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Christians Defend Cultural Heritage in Muslim-Majority Countries

khachkars

This article was first published in the November 2019 print edition of Christianity Today.

Dozens of men with sledgehammers pound slabs of stone in an otherwise empty mountainous field. Filmed in 2005 by the prelate of northern Iran’s Armenian church, Bishop Nshan Topouzian, the clip purports to show the destruction of khachkars, ornately carved headstones from a Christian graveyard, some dating back to the 6th century.

The site is in Nakhchivan, an enclave of primarily Muslim Azerbaijan geographically separated from the country by primarily Christian Armenia. Iran shares its southern border in the ethnically tangled web of states that make up the Central Asian Caucasus. Russia is to the north, Turkey to the west.

The destruction of more than 2,000 khachkars—in addition to 89 churches, 5,480 cross stones, and 22,000 tombstones—has been labeled “the greatest cultural genocide of the 21st century” by Simon Maghakyan, an Armenian American activist and scholar whose research was profiled in the Guardian. He believes the move represents a campaign by the Azerbaijani government to wipe out its Christian heritage.

“The destruction of these khachkars seems to match in scale and tragedy ISIS’ destruction of Palmyra in Syria and the Taliban destruction of the Bamayan statues in Afghanistan,” said Wissam al-Saliby, advocacy officer at the United Nations for the World Evangelical Alliance.

“This issue goes beyond religious freedom. It is the heritage of mankind.”

But Azerbaijan denies Armenians ever lived in Nakhchivan, and cites similar cultural cleansing…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Saudi Arabia’s Neighbor Defends Religious Freedom of Individuals

This article was originally published by Christianity Today, on September 13.

Bahrain Declaration 2
Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa (center), with Bahrain Declaration attendees. Credit: Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The cause of religious freedom received a significant boost from the Muslim world today. The island Kingdom of Bahrain—connected by bridge to Saudi Arabia—has declared “freedom of choice” to be a “divine gift.”

“We unequivocally reject compelled observance,” states the Bahrain Declaration for Religious Tolerance, released September 13 in Los Angeles with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders in attendance. “Every individual has the freedom to practice their religion, providing they do no harm to others, respect the laws of the land, and accept responsibility, spiritually and materially, for their choices.”

Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa of Bahrain signed as an official envoy of the Gulf nation’s king. Johnnie Moore, a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Rabbi Marvin Heir of the Simon Wiesenthal Center also participated, joining ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Israel.

“The King is acting decisively, courageously, and seriously,” said Moore, noting also Bahrani sponsorship of a religious tolerance center in the capital city of Manama, as well as the sponsorship of a chair in religious coexistence at La Sapienza University in Rome.

“The declaration goes farther than any similar document that I’m aware of.” …

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Bahrain Declaration
Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa, with a Coptic priest. Credit: Simon Wiesenthal Center.