News / Middle East

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

FILE - An Iraqi Christian man from Mosul, who fled with his family from violence in their country, reads a book at the Latin Patriarchate Church in Amman, Jordan, Aug. 21, 2014.
FILE - An Iraqi Christian man from Mosul, who fled with his family from violence in their country, reads a book at the Latin Patriarchate Church in Amman, Jordan, Aug. 21, 2014.
Mohamed Elshinnawi

According to a study by the Pew Research Center the number of Middle Eastern countries experiencing sectarian violence between religious groups has doubled from five to 10 since 2011.

The research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities and that Christians faced persecution in growing number of countries in the region.

In this climate of religious intolerance, experts say nearly one million Christians have been displaced from Iraq, half a million have left Syria, and Egypt’s Copts have lost scores of their churches to arsons. In Jerusalem, the cradle of Christianity, the number of Christians has been dwindling for decades.

“At one time, it was estimated that 25 percent of the citizens of East Jerusalem were Christians, now they are less than 2 percent,” said Yvonne Haddad, professor of the history of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University.

She also says political developments and discrimination have for decades caused the decline of the Middle East’s Christian population.

“The formation of the state of Israel in 1947 resulted in displacement of Christians in the Galilee, which was mostly a Christian community, and then the 1967 war pushed out more Christians who were living near Jerusalem,” she said.

“Lebanon's civil war in 1970s forced a lot of Christians to leave," she added. "The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq resulted in pitting sectarian groups against each other, and, recently, when the Islamic State [group] took over some areas in Iraq and Syria, Christians were given options to convert, leave, or die.”

In some cases, discrimination against Arab Christians made them feel unwanted and pushed some to emigrate, she said.

“Everywhere, with the exception of Lebanon, there is an established state religion; in Egypt and Iraq, for example, the state religion is Islam. In Syria the president has to be a Muslim, so Christians felt they are a minority and they are not represented in the government or the state bureaucracy.”

Appeal for Iraqi Christians

Considering the magnitude of the decline of Christian minorities in the Middle East, some Christian leaders are appealing to the world not to remain indifferent.

In recent months, a military drive by Islamic State militants targeted Christians in Iraq, destroyed numerous ancient Christian sites and demanded that followers of the ancient Yazidi sect choose between conversion to Islam or death. Thousands of Yazidis fled into the mountains, leading to a U.S.-led assault on the militants and giant humanitarian mission to save them from starvation.

“What has happened to Iraqi Christians, along with other minorities, is terrible and horrific … therefore, we need urgent and effective international support from all the people of good will to save the Christians and Yazidis, from extinction,” said Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, president of the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops in Iraq in an open letter released on August 24.
 
The letter calls into question the West’s “moral and historical” responsibility toward religious minorities.

As Islamic State militants seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, Christians were asked to convert to Islam, pay a special levy for non-Muslims, or forced to flee to avoid death.

Iraqi Chaldeans, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, left their cities and villages in droves. Sako said he fears Christian life eventually could come to an end in the region.

“In 10 years there will perhaps be 50,000 Christians left in Iraq,” he said. “Prior to 2003, this figure was about 1.2 million. Within 10 years we have shrunk to a community of perhaps 400,000 to 500,000 Christians.”

Discrimination rages

The Reverend Refaat Bader, president of the Center for Catholic Studies and Information, in Amman, Jordan, said Christians are facing discrimination throughout the Middle East.

“All Christians of the Middle East suffer from a wide range of discriminatory practices, whether in their constitutions or laws and social pressures,” said Bader. “Every time a constitution specifies that Islam is the official religion of the state, Christian citizens are not treated equally.”

Paul Salem, vice president for policy and research at the Middle East Institute, said Christians have become prey for militant Muslims.

“The U.S. invasion of Iraq resulted in a decade of unrest, which allowed for the rise of radical groups like al-Qaida in Iraq and then the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” he said. “Christian communities were targeted by radicalism that led to a historic disaster for these communities.”

Salem said that the Arab Spring rebellions spurred religious intolerance that has added to the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

“In the absence of organized political life and real political elites, Arab populations suddenly empowered with no political experience, religion became the only haven where people could meet and develop their identities," said Salem. "And desperate, angry, and unemployed youth are more likely to take things to their radical extremes. Political Islam also has considerable financing from networks in the oil-rich gulf states, which are generally politically and religiously conservative.”

Christian future uncertain

Still, Salem is hopeful the decline of the Christian population could be stopped by ending the civil wars, reestablishing law and order, and fixing flaws in laws and constitutions.

“Christians in Egypt - the largest Christian population in the Middle East - went through a very difficult time during the one year of the Muslim Brotherhood rule feeling like second-class citizens. But they now feel much more secured with the new constitution, which gave them clear protection and rights to representation,” said Salem.

Analyst Haddad is so pessimistic about the future of the region’s Christians, however, that she is writing a book titled Vanishing Christians of the Middle East.

“Everybody thinks I am exaggerating, but I really think that eventually, if things continue as what is happening now, Christians will all leave,” she said.

Salem did said there is a historical lure, though, for some Christians to remain.

“They are not going to disappear from the region, they might disappear from certain areas here and there, but they are tough people and so attached to their land, history and identity - and they were in the region before Islam arrived - and they are there to stay,” he said.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Maureen Shea from: Washington, DC
September 04, 2014 3:45 PM
It is important to also address the situation of Palestinian Christians living under Israeli Occupation, the restrictions that puts on their ability to worship freely, and the importance of maintaining Jerusalem as a place where followers of all three Abrahamic faiths can worship.

by: Jacob from: India
August 31, 2014 11:27 PM
In 1917 Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared at a place named Fatima (which name is famous in Islamic history). There she promised that after a time of persecution, her "Immaculate Heart" would triumph and that a time of peace will be granted to the world. Many Popes have confirmed this vision. Let us pray for this as she urgently asked.

by: Himblar Marak from: Baghmara
August 31, 2014 12:43 AM
Talking about persecution, it's nothing new for the children of the one True God, it's a fact we don't bother for this is the word of the Saviour and the Prophets, however, we suffer physically as we wait to see the day of the Lord to come very very soon. Pressures against True believers are global physically, spiripually as we are already entering into a New World Order, with the law of Anti Christ. All these happening to Christian faith are but the labour paint. Be courageous and bold fellow believers, our redemption draweth nigh, look up.
In Response

by: Joseph
August 31, 2014 10:15 AM
MATT:11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.


by: Mr A from: new york
August 30, 2014 11:02 AM
The Us policy has contributed of the Persecution of Christian . Us has supported Muslim brotherhood because Us believe that Muslim brotherhood is for democracy and they will serve the interest of Us. the fact that policy has negative impact on Christian whom they are persecuted by Muslim brotherhood .In Syria ,Bashar El Assad is a secular. by supporting the Syrian rebel ,Christian are killed, woman are raped , churches are burning. The Syrian conflict has set stage of Jihadist to come to Syria and form ISIS. It is created a new form of fanatic that use savage methods . of crime against Humanity. I believe That Ms. Clinton the former state secretary has demonstrated a poor judgment for each decision she made

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs