23 September 2014
The book of the Gospels is seen during during an ecumenical prayer service for Middle Eastern peace in Washington on 9 September. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
What does it mean to defend Christians in the Middle East? This week, National Catholic Reporter explores that question — and gets some answers from CNEWA:
As many minority Christians in the region — already buffeted by decades of social marginalization and political instability and experiencing a historic bottoming out of their ranks — now face barbaric forms of persecution in places like Iraq and Syria, the questions have taken on a newfound significance. The issue has become all the more important here in America, where the effort to raise public awareness of their plight is still in its nascency (and susceptible to political opportunism), and the nation is, again, on the brink of war.
Interviews with experts — and the words of Middle East Christians themselves — suggest two answers. The first has to do with the legacy of Christians in the region.
“The center of the church in its formative years was in the area we now call the Middle East,” said the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s Michael La Civita. He called the Christian presence in the Middle East “absolutely vital” to the development of both Eastern and Western civilization.
“So many of the great works of our classical Greco-Roman heritage would have been lost, but they were preserved by the Eastern churches, by the monasteries,” La Civita said. “The monks were scholars, they preserved books, transcribed them into Copt, Syriac and Armenian,” ancient languages still spoken by Middle East Christians today. “With the advent of Islam, the various Muslim courts appropriated the services of these Christians. They gave to the Muslim Arabs geometry and astronomy, and classical philosophy, all of which then the Muslim Arabs brought back to us, through Sicily and Spain.”
Asked what the loss of the Christian presence would mean to Christianity, La Civita said: “Culturally, liturgically, it would be a great loss to the church of Christ if its Eastern roots were severed. It would be a tremendous loss — a tremendous loss.”
There’s much more. Read it all at the NCR link.
23 September 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA
Lt. General William C. Mayville Jr. speaks about the bombing campaign in Syria, on 23 September in Washington, DC. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
U.S. airstrikes expand to Syrian city of Aleppo (Los Angeles Times) Even as it launched sweeping new airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, the U.S. military said Tuesday that it had expanded the campaign to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, targeting an offshoot of Al Qaeda said to be plotting “imminent” attacks against American and Western targets. A total of eight U.S. air attacks carried out in Syria’s largest city were aimed at the Khorasan Group, described in a U.S. Central Command statement as an organization of Al Qaeda veterans. The Aleppo campaign marked an expansion of the bombing effort launched initially against strongholds of the Islamic State in eastern Syria, conducted by U.S. planes, drones and ships with the help of five Arab nations. The strikes indicate that the U.S. air campaign in Syria has broader objectives than going after the Islamic State, the target of the attacks in eastern Syria…
Do Syrians support U.S. airstrikes in Syria? (Al Monitor) As a wary United States Congress passed a resolution authorizing the president to arm Syrian rebels against the Islamic State (IS), and as U.S. military planners consider airstrikes against IS in Syria, Al Monitor’s Syria Pulse covered how Syrians, suffering from more than three years of war, might react. Khaled Attalah reports from Damascus that Syrians there prefer a political solution to the war rather than U.S. airstrikes. Attalah writes, “After mobilizing its allies from around the world, the White House hopes that by using force and launching airstrikes, the IS threat will disappear. However, the Syrian people are not only hoping to be rid of this terrorist group, but also the bloody bottleneck they have been living through for more than three years.” Reporting from the Al Bab region, an IS stronghold east of Aleppo, Al Monitor columnist Edward Dark writes that the prospect of U.S. airstrikes is being greeted with more anxiety than enthusiasm, and could redound to the advantage of IS…
Iraq’s minorities demand weapons, training (Al Monitor) Following the huge regression in the situation of Iraq’s minorities after IS took control of many of the regions where they reside, these groups — including Christian and Yazidi populations — were left with no choice but to call for being armed and trained to protect themselves from the attacks they have witnessed from extremists. This call has not been limited to arming a specific minority, but rather became a mass call advocated by leaders, political parties, activists and individuals in various ways…
