Chaldeans On Line

THE OPPRESSION OF MIDDLE EAST CHRISTIANS:
A FORGOTTEN TRAGEDY
by Dr Walid Phares

Extraordinary diplomatic efforts in recent years have been undertaken to resolve some of the world's most complex, divisive conflicts -in Ireland, Bosnia, and the Middle East. The latter is no closer to resolution. For in the troubled Middle East, Islamic fundamentalism which is seeking to re-ignite the Arab-Israeli conflict, is targeting Christians, Jews and other non-Moslems throughout the Islamic world.

Mideast Christians: Location and numbers

Egypt: The Copts of Egypt - Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants -are estimated to be between 1O to 12 million, dispersed across the country. They are the descendants of the ancient Egyptian people living under the Pharaohs. Their number shrunk after the Arab- Moslem invasion in AD 74O and flourished under the British in the 19th century. One million Copts live in the diaspora, particularly in the United States and Canada Sudan: Seven million black Africans live in the south. Most of these tribes are Christians -Anglicans, other Protestants, and Catholics- Since the Islamic conquest, the Africans of Nubia were displaced to the south. As a result of an Islamist takeover in the north in 1989, they are submitted to ethnic cleansing and forced to abandon their faith. One million south Sudanese are exiled.

Lebanon: The Christians -Maronites, Orthodox, Melkites and other communities including Protestants- are about 1.5 million. Since 1975, hundred of thousands were massacred, displaced and exiled. After 199O, the Christian areas of Lebanon are under Syrian occupation. There are more than seven million Lebanese Christians in the diaspora. More than 1.5 million Americans are from Lebanese descent.

Iraq: About one million Christian Assyrians, Nestorians (Orthodox) Chaldeans (Catholics), and others (Evangelicals, Jacobites) live in Iraq. Most of the Christians are concentrated in the north. The Assyrians are submitted to a cultural and political repression. Around one million Christian Mesopotamians live in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Syria: One million Christian are Syrian citizens. Deprived from their cultural and educational rights, Syria's Aramaeans, Armenians, Orthodox and Melkites, are present in the north east and the major cities.

Iran: Five hundred thousand Persian, Armenian and Assyrian Christians from all denominations live in constant fear under the Islamic Republic of Iran. Christian spiritual leaders are executed by the government.

Mideast Christians under attack

In Lebanon, where Christians enjoyed constitutionally guaranteed parity until a few years ago, hundreds of Christians are arrested, tortured and jailed by pro-Syrian forces. In the south of Lebanon, thousands of Christians are bombarded constantly by Hizbollah. In the event of an Israeli withdrawal, the Christian community will be threatened by Islamist militias. Similarly, dozens of Christian villages in Egypt are routinely attacked by the Islamists. As an example, the village of Manshiet Nassr in Upper Egypt has been attacked by Islamic fundamentalists repetitively. Dozens were killed or injured. Today, South Sudanese Christians are being killed by the Islamist forces of Khartoum. Entire villages are being destroyed by the Arab government of the north. Yet these tragedies, like others in the Moslem world go unreported by the Western media and unchallenged by Western leaders.

These examples are not isolated events. Nor is the neglect they receive from the press and world governments. Thus, the public in the United States is largely unaware of the "Middle East" that non-Moslems of the region know all too well. Non-Muslims are targeted by Islamic fundamentalists, who are tacitly encouraged by governments of the region who, at best, do nothing to stop them and, at worst, are actively leading the pogroms.

The collective suffering

Middle East Christians suffer collectively. Yet few people in the West are aware of the size of the Christian communities in the Middle East. The common image of Middle Eastern Christianity is that it is limited to a few
groups or individuals among the Palestinian population. In reality the Palestinian Christians are only a fragment of the millions of Christians from Sudan to Armenia: more than ten million Copts live in Egypt, seven million Christians
and Animists in South Sudan, 1.5 million Christians in Lebanon, about one million Assyro-Chaldeans in Iraq, a million Christians in Syria, and 5OO thousand in Iran, among others. The fact is that the Middle East is not entirely Arab nor entirely Moslem. The Arab-Israeli confrontation is not the only conflict in the Middle East. Centuries earlier, a major invasion occurred from Arabia, ushering in domination by Arabs and Moslems in Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt. Gradually the new conquerors attempted to assimilate millions of Christians, transforming the conquered nations into "Arabized" and "Islamized" populations. Those who were not assimilated by the Arabs became a second class citizens called the "dhimmis," deprived from their basic political, social and economic rights.

