac Catholics, Copts and Armenians, but also Yazidis and Shiite Muslims from all over Nineveh — all fleeing the particular brand of ISIS fundamentalism. They headed east, to Iraqi Kurdistan and the protection of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces there. By the next morning, the heartland of Christian Iraq was firmly in the hands of ISIS.
“My father sold his own mother’s gold and took a loan from the government so he could build our house, and then everything was gone in 15 minutes,” says Wissam Abdul Hadi. “He worked for years and lost everything in a few minutes.”
The sense of loss and the incomprehension of the sudden, new reality are common to many of the displaced families. Beyond the shared narrative of expulsion, the personal stories issuing from the camps, church grounds and repurposed schools and social centers housing displaced Christians are varied and many.
...At a distance of 46 miles, Erbil is the nearest Kurdish city to Qaraqosh and, therefore, received the largest number of displaced people, currently estimated at more than 60,000. Most of them descended on the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa over the span of just a couple of days. Because of the overpopulation, living conditions for displaced Christians are the worst in Erbil.
Any and all resources were tapped so as to offer the displaced shelter and food. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, the Ephremite and Franciscan sisters, the Little Sisters of Jesus as well as Chaldean and Syriac priests and bishops were all mobilized. For the first week, many people were sleeping in churchyards without shelter, using each other’s stomachs as pillows. They complained of the scourge of ants at night and of the strong, beating sun during the day.
Read more about the Christian Exodus in the Autumn edition of ONE.
The need in Iraq remains great. Please visit this giving page to learn how you can help.
12 November 2014
Iraqi children play outside a tent in Ain Kawa, where some 300 Kaka’i have taken shelter. The Kaka’i, a lesser-known religious minority, were forced to flee their homes in northern Iraq by Islamic State militants in August. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
Minority communities wonder why Iraqi government fails to protect them (CNS) Two months after Islamic State militants snatched 3-year-old Christina, Ayda Abada wonders about the fate of her daughter. Her Syriac Catholic family suffers from loss, grief and despair like so many other religious minorities in Iraq targeted by attacks by the fundamentalist group. Not only are many of Iraq’s religious minorities speaking out against the militants, but they are questioning why the Iraqi government has failed to protect them…
Iraqi Shiites join Sunnis to fight Islamic State (Al Monitor) The Islamic State aimed to create a Shiite-Sunni conflict to impose its control, but Iraqi Sunnis have instead turned to help from Shiites to get rid of the extremist group…
Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal speaks to Vatican Radio (Vatican Radio) “To lose Christianity from the birthplace of Christianity,” said the Jordanian prince, speaking to Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure at the Royal Palace in Amman, “would be to lose the richness of the tapestry of this pluralist region…”
Pope calls for global defense of Christians facing persecution (CNS) Pope Francis condemned the “absurd violence” being used against Christians in several countries and called on people of good will everywhere to take up the cause of religious freedom. At the end of his general audience on 12 November, Pope Francis asked the estimated 15,000 people in St. Peter’s Square to join him in reciting the Lord’s Prayer for Christians facing persecution…
Syrian bishop: Peace talk for Aleppo must be genuine (Fides) “Among the population of Aleppo there is hope, but also skepticism regarding the hypothesis of a truce to silence the weapons in the region of Aleppo,” said Patriarchal Vicar of Aleppo Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, O.F.M. The bishop describes mixed feelings among residents of the Syrian city in front of the negotiations put in place by the United Nations to achieve a cease-fire in the conflict between the Syrian army and the rebel militias. “Everyone wants truce to represent only the first step to establish an authentic process of peace and reconciliation. Otherwise, a temporary ceasefire would only give the warring parties time to reorganize themselves…”
Arson attacks on mosque, synagogue inflame Holy Land tensions (Al Jazeera) Palestinians officials blamed Israeli settlers for an arson attack on a mosque in a West Bank village early Wednesday, hours after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at an ancient synagogue in a predominantly Palestinian town in Israel — incidents that underscore the tit-for-tat nature of recent violence…
Israel approves 200 new east Jerusalem settler homes (Daily Star Lebanon) An Israeli planning committee Wednesday approved plans to build 200 homes in a Jewish settlement neighborhood of annexed east Jerusalem, a city councilor told AFP…
10 November 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Israeli-Palestinian conflict religious freedom
It is no secret: This has been a time of tremendous turmoil for so many in the Middle East.
