Wednesday, April 22, 2015

RLPB 306. GENOCIDE: Then and Now.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 306 | Wed 22 Apr 2015

GENOCIDE: THEN AND NOW
-- an RLPB commemorating the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide.
By Elizabeth Kendal

On the night of 24 April 1915 the Young Turk government arrested over 200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople (Istanbul) and dragged them off to prisons in central Anatolia (modern day Turkey). This event, known today as Red Sunday, is generally regarded as the beginning of the Armenian Genocide as it was the first in a series of arrests and deportations that saw 2,345 leading Armenians arrested, deported and (mostly) summarily executed.

Armenians 1915. Genocide Museum
By 1923 some 1.5 million Armenians (out of a total population of two million) had been savagely murdered or deported and starved to death by Turks who had been incited to kill and who were guaranteed impunity. The Armenian Genocide occurred in the context of a wide-scale ethnic-religious cleansing in the Turkish heartland as the Ottoman Empire unravelled. Also eliminated were at least 500,000 Greeks throughout Asia Minor and up to 750,000 Assyrian Christians throughout Mesopotamia. Whilst the Turks must bear most of the guilt, Kurds and Arabs were also involved.

Though 24 April 1915 is regarded as the start of the genocide, the killing actually began much earlier. Through the 19th Century, as the Ottoman Empire became 'the sick man of Europe', the captive Christian nations long-subjugated within it grasped the opportunity to agitate for independence. Inevitably, Christian uprisings were brutally suppressed and Christians executed, massacred and deported into slavery. Generally Russia (long the protector of Eastern Christians) would intervene in defence of persecuted Christians as was its right according to the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, brokered by Catherine the Great in 1774. In 1853, after issuing several warnings, Russian troops crossed into the Danubian Provinces in defence of severely persecuted Greek Christians (although Europe regarded this as a mere pretext for imperialist expansion). Aware that defeat was imminent, the Turks appealed to Britain for help.

The Ottoman Empire's size, along with its location between imperial Europe and imperial Russia, afforded it economic and geo-strategic value. Not only did Britain have economic interests in keeping the Ottoman Empire united and strong for the purpose of free trade (which Britain believed was the key to world peace), it had geo-strategic interests in keeping Russia hemmed in. So Britain and France entered the Crimean War on the side of the Ottoman Turks. In exchange for British support the Sultan agreed to enact reforms aimed at improving the situation of his Christian subjects. The reforms, guaranteeing religious freedom and equality before the law, were aimed at bringing an end to the Christians' status as dhimmis (second class citizens, without rights).

Armenians, 1895. Genocide Museum.
Muslims, however, rejected the reforms, deeming them anti-Islamic. Viewing the removal of jizya (protection money) as a green light for jihad, pogroms and massacres became the order of the day. In 1860 some 20,000 Christians were slaughtered in Syria and Lebanon. In 1876 up to 25,000 Eastern Christians were massacred in the 'Bulgarian horrors'. In 1895-96 as many as 200,000 Armenians were murdered in Turkish Armenia. Keen to maintain its pro-Muslim policies, Britain adopted a 'conspiracy of silence' regarding the killings, along with running a campaign of propaganda vilifying Eastern Christianity. So the killings continued.

Then in 1915, as World War I raged and the Ottoman Empire unravelled, Turkish authorities exploited the chaos to launch an orchestrated campaign of ethnic-religious genocide, knowing full well that it was not in the interests of any Western power to stop them.

After the war the remnant Christians were denied their right of self-determination by pro-Muslim European powers who were convinced that the best way to modernise and soften Islam was to 'dilute' it with Christians. So it is a story not only of genocide, but of abandonment and betrayal, and the stoking of God's wrath.

FAST FORWARD TO THE 21ST CENTURY. 

Assyrian refugees 2014 (Iraq)
Today, a century of balance of power in, and Western hegemony over, the Middle East is officially over. The Muslim centre (Mesopotamia) has collapsed and the fight is on to see which regional power will fill the void: the Turks, the Arabs or the Persians; and which sect will dominate: the Sunnis or the Shi'ites. As in 1915 the minorities -- particularly the mostly Armenian and Assyrian Christians -- are facing genocide as Muslim elements exploit the chaos to launch an orchestrated campaign to tend to unfinished business: the eradication of Christianity.

The word genocide is already being used to describe the ethnic-religious cleansing of Iraq's remnant Assyrian Christians, which has seen their numbers drop from around 1.4 million to just 200,000, most of whom are displaced. In Syria, where the West is backing and arming genocidal Islamic forces, the future of remnant Armenian and Assyrian Christians hangs in the balance. In Turkey, where the dark clouds of neo-Ottomanism and Islam have rolled in and the government is vilifying Armenians and 'missionaries' as the ultimate threat to Turkish national security, Christians are vulnerable.