Survival and Rights

Despite the continuous oppression of these Middle Eastern communities for 13 centuries, many national groups survived and struggled to restore their freedom. In the beginning of this century the Copts of Egypt, the Assyro-Chaldeans of Iraq, the South Sudanese, and the Lebanese Christians, tried to obtain independence. But the Arab powers in the region denied these Christians their natural right to self-determination. At the expense of the Middle East Christians, Arab identity and Islamic domination were established in the region.

The impact of Israel

The creation of the state of Israel was perceived as a major positive development in the eyes of other non-Arabs. Indeed, the Middle East Christians considered the rebirth of Israel and the ingathering of the Jewish People on its historical land as a promise of their own future liberation. The Jewish success demonstrated that Christians can achieve similar goals. For decades, secretly or openly, Christians from countries including Lebanon, Iraq or Sudan have praised the Israeli model and attempted to imitate it. This attraction between Israel and the Middle East Christians challenged the Arab-Islamic order in the region.

The Arabist strategy

In reaction to the Jewish State, the Arabist strategy since the forties has been the following:

- To claim that the Middle East is an Arab and Moslem region. This claim is directed not only at Israel, but all Non-Arab, Non-Moslem populations in the region. \
- To isolate Non-Arab, Non-Moslem groups from one and another.
- To eliminate the minorities within their borders, by one means or another.

These strategies have been in effect in the Middle East for decades. The Assyrians were massacred in Iraq, then the South Sudanese, followed by the Christians of Lebanon and the Copts in Egypt. For example, in 1982, the Arabs applied overwhelming pressure on the United States and Western governments, and used all their influence to abort any agreement between Lebanon and Israel. This episode was followed by the massacre of thousands of Lebanese Christians throughout the eighties and the invasion of their free enclave in 1990.
 
To continue with this example of Lebanon because it is instructive and consistent with patterns throughout the area, one should also note how the Arabist strategy has carefully included a disinformation campaign in the United States. Throughout the war which dragged on for one and a half decades, the "Arabs" were wrongly referred to by the press as a collective group and routinely portrayed as the victims. Israel was the "aggressor," whereas the Syrians were carelessly called "peace keepers" by all too many.What is worst, the public has been all too often mislead by Middle Eastern Christians, often from Lebanese descent, who have historically been the leaders of the Arab lobbies in this country. These individuals, who do not represent the causes of their motherland, perpetuated the interpretation (and sometimes even advocated the demands) of the Arabists, both in the region and in the United States.

Another trend was to block favorable American policies toward the Christians of the Middle East and toward Israel, within the Administration and throughout the various bodies of Government. More particularly, efforts were aimed at destroying any attempt to build bridges between the Middle Eastern (specifically Lebanese) Christians and the Jewish community. The Arab lobby waged several campaigns to discredit the Middle East Christians.

The Middle East's Christian Strategy

Since its inception, the Middle East Christian Committee (MECHRIC) have advanced the following strategy as a way to rebuild the legitimacy of the Christian cause in the Middle East:

1. To confront the Islamist strategy through alliance. This effort is currently aimed at building a coalition of Copts, Lebanese Christians, Assyrians and South Sudanese, in order to represent these forgotten Christian nations. As of 1992, the Middle East Christian Committee (MECHRIC) is speaking on behalf of these resistance movements in the diaspora.

2. To reach the American, European and worldwide Christian public and involve them in supporting the struggle of Middle Eastern Christians.

3. To build an open and historical alliance between American and Middle East Christians, on the one hand, and American Jews and Israelis on the other hand. This union could offer testimony which could expose the Islamists
falsifications and lay the grounds for the emergence of a free and democratic Middle East, which includes and protects all its nations, and in which the Christian peoples of the Middle East, the Jews of Israel and the Arab Moslems can live in harmony.

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