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Christianity Today Europe Published Articles

Bibles Get American Pastor Tangled Up in Turkish Politics

Image: Ryan Keating
Pastor Ryan Keating and his family, in front of his cafe

Will the Turks create another Andrew Brunson?

On the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, they claim to have found his disciple.

Three months ago, American pastor Ryan Keating was detained for 11 hours by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state unrecognized by every nation except Turkey. Its police raided the café and wine shop that housed his church, and then proceeded to his home.

They confiscated dozens of Arabic and Farsi language Bibles.

Keating, 44, was released on nearly $20,000 bail, after local friends bonded deeds to their property, vehicles, and even a tractor.

Last month, Keating was charged with illegally importing Christian materials. His passport has been confiscated while he awaits trial. A fine has been assessed of at least $60,000—ten times the value of the Bibles, which he said is “wildly inflated” to begin with.

The raid, however, was based on the accusation that he did not have a permit to make wine. Yet Keating showed CT his 2018 license to operate the café, his 2019 license for winemaking from the municipality, and the additional requested paperwork from 2020, when his permit renewal was delayed by the customs department.

The interrogation focused only on his ministry.

“This country, its government, and our neighbors have been friendly to us,” he said. “But there are not insignificant pockets of hostile nationalism.”

Keating linked his arrest to the changing political environment. Last October, the pro-Turkey prime minister defeated the incumbent president to assume the territory’s top office.

“My case is an example of localized opposition,” Keating said. “But now, Turkish-style politics is being enforced in Cyprus.”

He was the victim of such politics once before. Resident on the island since 2017, Keating previously lived…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on April 23, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Convictions in Case of Christian Journalist Murdered in Turkey Fail to Satisfy

Hrant Dink, image courtesy of AMAA

Fourteen years later, there is some resolution for the family of the assassinated Turkish-Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink.

But not enough.

“The judgment given today is quite far from the truth,” said the family in its official statement on March 26.

“Not the evil itself but its leakage was punished.”

In 2007, Dink was shot four times in front of the Istanbul office of his bilingual newspaper, Agos. A proponent of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, he aroused official opposition through his passionate focus on the 1915 genocide. Two years earlier he had been arrested and convicted of “insulting Turkishness.”

The killer, a 17-year-old unemployed youth, was given a 23-year sentence in 2011.

But one week before his death, Dink had written an article stating he felt “like a pigeon,” targeted by the deep state “to make me know my place.“

Around 100,000 people attended his funeral, chanting, “We are all Armenians.”

Last week, the Turkish judiciary put 76 people on trial, convicting 26 and handing out 4 sentences of life imprisonment. Two were given to the former director of police intelligence and his deputy, for murder and the subsequent cover-up. The family is not convinced this includes…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on March 31, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Europe Published Articles

Will Caucasus Conflict Come Also to France?

Image: Courtesy of Gilbert Léonian
Gilbert Léonian and his wife in front of their Paris church.

Throughout the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian diaspora rallied in support of an ancient Caucasus mountain homeland they call Artsakh.

Overall, they donated $150 million in economic and humanitarian aid.

In California, they blocked freeway traffic to protest the lack of news coverage.

In Lebanon, they hung banners against Azerbaijani and Turkish aggression.

And in France, they successfully lobbied the senate for a non-binding resolution recognizing Artsakh’s independence. (International law recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory.)

The symbolic vote angered Azerbaijan, which called for France’s removal from the Minsk Group, co-chaired with Russia and the United States and tasked with overseeing negotiations with Armenia since 1994. Turkey has petitioned for a leading role.

But the consequences go beyond regional politics. The controversy could threaten the French social peace, already riled amid President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign against Muslim “separatism.”

Azerbaijan, and especially allied Turkey, also have an extensive diaspora throughout Europe. And last month, their supporters led demonstrations in Armenian neighborhoods in Lyon, vandalizing the Armenian genocide memorial.