Abbas to reveal plan at U.N. to end occupation (Al Jazeera) This week Palestinian officials are busy working on different diplomatic tracks to push forward a new proposal at the United Nations to end Israel’s occupation, work on internal divisions, and hold talks with Israel on cementing a truce in the besieged Gaza Strip. These efforts are taking place in Cairo starting Tuesday, and at the United Nations in New York City throughout the week, as the General Assembly gathers for its 69th session to discuss a wide range of issues; from Syria and Iraq to the Ebola crisis…
Ukraine rebels withdraw artillery (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s government says its forces and pro-Russian separatists have begun withdrawing heavy artillery in the east of the country as part of efforts to implement a still shaky ceasefire. The withdrawal comes amid pressure on Ukraine’s president and concerns that the country will receive less support from a key ally…
Pope: Respond to ‘globalization of migration’ with ‘globalization of charity’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis calls for “more decisive and constructive action” to deal with the phenomenon of migration, saying this will lead to “greater effectiveness in the fight against the shameful and criminal trafficking of human beings, the violation of fundamental rights, and all forms of violence, oppression and enslavement…”
Islamists destroy Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Deir Ezzor (PanArmenian.net) The Islamic State has destroyed the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Deir Ezzor, Syria, news agencies in the Middle East reported, according to The Armenian Weekly. Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian issued a statement condemning the destruction of the church, calling it a “horrible barbarity…”
22 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Syrian Civil War Palestine
CNEWA is partnering with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, such as Sister Antoinette, shown here on the left distributing clothes to Iraqi refugees. (photo: CNEWA)
In spite of the lack of resources, Jordanians are still receiving Iraqi Christian refugees. Our team in Amman has visited the many parish centers housing these families. Here is what we have learned:
- At the beginning, the Jordanian government granted visas for 1,000 Christians to flee to Jordan in agreement with the churches. But now the door is open, and many more are arriving every day. There are seven church centers full of Iraqis with no room to accommodate more; therefore, many have no choice but to rent a house or stay on the streets, knowing that houses are not easy to find, and rents are very expensive even for locals. So, you find more than one family living in a house of two bedrooms — up to 20 people sharing the space and paying rent that exceeds $700 per month. Most of the rented houses are empty (cheaper than furnished); we saw Iraqis sleeping on a thin mattress or on the ground.
- The centers, mainly the halls of the churches, are not designed to host people. All were designed to serve the parishioners’ multipurpose activities. It’s not a proper place to host a large number of people. Also, facilities (such as bathrooms) are not available in the halls. Most showers and kitchens were built outside. Refugees have to walk in an uncovered area and wait in line; it will only get worse when winter comes.
Many refugees are crowded into small spaces, with little privacy. (photo: CNEWA)
Sister Antoinette and parish volunteers help distribute mattresses — gifts from CNEWA’s benefactors — to newly arrived refugees. (photo: CNEWA)
- Parishes were so kind to receive the Iraqis at their churches’ halls — sacrificing the income they receive from renting out the halls, which helps pay for salaries and bills of the parishes. But the parishes still have to face unexpected expenses without any idea of how long this situation will last or how they will meet their expenses.
- Most of the parishes are poor, especially the ones located in major centers like Ashrafiyeh and Zerqa. They don’t have enough resources to rehabilitate and maintain their facilities. During our visit, we noticed damages to infrastructure due to the humidity, with leaking roofs, broken windows, no bathrooms or showers. Parish centers also need water tanks, stoves, large refrigerators, kitchens, and kitchen supplies, heaters, blankets, mattresses, etc.
- Another issue facing the Iraqis hosted by churches is the matter of privacy, especially for the women who are sharing space with too many people, along with one or two bathrooms and showers.