War this summer in Gaza left thousands dead, an overwhelming majority of them civilians. At the same time, violence exploded in Iraq, as radical Islamic jihadists — from their base in Syria — began their assault of Iraq, targeting Christians and other minorities. Hundreds of thousands of people found themselves literally running for their lives, fleeing to mountain refuges, or to Erbil, Baghdad, Amman and Beirut.
The autumn edition of the magazine brings vividly to life the hardship and the hope of so many who live in the land where Christianity first began.
You’ll meet the men, women and children, priests, sisters and care providers, people whose lives have been turned upside down, and yet still hope even as they cope with a new reality most would call a nightmare. You’ll see how the generosity of good people like you has been deployed; how through CNEWA, aid is reaching those most in need, and making a difference.
Let us know what you think! And spread the word!
10 November 2014
The Monastery of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was built by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian I, in the sixth century. The monastery marks where Moses is said to have encountered the Lord in the burning bush and received the tablets of the Law. To read more about this unique holy site — which houses some of the most important treasures of the early church — see ONE’s profile of the Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai.
(photo: Jean-Luc Manaud/Getty Images)
St. Catherine’s Monastery denies the news of an Islamist attack (Fides) St. Catherine’s Monastery, located in the region of Sinai, has denied reports of alleged assaults carried out by Islamist groups, put into circulation in recent days by Christian media and blogs....
The Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox: may the Churches unify the dates for the Easter celebration (Fides) A new appeal to all Christian Churches so that they celebrate the solemnity of Easter on the same date has been launched by the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Tawadros II...
To counter rise of Islamic State, Jordan imposes rules on Muslim clerics (Washington Post) Jordanian authorities have begun a campaign to coax — and, when necessary, pressure — Muslim clerics to preach messages of peaceful Islam from their pulpits. The main targets are Jordan’s more than 5,000 imams, including lay clerics and those on the government dole, who give the traditional sermon that follows Friday prayers...
The video of an Israeli cop shooting Arab citizen that has rocked the country (Washington Post) [T]he grainy black and white tape of police shooting a man in the Galilee early Saturday has lit a fuse in Israel, sparking praise and condemnation, and begging bigger questions about police conduct, allegiance to the state and who, really, is an Israeli and who is not...
The furniture of Christian homes put up for sale in the markets of Mosul (Fides) In the markets of Mosul entire areas are now occupied by the furniture and the tools looted in the houses abandoned by the Christians. The looted goods are put on sale at bargain prices...
7 November 2014
In this image from 2006, Father Adel Madanat celebrates a Sunday Divine Liturgy at the Greek Orthodox church in Ader, Jordan. (photo: Miriam Sushman)
Several years ago, we profiled the lives of Jordanian Christians, people with a rich and varied history:
Although most locals picture Jordanian Christians as exclusively wealthy urbanites, Christians, who count up to 6 percent of Jordan’s 5.9 million residents, live throughout this kingdom’s cities, towns and villages. A diverse mix of communities in a country sandwiched between Israel/Palestine and Iraq, they play an integral part in the kingdom’s public and economic life.
“Christianity was born in our region and it is not confined to Western culture,” Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal said on the occasion of the publication of the French edition of his book, ‘Christianity in the Arab World.’
“Our Christian brothers’ defense of Arab values and the causes of the Arab world in all international fora is a truthful expression of their affiliation to their Arab patrimony.”