France then banned one of the more violent groups, the Grey Wolves.

To gauge the situation, CT interviewed Gilbert Léonian, a Paris-based pastor and president of the Federation of Armenian Evangelical Churches in Europe. Of the roughly 500,000 French people of Armenian origin in France, about 3 percent are evangelical, worshiping across nine churches.

(Like many French pastors across all ethnicities, Léonian studied at the well-known evangelical seminary in Vaux sur Seine, near Paris. He recalled reading CT in the 1970s, as he studied under the renowned theologian Henri Blocher.)

Léonian discussed relations between the ethnic communities, his fears for the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh churches, and his personal struggle to love his Azerbaijani and Turkish neighbors:

To what degree are the Armenian, Turkish, and Azerbaijani communities integrated into secular French society? Do they maintain their respective faiths?

The first Armenians arrived in France in the early 1920s, following the genocide of 1915–1918.

Others came to France in different migratory waves due to insecurity in their countries of origin: Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and more recently, Armenia, following the 1988 earthquake.

Today in France, the Armenian population is mainly established along a south-to-north line from the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles, where the majority of original immigrants arrived and settled, through France’s second largest city of Lyons, and up to Paris.

The Armenian people are deeply religious, and were the first people to accept Christianity as their state religion, in 301 A.D., 12 years before Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Tolerance in 313 A.D. In France, 90 percent belong to the Apostolic [Orthodox] community, in 24 churches. Catholics represent 7 percent, in five churches. Very few Armenians call themselves atheists.

However, we are seeing a major secularization of religious practice, reflecting the general trend in Europe. For many Armenians, the church is more the place where the diaspora maintains its identity and culture, rather than a place where Christian piety is nurtured. There are about 800,000 Turks and 50,000 Azerbaijanis in France, and overall they try…

(Interview and translation by Jean-Paul Rempp.)

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 8, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Audio

Interview: Pilgrim Radio and the Armenian Crisis

Two weeks ago, I was interviewed by Pilgrim Radio about the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

But the primary angle was Turkish repentance. Recently for Christianity Today, I wrote about a movement among Turkish Christians to apologize for the Armenian genocide.

To do so it was necessary to provide context, and also reflect on current events.

Since recording, the conflict ended with a decisive victory for Azerbaijan.

But the story is not yet over. Armenians are leaving their ancient land, as Russia and Turkey work out a new geopolitical arrangement.

Please click here to listen to the recording on Pilgrim Radio, a Christian network operating in the American northwest.

Otherwise, here is the direct link on Soundcloud:

This is the third time I have presented on their program. The first was on the growth of Christianity in the Arabian Peninsula. The second was on Coptic forgiveness of ISIS for the martyrs in Libya.

Thank you for your interest, and I hope you profit from the listening.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Expression

God,

You created this world through the power of your voice.

You revealed your will through the light of your word.

You made us, God, to do no less.

Teach us to articulate well.

With our tongue we bless and curse.

From our heart, our mouth speaks.

We will give account for every word.

Some used these words against the French. Muslims rebuke the insult given their prophet.

Some used these words against the Turks. Armenians condemn the war waged on their people.

Some used these words against the Israelis. Lebanese question the lines drawn into the sea.

And perhaps they are right to do so.

Perhaps they please you in their stance.

Their voice is strong. Their will revealed.

But is there power? Is there light?

A word alone is only vapor.

And so some kill. And so some weep. And so some shrug.

What can be done against the mighty?

God, make us mightier still?

Maybe.

Your power is perfected in weakness.

But it is power still.

Power to hold the tongue. Let freedom rule, but honor reign.

Power to bless the enemy. Establish justice. Prevail with peace.

Power to negotiate well. An equitable share, of your free bounty.

God, let our words create.

An apple of gold in a setting of silver.

And let them speak of you. The very words of God.