- All Iraqis who recently arrived — whether staying at centers or houses — are suffering from stress. They have lost trust in everyone. And they need everything, from personal items to food, medicines and medical treatment, milk and diapers for children. Many are worried about their relatives, who couldn’t leave Iraq, and they told us very depressing and heartbreaking stories about their fleeing from Da’ash (ISIS).
- We asked the Iraqis how they felt about going back to Iraq, if it became peaceful and safe again. The answer was no, never.
- When refugees arrive, they contact the United Nations. The U.N. starts gathering the individuals’ information in order to prepare a file, and then hands each family a refugee document — a separate document for each son and daughter older than 18. Their next meeting is to take place four to six months after they arrive. Those who were in the first wave will have their second meeting in December 2014.
CNEWA has responded to these needs with an initial disbursement of $72,500 in funds to five parish centers. Among other things, the funds are providing water, electricity, food, clothing, health care and psychological treatment to refugees.
The need remains great. Please visit our giving page to learn how you can help these refugees.
This young father was beaten and his leg smashed by ISIS before he was able to flee to Jordan.
22 September 2014
In Jordan, a young refugee from Iraq proudly shows the emblem he painted on the wall in his cramped shelter: the Arabic letter for “N,” meaning Nazarene, or Christian. Back in his home in Iraq, it is the letter ISIS painted on houses to designate the homes of Christians, marking them for persecution or punishment. Thousands of refugees from Iraq, like this little boy, have found shelter in parishes in Jordan — but their struggles are far from over. Read the latest report
from our CNEWA staff. (photo: CNEWA)
22 September 2014
Syrian Kurds carry their belongings after crossing in to Turkey near the Syrian border on 21 September, near the southeastern town of Suruc. (photo: Getty Images)
Turkey clamps down on Syria border after Kurdish unrest (BBC) Turkey has begun to close some of its border crossings with Syria after about 130,000 Kurdish refugees entered the country over the weekend. On Sunday Turkish security forces clashed with Kurds protesting in solidarity with the refugees. Before the latest influx, there were already more than one million Syrian refugees in Turkey. On Friday Turkey opened a 19-mile section of the border to Syrians fleeing the town of Kobane, also known as Ayn al Arab. But on Monday only two out of nine border posts in the area remained open, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said…
Oil-rich Kirkuk in Iraq’s north fears attack by Islamic State (Los Angeles Times) In recent weeks, international attention has focused on Islamic State advances elsewhere in the Kurdish region, such as near the strategic Mosul dam and the city of Irbil, capital of semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. U.S. airstrikes have helped push back the militants — and provided a tactical and psychological lift for peshmerga fighters, who fell back last month in a humiliating retreat. The Kurds have since regrouped and regained ground. For now, their heartland to the north seems secure. But commanders acknowledge that the peshmerga, despite their fearsome reputation, are stretched thin, ill-equipped and have little recent battle experience. Perhaps no place in the sprawling zone under Kurdish authority is as vulnerable as Kirkuk province, long the focus of competing regional and international interests. For decades, its immense petroleum reserves have been a blessing and a curse…
More than 3,000 Gazan children wounded in war (Al Monitor) According to statistics published by the Ministry of Health in Gaza, the death toll of the Israeli war on Gaza includes 540 child deaths, which represents 25 percent of the entire death toll. Over 3,000 children were injured, some of whom have had their limbs amputated or are in critical condition…
Pope: Culture of “tolerance”, “fraternity” in Albania (Vatican Radio) Although the plane trip from Albania to Rome was only 90 minutes, it still left time for Pope Francis to give what has become a traditional post-trip in-flight interview with journalists. During the press encounter, Pope Francis stressed that he was impressed “from the beginning” by the youth of the country, and noted the cooperation among the three major religions: Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Catholicism. He reiterated the importance of the culture of “living together,” “tolerance” and “fraternity” in the Balkan country…
19 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Syrian Civil War Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Albania
An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter holds a position in Bartella, east of Mosul, Iraq, after clashes with ISIS on 16 September. (photo: Sivan Siddik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
During the ISIS invasion of the Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain on 6 August 2014, Christians were mainly displaced from nine villages:
- In the center of the plain, to the east side of Mosul, four Christian towns and villages were invaded by ISIS and all inhabitants were displaced: Qaraqosh (also named Bakhdida), Qaramlesh, Bartella and Baashiqa.