Only a few elderly women and young girls attended Mass on a recent Friday at St. Joseph Latin (Roman Catholic) Church in Ader, one of a cluster of villages in the Jordanian Christian heartland near the town of Kerak. Father Basheer, pastor of St. Joseph’s, explained that most of his congregation had gone to the nearby Orthodox parish to attend a funeral liturgy.
“Here, human relations and blood ties are very strong,” Father Basheer said. “Villagers are all relatives.”
Ader is an oasis of golden wheat fields in the middle of Jordan’s rocky southern desert. Herds of goats and sheep dot the gently rolling landscape. Of the village’s 4,500 inhabitants, Christians number one third of the population. Only when pressed do they identify themselves in Arabic as either “Lateen” (Latin), “Katulik” (Greek Catholic) or “Ruum” (Orthodox). Ader’s Christian community is a close one; differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy are secondary to family.
Most Christian villagers belong to Arab Christian tribes who gave up their semi-nomadic way of life in the late 19th century, settling with their herds near Kerak. According to tribal custom, these Bedouin Christians were among the first peoples to embrace Christianity after Jesus’ ascension.
To learn more, read Jordanian Christians from the September 2006 edition of ONE.
7 November 2014
A Catholic clergyman, center, stands with members of the Druze community at the funeral of Israeli border police officer Jedan Assad in Galilee on 6 November. A Palestinian man rammed his vehicle into pedestrians and Israeli border police on a road straddling East and West Jerusalem, killing Assad and wounding at least a dozen others. (photo: CNS/Finbarr O’Reilly, Reuters)
Statement from the heads of churches in Jerusalem (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) On 6 November 2014, patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem published a statement in which they express their concern about the outbreak of violence and the rapid deterioration of the situation in the Holy City. They also call for the respect of the Status Quo, especially on the Haram al Sharif, the esplanade of the Mosques…
Jerusalem: Netanyahu seeks to reassure Jordan’s king as tensions spike (Christian Science Monitor) A day after Jordan recalled its ambassador over Israel’s handling of clashes at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, Israel’s prime minister called King Abdullah. But Netanyahu’s diplomatic options are limited…
Gaza bombings stir tension between Fatah and Hamas (Los Angeles Times) Tensions grew high Friday between Palestinian political adversaries Fatah and Hamas, which share a unity government, following a series of explosions in the Gaza Strip that targeted the homes of key Fatah members. The blasts caused no injuries but shook Palestinian politics, which is still recovering from the seven-year rift between Fatah and Hamas, which formally reconciled in April…
Stagnation and infighting take hold in eastern Ukraine (Der Spiegel) There was a time when it looked as though eastern Ukraine might become part of Russia. Now, though, rebels in the region have been fighting among themselves and Moscow is unsure how to proceed. Sunday’s election changed nothing…
Vatican releases message for Sikh holiday (Vatican Radio) The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue on Friday released a message to mark the Sikh festival of Guru Nanak Jayanti, an annual recurrence celebrating the birth of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. The theme of the message is “Christians and Sikhs — together to promote compassionate service.” The full text of the message is available below…
6 November 2014
Tags: Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Jerusalem Interreligious Interfaith
A woman venerates Holy Myron — chrism oils consecrated by the catholicos once
every seven years. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
In 2008, we looked at the deep spiritual history of Armenia:
"Etchmiadzin is the spirit and soul of Armenians,” said Father Mkrtich Proshian, dean of the Vaskenian Theological Seminary, which overlooks the shore of Armenia’s Lake Sevan.
“It keeps the diaspora spiritually alive and is the heart of the nation.”
At once referring to the world’s oldest cathedral and a complex of structures — ancient, medieval and modern — Etchmiadzin echoes sanctity and stability. The complex houses the administrative offices of the Armenian Apostolic Church and functions as the repository of its cultural and spiritual heritage. Located west of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, Etchmiadzin enjoys renewed celebrity in post-Soviet Armenia. Yet, it faces daunting challenges as the church struggles to redefine itself in this resource poor and geopolitically fragile country.