Let Lebanon be known through them, an expression of your love.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

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Asia Christianity Today Published Articles

Azerbaijan Evangelicals: Conflict with Armenians Is Not a Religious War

Church of Kish in Azerbaijan, by Asif Masimov

Vadim Melnikov once fought for the land of Noah.

Donning his Azerbaijani uniform 17 years ago, the ethnic Russian took his post to defend Nakhchivan, an Azeri enclave bordering Turkey and separated from their countrymen by the nation of Armenia.

Known in both the Armenian and Azeri languages as “the place of descent,” referring to Noah’s landing on nearby Mt. Ararat, Nakhchivan is a geographical reminder of the mixed ethnic composition of the Caucasus Mountains.

As is Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

Its etymology is also a reminder of the region’s diversity. Nagorno is Russian for mountains, while Karabakh combines the Turkic for black and the Persian for garden.

Armenians call it Artsakh, the name of a province in their ancient kingdom. For the last three weeks, they have been defending their de facto control of the region as Azerbaijan fights to reassert its sovereignty.

As Melnikov did decades ago in Nakhchivan. Armenian soldiers crossed into Azeri mountain villages, before his unit drove them out.

This was one of the many border conflicts that followed a war of demography. But in the years before and after the 1991 independence of both nations, about 30,000 people were killed as hundreds of thousands on both sides fled or were driven to their lands of ethnic majority.

A 1994 ceasefire established the status quo, and the Minsk Group—headed by Russia, France, and the United States—preside over negotiations.

Despite the previous ethnic violence, Azerbaijan boasts that it remains a nation of multicultural tolerance. Of its 10 million population, 96 percent are Muslim—roughly two-thirds Shiite and one-third Sunni. Russian Orthodox represent two-thirds of the Christian population, while over 15,000 Jews date back to the Old Testament era.

Melnikov is part of the 0.26 percent evangelical community. And on behalf of their nation, eight churches and the Azerbaijan Bible Society wrote an open letter to decry the popular conception that this conflict pits Muslims against Christians. (Nearly 700 Armenian soldiers have been killed so far. Azerbaijan does not disclose military casualties.)

“The war which has been between Azerbaijan and Armenia during the last 30 years is purely political confrontation, it has no religious context,” they wrote.

“In fact, this history and [the] continuous attempts of Armenia to present this war as a religious one, can become a stumbling block for many Azerbaijani people, who hear [the] gospel nowadays.” An earlier letter by leaders of Azerbaijan’s Muslim, Jewish, and Russian Orthodox communities…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 21, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Asia Christianity Today Published Articles

Turks and Armenians Reconcile in Christ. Can Azeris Join Them?

By Սէրուժ Ուրիշեան (Serouj Ourishian)

Bahri Beytel never thought he would find Turkish food in Armenia.

An ethnic Turk and former Muslim, the pastor of Bethel Church in Istanbul skipped McDonalds and KFC in Yerevan, the capital city, in order to complete a spiritual mission.

Six years ago, prompted to take a journey of reconciliation, he went in search of an authentic Armenian restaurant—and found lahmajun, a flatbread topped with minced meat, vegetables, and spices.

One letter was off from the Turkish spelling. Smiling, he ordered it anyway, in English.

“Are you a Turk?” snapped the owner—in Turkish—after Beytel pronounced it incorrectly. “God spare me from becoming a Turk.”

The owner’s family hailed from Gaziantep, near Turkey’s border with Syria, which before the genocide was a mixed religious city with a thriving Armenian community. Ignoring the insult, the pastor explained he was a Christian, not a Muslim, and had come to ask for forgiveness on behalf of his ancestors.

Up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1914–1923, as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. Once home to many diverse Christian communities, the modern state was built on a secular but ethnic Turkish foundation.

No Turk can be a Christian, the restaurant owner scoffed. He demanded the secret sign made centuries ago by believers in the catacombs.

Beytel drew the fish.

By the end of the conversation, the man gave him a hug, with a tear in his eye.