- To the north of Mosul, five towns and villages were displaced, but only four of them were invaded by ISIS militants: Tal Keif, Batnaya, Baaqoufa, Tal Eskef, and, further to the north, Al Qosh village.
As a matter of fact, ISIS never gained control of Al Qosh, but came within 20 miles of the village. Most of the families left Al Qosh; some men stayed to guard the village in case ISIS broke through.
Qaraqosh, the town with the largest displaced population (around 45,000 Christians), is located about 45 miles southeast of Al Qosh. At present, the Kurdish military forces are trying to regain land in the area around the village. But all regained small villages were initially inhabited by Kurds. And the nearest Christian village to Al Qosh, Tal Eskef, is still under the control of ISIS militants.
Following the liberation of the Mosul dam and the surrounding small villages by the Peshmarga forces backed by the U.S. air raids, the Christians of Al Qosh felt more secure and decided to return back to their homes. According to our church partners, around 500 Christian families have so far returned.
It is important to mention that the return of families to Al Qosh was relatively easy because their houses were not invaded and looted by ISIS; on the contrary, they returned to find everything as they left it.
On Tuesday, 16 September 2014, a senior officer with the Peshmerga forces confirmed that ISIS militants were booted from four villages — Hassan al-Sham, Syudan, Bahra and Jisr al-Khadhr, all located in the Nineveh plain between Erbil and Mosul. But these villages are also at least 15 miles away from the nearest Christian town of Qaraqosh.
It is worth mentioning that displaced Iraqi Christian families are suffering from a real crisis of trust. They lost confidence in the intentions of the central government of Baghdad, in the Kurdish authority, and in the Peshmerga who withdrew their forces from the Nineveh Plain overnight, leaving tens of thousands of Christian families defenseless.
I think even if their villages are liberated soon, the Christians will be very reluctant and hesitant to return back before getting some international protection and proper indemnities for the losses caused by the invasion and looting activities of the ISIS militants. I believe at present the displaced Christians of Iraq have confidence only in their churches and church people; all efforts should be directed toward empowering the local church to accompany those victims in their walk through harsh roads.
To support these Christians in their moment of need, visit our giving page — and please remember to keep them in your prayers.
19 September 2014
The board of CNEWA Canada met recently in Québec and, among other things, discussed the ongoing campaign to help Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
The Canadian Catholic TV network Salt + Light reported on the meeting. Check out the clip below.
19 September 2014
Armenian Katarine Hoveian, 91, has lived alone for 25 years. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
Pope Francis today met with the president of Armenia. The Summer edition of ONE includes a poignant look at some of those citizens the president serves, notably the elderly:
Since the earthquake, the population of Gyumri has dropped by about half. In 1988, some 220,000 people lived in the city. But by 2011 — due to the earthquake and the country’s economic collapse after it achieved independence from an unraveling Soviet Union — Gyumri’s population declined to 121,500. Many are convinced the actual number of people living in the city is less than 90,000.
According to the United Nations, Armenia is among the world’s “aging” nations. Pensioners constitute some 14 percent of the country’s 2.9 million people. In Gyumri, the average age is trending upward as more and more of the young and capable pursue employment abroad, usually Russia.
“Imagine how things stand with the frail elderly if men leave their children to go find jobs to earn their living, if unemployment is 40 percent in the city during the summer, and rises to 60 percent in the winter due to fewer seasonal jobs,” says Sister Arousiag Sajonian of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
“If the young cannot survive, how can seniors?” asks Sister Arousiag, who arrived in northwestern Armenia soon after the earthquake. She later founded the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Center in Gyumri, which since 2011 has also included a center to care for the elderly.