Armenian refugees 2014 (Syria)
Just as in 1915 the West is enacting pro-Muslim policies to advance its own 'interests': allied to the Turks and Arabs against Iran and against Syria's President Assad; allied to Iran against Islamic State; and backing Shi'ites in Iraq and Sunnis in Syria. All the while the West is totally unwilling to aid the minorities and help them establish safe havens for the prevention of genocide. Yet again, Christians are being eliminated and all the West has to offer is a shroud of deathly silence and a campaign of propaganda against anyone who would assist them. In the absence of repentance, how else could God respond but with judgment? As the West has delivered Christ's precious children into the hands of his and their enemy, so he will deliver the West into the hands of the same enemy! Indeed, Europe has already drunk from ‘the Cup of the Lord's Wrath’, the effects of which will soon be manifest.

These are days for reflection, confession and repentance. These are days for lamentation as a shameful history repeats itself and Christians suffer unimaginable horrors. Most of all, these are days for serious intercessory prayer that the God of the Cross will be at work in the darkness and that he, in grace, will turn back the battle.

LET US PRAY:

* that God will pour out a spirit of reflection and repentance over all those nations who have been complicit in genocide against the Lord's people, either through sins of commission [actual killing] or sins of omission [failing to intervene].

* for all those Christians across the Middle East today who are displaced and imminently imperilled -- especially Armenian and Assyrian Christians in conflict-wracked Syria and Iraq; may our loving heavenly Father, the Almighty King of kings and Lord of lords, provide all their needs -- material (such as shelter, security, food, water and heating) and spiritual guidance, comfort, peace, and grace.

* that the Church will rise to be the Church she is supposed to be: One Body IN Christ and a light to the world! May there be a willingness to show solidarity with those who suffer; to give generously to those in need; and to end the silence, especially our shameful silence before the Throne of Grace!

'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. . . . whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' (Matthew 25:40,45 NIV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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GENOCIDE THEN AND NOW
Commemorating the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide.

The Armenian Genocide occurred a century ago in the context of wide-scale ethnic-religious cleansing in the Turkish heartland as the Ottoman Empire unravelled. Between 1915-1923, some 1.5 million Armenians, some 500,000 Greeks and up to 750,000 Assyrians had been savagely murdered, or deported and starved to death. The West abandoned and betrayed its Christian allies thinking its interests lay in a pro-Muslim foreign policy. Today, history is repeating itself as Muslim forces exploit the chaos in Syria and Iraq towards eradicating Christianity. As in 1915 Christians are being eliminated and all the West offers is a shroud of deathly silence and a campaign of propaganda against anyone who would assist Christians. These are days for the Church to repent and  to rise in solidarity with the persecuted.

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Churches and fellowships using the Summary above might also provide a copy of the listed prayer points to be used in their worship by people who are leading in intercessory prayer.
 
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

RLPB 305. SYRIA: Situation Critical

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 305 | Wed 15 Apr 2015

SYRIA: SITUATION CRITICAL
-- an extended RLPB
By Elizabeth Kendal

Syria might exist in theory, but not in reality. After four years of war, Syria is little more than a patchwork of sub-state entities protected by militias. President Assad and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) are fighting to protect the coastal province of Latakia and the north-south corridor between Damascus and Aleppo. Dominated by Alawites, this ethnic-religiously mixed entity includes Druze, Shi'ites, Armenian and Assyrian Christians and the secular Sunni business elite.
click on map to enlarge

To the above end, Idlib's fall to Jaysh al Fateh (the al-Nusra-led 'Army of Conquest') [see RLPB 303 (1 April)] could be a game-changer. Bordering Turkey, Idlib extends south like a wedge between the coastal Alawite stronghold of Latakia and the commercial capital of Aleppo. Idlib extends into the north-south corridor with a large section of the M5 Damascus-Aleppo Highway passing through it. Latakia and Aleppo are both imperilled. Aleppo now has al-Qaeda to the west, Turkey to the north and Islamic State (IS) to the east. Furthermore, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are planning a military alliance (comprised of Turkish ground troops and Saudi air-cover) to assist the jihadists (whom they refer to as 'Syrian opposition'). They may even install an alternative government in Idlib, Libya-style. For the Sunni powers, the US-Iran nuclear deal has brought a new level of urgency to the conflict. They believe that if regime change (the political-religious realignment of Damascus) is going to happen it must happen now as Iran is only going to grow stronger. Accordingly the war is about to move to a new level at a time when borders have closed and getting out of Syria has become virtually impossible.

* NORTH-WEST: IDLIB

On 31 March, just days after entering Idlib City, foreign fighters from al-Nusra (al-Qaeda) publicly executed two Christian citizens -- Elias Naguib (83) and his son Nael Elias (44) -- after learning they owned a shop that sold liquor (probably a licensed grocery store). Having refused to abandon the Christian remnant ahead of the Jaysh al Fateh offensive, Father Ibrahim Farah (57) of the Antiochian Orthodox Church of Idlib City, has now been abducted along with several from his church's congregation. According to Middle East Concern, they are to be tried in an Islamic court, although no details of charges or demands have yet emerged. Christians have been ordered to submit and pay the 'jizya' (protection money) or leave Idlib. Most have fled to the port city of Latakia, many bearing shrapnel wounds and deep trauma. One father got his 9-year-old daughter out of Idlib via sewerage channels; his parents remain in the city. The Syrian government will fight vigorously to regain control over Idlib. The mostly frail Christian remnant remaining in the city will have to survive not only al-Qaeda but massive aerial bombardment.