“If Turkey takes one step, the Armenians are ready to forgive,” said Beytel, of his time at a conference in the Armenian capital. “It was amazing to hear them call me brother.” There was more to come. One year later…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 21, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Asia Christianity Today Published Articles

Armenians Fight to Hold Ancient Homeland Within Azerbaijan

Fierce fighting has broken out in the Caucasus mountains between the Caspian and Black seas, pitting Christian Armenians versus Muslim Azeris.

But is it right to employ their religious labels?

“Early Sunday morning [Sept. 27], I received a phone call from our representative in the capital city,” said Harout Nercessian, the Armenia representative for the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA).

“He said they are bombing Stepanakert. It is a war.”

One week later, the fighting continues. At stake is control over the Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, home to 170,000 people in a Delaware-sized mountainous region within Azerbaijan.

More than 200 people have reportedly died, though Azerbaijan has not released its number of casualties.

Administered by ethnic Armenians ever since a ceasefire was declared in 1994, locals call the region the Republic of Artsakh. Military skirmishes have not been unusual. There have been more than 300 incidents since 2015, according to the International Crisis Group.

This escalation is the most serious since 2016, with Azerbaijani forces attacking multiple positions along the 120-mile “line of contact.”

But the shelling of civilian cities represents a worrisome development.

As does the role of Turkey—and the Syrian militants it allegedly recruited—which has pledged full support for Azerbaijan.

Russia, France, and the United States—partners in the “Minsk Group” which has overseen negotiations between the two nations since 1992—have called for an immediate ceasefire. But Turkey has encouraged Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s refusal, conditioning a ceasefire on…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 6, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Turkey Turns Another Historic Church into a Mosque

The Turkish government formally converted a former Byzantine church into a mosque Friday, a move that came a month after it drew praise from the faithful and international opposition for similarly turning Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia into a Muslim house of prayer.

A decision by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published in the country’s Official Gazette, said Istanbul’s Church of St. Saviour in Chora, known as Kariye in Turkish, was handed to Turkey’s religious authority, which would open up the structure for Muslim prayers.

Like the Hagia Sophia, which was a church for centuries and then a mosque for centuries more, the historic Chora church had operated as a museum for decades before Erdogan ordered it restored as a mosque.

The church, situated near the ancient city walls, is famed for its elaborate mosaics and frescoes. It dates to the fourth century, although the edifice took on its current form in the 11th–12th centuries.

The structure served as a mosque during the Ottoman rule before being transformed into a museum in 1945. A court decision last year canceled the building’s status as a museum, paving the way for Friday’s decision.

And as with the Hagia Sophia, the decision to transform the Chora church museum back into a mosque is seen as geared to consolidate the conservative and religious support base of Erdogan’s ruling party at a time when his popularity is sagging amid an economic downturn.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the move, saying that Turkish authorities “are once again brutally insulting the character” of another UN-listed world heritage site.

“This is a provocation against all believers,” the Greek ministry said in a statement. “We urge Turkey to return to the 21st century, and the mutual respect, dialogue and understanding between civilizations.”

Protestant believers agree. “The Hagia Sophia is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on August 21, 2020, in cooperation with the AP. I contributed additional reporting. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christian Century Middle East Published Articles

Hagia Sophia’s Muslim Prayers Evoke Ottoman Treatment of Armenians

Via Turkish Presidency

Declared a mosque in principle, Hagia Sophia is now a mosque in practice.

Following his decree earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan’s joined a coronavirus-limited 500 worshipers to perform Friday prayers in the sixth-century Byzantine basilica, underneath the covered frescoes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Hundreds more gathered outside.

International condemnation resounded after the Turkish Council of State ruled to revert the UNESCO World Heritage Site back to its Islamic status. Conquered in 1453 by Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, the massive church was turned into a museum by the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Kamal Ataturk, in 1934.

Underreported in much of the criticism was a wider complaint.