Observers say pensioners in northern Armenia are left alone with no caretakers for a variety of reasons. Some may have lost their children in the earthquake. Others lost their children to emigration. But alone in Gyumri exists the phenomenon of orphaned children brought by the Soviets to work in factories — orphans such as Ophelia Matevosian — who never married or created families and remain alone.
Read more about those Shaken by the Earthquake of Life in the Summer edition of ONE.
19 September 2014
Pope Francis walks next to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan during a meeting at the Vatican on 19 September. (photo: CNS/Andrew Medichini, pool via Reuters)
Turkey opens border to Syrians fleeing ISIS (BBC) Turkey has allowed thousands of Syrian Kurds fleeing Islamic State (IS) militants to cross its southern border, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. TV footage showed exhausted people, mostly women and children, crossing into the south-eastern border village of Dikmetas under tight security. The move followed clashes with Turkish Kurd protesters who were calling for the refugees to be allowed in. Syrian Kurds have been massing along the Turkish border since Thursday...
Pope meets with president of Armenia (VIS) This morning Pope Francis received in audience the president of the Republic of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, who subsequently met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States. During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the development and strengthening of bilateral relations, highlighting the special role of Christianity in the history and life of Armenian society...
Will bishops at upcoming Synod understand the challenges of India? (UCANews) At least one Indian archbishop will speak at the Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis in Rome a fortnight from now. Having served in Delhi as the apostolic nuncio at a critical time in the country’s political history, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri is an old India hand. But will that be sufficient to have post-synod documents reflect the South Asian reality as a matter of conjecture, and hope?...
Religion still leads the way in Egypt (The Guardian) When protesters successfully called for the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi last year, part of their rhetoric played on fears that Egypt's first democratically elected president and his Muslim Brotherhood were seeking to turn the country into a theocracy. Yet 14 months on, religion and politics are as interwoven as ever — and Morsi’s successors in government are leading the way...
18 September 2014
Tags: Syria India Egypt Turkey Armenia
Iraqi Christians from Qaraqosh, who were forced to flee from advancing Islamic State militants, rest at a makeshift shelter near Erbil, Iraq, last week. Kurdish forces have reportedly taken back several nearby Christian villages in northern Iraq. (photo:CNS/Mohamed Messara, EPA)
Some encouraging news this week from northern Iraq, via AFP:
Kurdish Peshmerga forces on Tuesday recaptured seven Christian villages in northern Iraq in clashes with Islamic State (IS) jihadists, an officer and a cleric said.
Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and dozens of other villages were all but emptied in what Christian leaders described as the worst disaster for the minority in centuries.Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, most of them Chaldeans, fled their homes when IS militants launched a renewed drive in the north in early August.
On Tuesday, Peshmerga forces ousted IS militants from seven villages west of the Kurdish capital Erbil during fighting in which rockets and mortar rounds were used, a senior officer said.
“We liberated those villages with the support of US aircraft,” Major Sardar Ali said, referring to the Nineveh plains area between Erbil and Mosul, the main IS hub in Iraq.
The United States, whose air force has been targeting IS jihadists in the area since early August, has yet to confirm it carried out the latest reported strikes.
The Peshmerga, the main security forces of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, are receiving arms and ammunition from countries including the United States and France.The officer said many of the homes were booby-trapped by the jihadists before they retreated.
A source in the Catholic Chaldean church told AFP that Kurdish forces had made progress Tuesday.
“The peshmerga managed to liberate several villages... (IS) militants have now fled from there,” the cleric said on condition of anonymity.
The villages were important because of their location close to the towns of Bartalla and Qaraqosh, he added.
Read more at the AFP link.
Thousands of Iraqi Christians today are homeless, living in tent cities and makeshift housing. You can help give them what they need to survive. Visit our giving page to learn how.