* NORTH: ALEPPO
Islamic State (IS) has launched an offensive in Aleppo Province, where it is fighting mostly other Islamic groups for total control of the region (according to Stratfor 10 April).
rebel 'hell canons'  (Reuters)
Amidst this, al-Nusra has been shelling government-held areas of Aleppo City. From 9 pm on 10 April (Good Friday), well into the next day, rockets rained down on the mostly Armenian and Assyrian Sulaimaniyah district, killing more than 20 Christians, including children. Al-Nusra also launched 'barrel bombs' / improvised shells into the market in central Maadi district, killing 20 more civilians (including Christians). They also detonated a huge tunnel bomb near the air force intelligence headquarters before attempting (unsuccessfully) to storm the base. Intensive fighting continues.

* NORTH-EAST: HASEKA
Contiguous with Iraq's Nineveh Province, Haseka is part of the historic Assyrian homeland. Largely abandoned by the government, the fight for Haseka is now predominantly between IS and the Kurds. On 23 February IS fighters drove Christians from a chain of 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabour River, taking up to 300 Assyrians captive [see RLPB 298 (24 Feb 2015)]. IS is now demanding a ransom sum of $100,000 for each captive (about $30 million) knowing full well this sum of money is simply unattainable. Furthermore, reports have emerged that IS is transporting large groups of Christian captives to strategic battlefield areas and using them as human shields in their fight against Kurdish and Christian militias. A leader with the Assyrian Church of the East, Younan Talia, laments: 'The international outcry from international leaders has been silent.'

* SOUTH: DARAA & DAMASCUS

On 1 April armed groups including al-Nusra (al-Qaeda) seized control of the Nasib border crossing into Jordan, forcing the Syrian Arab Army to retreat and opening the way (temporarily) for free movement of trained jihadists into Daraa and severing a major Syrian government supply line. By 6 April an alliance of Al-Nusra and IS fighters had seized control of Yarmouk, a Palestinian ghetto/'camp' just 6km south of Damascus.  In the south, al-Qaeda is based in the Qalamoun Mountains between Lebanon and Syria where they co-operate with IS. Analysts suspect al-Nusra and IS fighters will seek to cut the M5 Highway between Damascus and Homs (in the centre), which would leave Damascus, Latakia and Aleppo isolated and encircled. Should that happen, Iran may well take control of the Syrian conflict to ensure that Damascus remains aligned with the 'Axis of Resistance'. 

* GUILT

In September 2014 the US voted to resume sending arms to 'moderate Syrian rebels', including the anti-tank missiles that proved so critical in the battle for Idlib. If jihadists do manage to enter Damascus, Latakia or Aleppo, then those who armed, trained, funded and empowered them must share the guilt of the resulting genocide. Whilst Muslim Turks, Arabs and Persians do not care what happens to Christians, the West -- and most certainly the Church -- should. In the words of Father Elias Hanout (38), the parish priest in Izraa (in the south, midway between Daraa and Damascus), 'If the West wants Syria to remain a country for Christian people, then help us to stay here; stop arming terrorists.'

Father Elias Hanout with his family (cnewa.org)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Holy Spirit of God will move powerfully amongst his precious, faithful people to provide comfort, assurance, peace and grace amidst hardship, terror, uncertainty and betrayal. 'You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.' (Isaiah 26:3,4 ESV)

* the Lord our shepherd will lead his threatened and imperilled people through these dark days; may the Lord give all Christian leaders great spiritual discernment, wisdom, courage and conviction to lead his people according to his good will and purpose. 'Your way was through the sea, your path through the great water; yet you footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.' (Psalm 77:19,20 ESV).

* our Sovereign and merciful God will intervene in Mesopotamia, so that Western powers will stop backing regional powers and fuelling the conflict; may they instead start supporting the region's vulnerable minorities and establishing safe havens for the prevention of genocide.

'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40 NIV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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SYRIA: SITUATION CRITICAL

In September 2014 the US government resumed sending weapons to the 'moderate Syrian opposition', including anti-tank missiles critical in al-Qaeda's conquest of Idlib. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are planning a military alliance to aid the 'moderate Syrian opposition'. They believe the US-Iran nuclear deal will empower Iran and regime-change in Damascus must happen now before the window of opportunity closes. Over Easter al-Qaeda forces shelled Christian districts of Aleppo, killing dozens and wounding many more. Meanwhile, IS has launched offensives in both Aleppo Province (north) and Damascus (south). A coalition of al-Qaeda and IS fighters now controls Yarmouk, a southern suburb of Damascus just 6km from its CBD. The war is escalating markedly at a time when escaping from Syria is virtually impossible. Please pray for Syria's remnant Christians.

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