“The fact that it was built with stone from Mount Ararat is very symbolic,” continued the priest. Armenians have revered the region’s highest peak for more than three millennia, once believing Ararat to be the home of their pantheon of gods. Here, Noah’s ark rested after the great flood and here God offered his covenant to Noah. Though Ararat remains a national symbol, the mountain lies across the country’s border, in what is now Turkey — a fact that inspires great sorrow among Armenians.
“It is at once a symbol of our covenant with God, a symbol of hope of our promised land and the most poignant reminder of our loss,” said Armenian journalist Levon Sevunts, who immigrated to Canada in 1992.“Being Armenian means being Christian. The national identity and Christian identity are inseparable,” said Father Gevork Saroyan, who serves as dean of Etchmiadzin’s Karekin I Theological-Armenilogical Center. “And thanks to the church we were able to survive”…
…The seamless integration of culture, faith and language, which had forged a unique Armenian identity, enabled the Armenian people to endure (and thrive) for centuries, despite periods of benign neglect or political oppression. But the collective trials of the past had not prepared them for the tragedies that would visit them in the 20th century.
Under Turkish rule since the 14th century, Armenians of the eastern Mediterranean had long moved freely within the Ottoman Empire. But during World War I, the Young Turks — a reform movement under the sultan — forcibly displaced the empire’s Armenians for their alleged ties to the Allies, who were at war with Turkey. This resulted in the deaths of some 1.5 million people. Survivors fled to Lebanon, Syria, Europe and America.
The Armenian clergy in Ottoman Turkey were particularly hard hit; only 47 of an estimated 5,000 priests survived, according to studies conducted by the Armenian Church Research and Analysis Group.
Still reeling from the devastation, eastern Armenia, which included Etchmiadzin and the Armenian heartland in the Caucasus, fell to the Red Army as the Bolsheviks consolidated their power in Russia and forced its weaker neighbors to surrender.
Read more about Where God Descended in the May 2008 issue of ONE.
6 November 2014
Abu and Um Sabah, who fled ISIS in August, stand outside their tent in a park in Ain Kawa, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
Chaldean diocese of Erbil conducts census of refugees from Nineveh (Fides) There are more than 10,000 Christian families who fled Mosul and the cities of the Nineveh Plain who have found refuge in the suburbs of Erbil and in other parts of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Chaldean Eparchy of Erbil has been collecting statistics on this segment of refugees to better identify needs…
Gaza doctors demand Egypt open Rafah crossing (Daily Star Lebanon) Dozens of Palestinian doctors and patients held a sit-in at the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza Thursday, demanding Egypt reopen the frontier to allow people out for medical treatment. The crossing, Gaza’s only gateway to the world which is not controlled by Israel, has been closed since 25 October following a deadly suicide bombing in northern Sinai which killed 30 Egyptian soldiers…
Expulsion from Rafah threatens war with the tribes (Al Akhbar) Along the border with the Gaza Strip, the Engineer Corps of the Egyptian army is carrying out ground clearing operations following the demolition of hastily evacuated citizens’ homes, in preparation for creating a buffer zone with the Strip. Masad Abu Fajr, an expert on tribal affairs from Sinai, considers the expulsion of the residents to be tantamount to a declaration of war by the Egyptian state against the tribes of Sinai…
Memories of war haunt Gaza’s doctors (Al Monitor) “It’s pure madness.” This was how the head of the reception department at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, Ayman al-Sahbani, described the situation experienced by the doctors who dealt with the thousands of wounded during the 50-day Israeli war on the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, the health sector has suffered and was still suffering from numerous crises, including shortages of medicine and fuel and delayed salaries for doctors…
5 November 2014
Tags: Egypt Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
Parishioners celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Uc Horon Armenian Apostolic Church in Istanbul.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
A few years ago, we looked at some of the challenges facing Armenians in Turkey:
It’s not easy to be an Armenian in Turkey,” says Robert Koptas, a native of Istanbul, once the city of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Recently, the 30-something publisher cohosted a book release affair in the city’s posh Pangalti district.