“The action of the Turkish government evokes heavy memories on the desecration and destruction of holy sites of the Armenian people and other Christian nations by the Ottoman government for centuries,” said Garegin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

There are an estimated 11 million Armenians worldwide, including 3 million in their modern nation-state.

Representing the diaspora from the Holy See of Cilicia, in Lebanon, Catholicos Aram I went into more detail.

“Soon after the Armenian Genocide, Turkey confiscated thousands of Armenian churches and transformed them into bars, coffee shops, and public parks,” he said, “ignoring the reactions and appeals of the international community.”

As Erdoğan is doing again now—and not just to the Hagia Sophia.

Turkey has assured the frescoes will be uncovered for all visitors (3.7 million last year) outside of prayer times—and now without a museum entry fee. More than 400 other churches continue to serve the 1 percent of Turks that are Christians.

But Erdoğan’s remarks in Turkish revealed a wider agenda. “The resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the sound of Muslims’ footsteps…”

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 24, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Current Events

Hagia Sophia Converted Back to Mosque by Turkey’s President

As Christians feared and many expected, the Hagia Sophia is now—again—a mosque.

The Turkish Council of State ruled today that the original 1934 decision to convert the sixth-century Byzantine basilica into a museum was illegal.

When Ottoman sultan Mehmet II conquered then-Constantinople, he placed the iconic church in a waqf—an Islamic endowment administering personal property, usually designated for religious purpose. The original stipulations opened the building for Islamic prayers, and sharia law keeps waqf designations in perpetuity.

Shortly after the decision, President Recep Erdogan signed—and tweeted—a decree handing the building to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.

In a televised address to the nation, Erdogan said the first prayers inside the Hagia Sophia would be held on July 24, and he urged respect for the decision.

“I underline that we will open Hagia Sophia to worship as a mosque by preserving its character of humanity’s common cultural heritage,” he said, adding: “It is Turkey’s sovereign right to decide for which purpose Hagia Sophia will be used.”

Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, warned in late June that the building’s conversion into a mosque “will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.”

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II earlier stated that Erdogan “would not dare.”

And UNESCO reminded Turkey of its international obligations, as the Hagia Sophia is registered as a World Heritage site.

“A state must make sure that no modification undermines the outstanding universal value of a site listed on its territory,” the UN body stated.

In response to the Turkish decision, the Russian Orthodox Church expressed regret, stating it could lead to “greater divisions.”

The foreign minister of Cyprus called it a “flagrant violation” against “a universal symbol of the Orthodox faith.”

And in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, protesters gathered outside a church that is modeled on the Hagia Sophia and bears the same name. They chanted, “We’ll light candles in Hagia Sophia!” and held Greek flags and Byzantine banners.

During his address, Erdogan rejected the idea that the decision ends the Hagia Sophia’s status as a structure that brings faiths together. “Like all of our other mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 10, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Despite a Murder and Visa Denials, Christians Persevere in Turkey

Turkey Korean Murder
Image: Source Images: Congin Kim / Annie Spratt / Unsplash

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

Five days after her husband’s murder, Jung Kyung-In named her newborn daughter “God’s Goodness”—in Turkish, not Korean.

Jung moved to Turkey with her husband, Kim Jin-Wook, in 2015. The Korean Christian couple found a place to live in an impoverished district of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, 60 miles from the Syrian border.

Kim worked selling spices, but his real calling, as he understood it, was witnessing to the gospel. He took the Turkish name “Peace,” and his Christian friends in Turkey say he was a great evangelist.

“He shared the gospel in every corner of Diyarbakir without hesitation,” said Ahmet Güvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, which has about 70 members. “He was not aggressive, but clear, and I think local people were uncomfortable with this.”

One day in November, Kim told Jung he was going out to evangelize. He was attacked on the street, stabbed twice in the chest and once in the back. Kim, 41, died of his wounds in a city hospital.

Authorities arrested a 16-year-old boy for the crime. He has allegedly confessed to the murder, saying he was trying to steal Kim’s phone.

Despite her grief, Jung saw this as an opportunity to testify. She wrote a letter to the boy accused of killing her husband.

“I do not understand why you did this, but I cannot be angry at you,” she wrote on her phone.

“Many people want the court to give you a heavy punishment. But I and my husband don’t want this. We pray that you become worthy of heaven, because we believe in the worth of people. God sent his Son Jesus, who forgave those who persecuted him. We also believe in that and we pray that you would also repent of your sin.”

Jung read the letter aloud to the local media. Her testimony was viewed online more than…

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

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Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

Senate’s Genocide Vote Not the Only Good News for Armenian Christians

Armenian Genocide Memorial

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 13, 2019.

Following years of frustration, Armenian Christians worldwide received a double blessing this week.

For the first time in its history, the US Senate recognized the Armenian Genocide. And after 11 years of practical vacancy, the Armenian community in Istanbul, Turkey, elected a new patriarch.

“It is very emotional for the Armenian world, and anyone who wants to see the truth incarnated,” Paul Haidostian, president of evangelical Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon—the only Armenian university in the diaspora—told CT concerning the resolution.

“But it is very obvious this was the opportune moment to be bipartisan.”

Led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, the unanimous passage yesterday drove his co-sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez to tears.

“I’m thankful that this resolution has passed at a time in which there are still survivors of the genocide,” said the Democrat from New Jersey, pausing for 20 seconds before being able to continue. “[They] will be able to see that…

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

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

There’s No One Christian View on Kurds and Turks

Turkish Christians
(Image: Lefteris Pitarakis / AP. Clergy representing minority communities in Turkey gathered Sunday in a monastery in southeastern Turkey to pray for Turkish soldiers fighting in the cross-border operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters.)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on October 24.

As reports circulated that Turkey had violated its five-day pause in operations against the Kurds on the Syrian border, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetoric intensified. If Kurdish fighters did not withdraw from their positions, as agreed between Erdogan and President Donald Trump, Turkey would “crush their heads.”

The front now appears quiet as Turkey has secured its “safe zone” in cooperation with Russia.

In America, as reported in the press, Christian opinion has been almost universal in its condemnation. But the Christian landscape in the Middle East, home to the oldest and some of the most enduring persecuted traditions in the faith, offers a complex array of responses.

CT has previously covered anti-Turkish sentiment from the Syriac, Assyrian, and Protestant communities of the region.

But there is an underreported—and contested—pro-Turkey and anti-Kurdish contingent as well.

Arameans:

“President Trump is right on Syria!” stated Johny Messo, president of the World Council of Arameans, in a press release. “These ‘heroes’ have oppressed vulnerable Arameans, taken their innocent lives, Kurdified their lands, and still use a tiny Christian group as their mouthpiece.”

The Arameans, though an ancient expression of Christianity, represent a 20th-century revival of identity tied to the ancient biblical land of Aram. Communities exist in Syria, Turkey, and elsewhere in the region, and have been recognized by Israel.

While the West has rallied behind the democratic Syrian enclave that permits religious freedom, Messo says what it commonly called Kurdistan is actually…

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

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Armenian Orthodox Leader: ‘We May Forgive One Day, But We Will Never Forget.’

Aram I Armenian Orthodox Church
(Image: Associated Press)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on November 1.

The Armenian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. According to tradition, Armenia was evangelized by Jesus’ disciples Bartholomew and Thaddeus. In 301 A.D., it became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion.

An Oriental Orthodox denomination, the Armenians are in communion with the Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian, and Malankara (India) churches. They differ with Catholics and Protestants over the 451 A.D. Council of Chalcedon decision to recognize Christ as one person with two natures: human and divine. Oriental Orthodox Christians declare Christ has one nature, both human and divine.