“Among the Ruins” is a memoir written over 70 years ago by Zabel Yesayan, an Armenian-Turkish novelist who documented the massacre of up to 30,000 Armenians in the Turkish city of Adana. The party attracted about 100 Armenian-Turkish literati — who consider the novelist a protofeminist.
Mr. Koptas recalls a time in Turkey — only 20 years ago — when members of the Turkish Nationalist Party openly propagated anti-Armenian slogans, making it difficult to host events such as this one. Still, he is the first to admit he came of age in a tolerant Turkey. In college, he says his Armenian identity did not even faze his Turkish peers.
While still a concern, obvious discrimination preoccupies Turkey’s Armenian community less these days than does the disappearance of its cultural identity. A century ago, Turkey’s Armenian community numbered two million people. Today, only 50,000 remain. The tiny community now grapples with ever-stronger forces of assimilation and emigration, which many believe endanger its ancient culture.
The number of Armenian-Turks who speak Armenian, for instance, is steadily declining. It is believed only 20 percent of the community speaks Armenian on a daily basis. In addition, nearly 50 percent of young people marry non-Armenians.
“We are in danger of losing our culture and language, and it is a huge responsibility to keep it all alive,” says Mr. Koptas.
...Istanbul’s Armenian community is widely dispersed throughout the massive metropolis, which straddles two continents. Though some Armenian-Turks continue to live in Kumkapi, others prefer Pangalti and more cosmopolitan neighborhoods. Many more live across town, on the Asian banks of the Bosporus.
Despite its small size, diversity and sparse dispersal, the city’s Armenian community manages to maintain a cohesive identity remarkably well. As is the case in Armenian enclaves elsewhere in the world, the church and its institutions, such as schools and hospitals, are largely to thank for bringing together the community and preserving culture and language.
It helps that Istanbul’s Armenians in general make little fuss about religious differences, be they Apostolic, Catholic or Protestant. With Armenian churches few and far between, most attend whichever church is closest or more convenient — regardless of jurisdiction.
Annie Benlian explains that while she and her husband belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, the preeminent faith community of the Armenian people, they prefer taking their young twins, Arax and Sandra, to an Armenian Catholic church near their apartment in Pangalti.
“The service is shorter than at the Apostolic church,” says the Jerusalem-born mother, “and thus more convenient for a busy family.”
“Most of our congregation was not born Catholic, but Jesus loves everybody and our gates are open to all,” explains Father Hagopas Copur, pastor of the parish frequented by the Benlians. “People go back and forth as they please. Our liturgies are similar, though the Apostolic Church is more traditional.”
Read more about Turkey’s Armenians Rising from the Ruins in the November 2010 issue of ONE.
5 November 2014
In this 11 October photo, a man waits in a tent for the opening of a center to help people displaced by fighting in eastern Ukraine. (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
In pictures: Ukraine’s exposed war-displaced (Al Jazeera) With freezing temperatures creeping over eastern Ukraine, thousands of people in Donetsk find themselves struggling to survive what is expected to be a harsh winter in a time of war…
Chaldean patriarch: Iraqi Christians due more government support (AINA) The Iraq government has given Christian leaders a commitment that it will do more to protect their dwindling followers in strife-torn areas terrorized by the group calling itself the Islamic State…
Life in Raqqa under Islamic State (Al Monitor) Behind the walls of the de facto Islamic State, life in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa goes on. The city, once the summer capital of the Abbasid dynasty, has become a fundamentalist metropolis, where thousands of Islamic State fighters, families, immigrants and locals live under the sort of tailored circumstances that could only fit the society created by its self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi…
Coptic pope links extremist groups to West (Fides) Extremist groups upsetting the geopolitics of the Middle East are a product of strategies pursued in the West, according to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II…
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Iraqi Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II