The Armenian Church is governed by two patriarchs, entitled Catholicos. One, Karekin II, is Supreme Patriarch for all Armenians and sits in Armenia.

CT interviewed Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, which was once located in modern-day Turkey but since the Armenian Genocide relocated to Antelias, Lebanon, five miles north of Beirut. His jurisdiction includes the Armenians of the Middle East, Europe, and North and South America.

Aram I discussed the genocide, the US House of Representatives resolution this week to finally recognize it, and Armenians’ desired response from Turkey.

How do you respond to the US resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide?

Yesterday I made a statement welcoming warmly this action taken. I believe it is very much in line with the firm commitment of the United States of America in respect to human rights. The rights of the Armenian people are being violated. After more than 100 years, we tried to bring the attention of the international community that the Armenian Genocide is a fact of history.

Whether we call it genocide or massacre or deportation, the intention is important. The intention of the Ottoman Turkish government at the time was to destroy [and] eliminate the Armenian people for political reasons. The presence of Armenian people in the western part of present-day Turkey and [historic] Cilicia was an obstacle to their project of pan-Turkism.

This is our legitimate claim: that the international community make a visible, tangible manifestation of their concern in respect to human rights, and recognize the Armenian Genocide. It was carefully planned and systematically executed by the government at the time.

Our people all around the world warmly greeted this action of the House of Representatives. It is our firm expectation that…

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

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Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

Will US Genocide Resolution Satisfy Armenian Christians?

Armenian Genocide Memorial
(from the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on November 1.

Armenian Americans breathed a sigh of relief this week when the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved Resolution 296 to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Around 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923, as the defeated Ottoman Empire transitioned into the modern Republic of Turkey. Less than half a million survived.

The resolution also mentions the Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Aramean, Maronite, and other Christian victims who lived in Asia Minor and other Ottoman provinces at the time.

If the House legislation is passed in the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump, the United States will be committed to commemorate the genocide, to reject its denial, and to educate people about it in order to prevent similar atrocities in the future.

But if Armenian Americans are finally pleased, the diaspora in the Middle East—much closer to the Turks and the lands taken from their ancestors—demurs.

“It certainly heals some small aspect of our century-long national wound,” said Paul Haidostian, president of the evangelical Haigazian University—the only Armenian university in the diaspora—in Beirut, Lebanon.

“There is some sense of relief. But it should not be exaggerated.”

Nor should it be underestimated, he told CT. All Armenians…

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

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Syrian Christians Brave Insecurity to Stay Behind and Help

Syria Open Doors
via Open Doors USA

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on October 18.

Though most of the fighting has stopped for now, Turkey’s incursion on Kurdish-controlled northern Syria has left another humanitarian crisis in its wake.

Local churches as well as Christian organizations like Open Doors and Preemptive Love Coalition have prioritized caring for the citizens who took the risk to stay behind and helping the displaced return.

Last Saturday night, after three days of Turkish bombing, the Alliance Church of Qamishli met to make a decision. Would they flee for safety, or remain and help?

To some degree they had no choice.

Fadi Habsouna, a father of two, was injured when missiles hit his home and ruined his shop. His wife is in critical condition. His grandfather’s home was destroyed by a bomb. The pastor housed them in church-owned property, and decided to remain to assist the family, and others suffering similarly.

The church agreed; only eight families would leave.

“These are extremely brave people who want to be salt and light in their communities,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, who relayed this story from his field staff. “They want to maintain the presence of Jesus and reach out.”

Open Doors is better known for its advocacy work on behalf of the persecuted; Syria ranks no. 11 on its World Watch List of places hardest to be a Christian. Its local partners keep a low profile in order to provide on the ground assessment. But the crisis in Syria has driven them to humanitarian aid.

It is not the first time. Following the rise of ISIS in 2014, Open Doors helped 150,000 Christians located in camps along the Turkish and Lebanese borders. Now their community hubs are providing food, medical care, hygiene kits, and temporary shelter in the northeast Syrian towns affected by the Turkish incursion.

“Christians have to make hard choices,” Curry said. “Leave the communities they were raised in, move inland, or …”

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Christians Killed on Syria’s Front Lines

Turkey Shelling Syria
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on October 11.

Three Christians have been killed in Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, reported In Defense of Christians (IDC), citing their sources on the ground.

In Qamishli, a Syriac Christian and his wife died, while in Ras al-Ain an additional Syriac Christian civilian was killed. Ten civilians were injured in the attacks.

“People were so scared, they were telling me, ‘They are bombing us right now!’” Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, told NPR. “We think this is a message to the Kurds and Christians there to leave, so Turkey can move refugees there. We think it’s a form of ethnic cleansing.”

The Turkish operation focused initially on a 60-mile stretch of land between the two Arab-majority cities of Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, a sparsely populated area known as Syria’s breadbasket, reported BBC. IDC, which advocates for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, said that this area has large concentrations of Christians.

In total seven civilians were killed, including two children, reported Channel 4. Retaliatory Kurdish mortar fire into Turkey killed…

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Syrian Christians to US: ‘Don’t Abandon Us Now’

Kurds Syria USA
Image: Chris McGrath / Getty Images; The Kurdish-led and American-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) announced the defeat of the Islamic State in at a ceremony in Baghouz in March.

This article was first published by Christianity Today on October 8.

Not long after the defeat of the Islamic State in the area, Syrian Christians warn that US military withdrawal from the Kurdish-controlled region, announced yesterday by President Donald Trump, will expose them to danger.

“The expected military invasion [by Turkey] and the possible confrontation with the Kurds might oblige Christians of the region to leave,” said Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon. “This means one more tragedy to the Christian presence in Syria.”

Seeking to honor his campaign promises to extract America from “endless war,” Trump yielded to Turkey’s demand to establish a “safe zone” along its southern border with Syria. Since August, the United States and Turkey administered a joint buffer zone patrol in the Kurdish-majority area.

Turkey’s objectives are two-fold. First, to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey. Second, to clear the border of Kurdish fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist entity by both Ankara and Washington. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to establish a 20-mile corridor unilaterally, frustrated by US cooperation with Kurdish fighters belonging to the PKK.

The Kurdish-controlled area of northeast Syria stretches 300 miles from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. Approximately 750,000 people live there, including estimates of between 40,000 and 100,000 Christians.

Over 700,000 Christians have fled Syria since 2011. And while some warn of further displacement, others fear a greater threat.

“Turkey aims to kill and destroy us and to finish the genocide against our people,” said a statement issued by…

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The Cost of Religious Freedom

This article was originally published on September 20, 2018, and in the October issue of Christianity Today.

Turkey Iran Sanctions Advocacy
Image: Jonathan Bartlett, via CT.

This article expands my previous coverage of Andrew Brunson and the US-Turkish crisis to include also issues related to advocacy for Christians in Iran.

Why did advocacy succeed for the drug dealers but not the pastor? And what should be made of Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian house church leader released in 2013 after much international advocacy—only to be arrested and beaten this past July?

“Christians engaged in this part of the world always walk a knife edge regarding how to respond to unjust imprisonment,” said Mark Bradley, an author of three books on Iran and Christianity.

“Some prefer to remain under the radar. Others prefer to get as much support from politicians and journalists as possible. It is impossible to know which is more effective.”

Todd Nettleton, chief of media relations for Voice of the Martyrs, said some persecuted Christians hope for sanctions that will either push politicians to reform or the people to revolt.

But with the experience of working in 68 countries, he described others who believe a society unfettered by sanctions leads to openness to the gospel and a demand for rights and freedoms.

“In our work, we encounter Christians living in hostile and restricted nations who fall on both sides of this debate,” he said. “We stand with them regardless of the action or inaction of earthly governments.”

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