Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Unprecedented?

The Plight of Minorities in the Middle East

On Sunday 26 July 2015, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) held a policy forum entitled, 'Policy Solutions for Persecuted Religious Minorities,' as part of the Australia Labor Party FRINGE Program, an event running alongside the Australian Labor Party (ALP) annual national conference in the Melbourne Convention Centre.

The forum, which was hosted by ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton, featured (in order of appearance): Syrian journalist Johnny Abo, Elizabeth Kendal (religious liberty analyst, advocate and author), Chris Hayes (MP), His Grace Bishop Suriel of the Coptic Church and Maria Vamvakinou (MP). The purpose of the forum was to raise awareness of the plight of the Middle East's persecuted and existentially threatened religious minorities, and to propose policy solutions.

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Unprecedented? 
By Elizabeth Kendal
www.ElizabethKendal.com

Iraq’s last official census (1987) counted 1.4 million Assyrians (the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, who are Christian). But as Islamic zeal and Arab nationalism rose in the wake of Gulf War One (1991) persecution escalated and Christians with means emigrated.

By the time of the March 2003 US-led invasion, the Christian population of Iraq was estimated to have declined to between 800,000 and 1.2 million.

By 2010 -- church bombings, killings and kidnappings had caused the Christian population to decline to around 400,000. By this time, the Mandaeans of southern Iraq – a pacifist people who follow the teachings of John the Baptists – preaching righteousness and engaging in regular baptisms for the forgiveness of sins – had been essentially annihilated.

In December 2011 – as the last US troops prepared to withdraw – Archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church gave voice to the pervasive fear, that if the persecution continues with such intensity, “Iraq could be emptied of Christians”.

In Australia, the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) published an open letter to the Prime Minister, appealing for help from the Australian government. The letter included this grave warning:“The slow genocide of the indigenous Assyrians, also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs, in Iraq now sits at the tipping point of a relentless and inexorable genocide, leading to ethnic extinction.” 
After detailing the destruction of churches, the targeted violent persecution of Christians and the desperate flight of more than 600,000 Assyrians since 2003, the AUA letter highlighted the saddest and most shameful aspect of all:“Despite the scale of this human tragedy and the drastic displacement of the Assyrians, the International Community’s response has been almost non-existent and the displaced Assyrians have been left to their demise.”

In March 2013 – on the 10-year anniversary of the US invasion – Canon Andrew White (a.k.a. as the Vicar of Baghdad) estimated that a mere remnant of 200,000 Christians remained – with most hunkered down in Nineveh Province – in the provincial capital Mosul, and in Iraq’s largest Assyrian city, Bakhdida (a.k.a. Qaraqosh).

In June 2014 – ISIS swept into Nineveh, seizing Mosul in a blitzkrieg as tens of thousands of Iraqi security personnel (Shi’ites) fled for their lives, unwilling to defend the city, especially in the face of widespread Sunni support for ISIS.

On Friday 18 July 2014, ISIS – now known as Islamic State (IS) – issued an ultimatum: Christians would have until midday of the next day to either convert to Islam, submit as dhimmis (second-class citizens) and pay the jizya (protection money) – otherwise they would “face the sword”.

Mosul’s remnant Christians departed, causing Archbishop Sako to lament, “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”

displaced Assyrians
In August 2014, IS drove the Assyrians from Qaraqosh and totally ethnically-religiously cleansed the entire Nineveh Plain. The plight of the Yazidis stranded on Mt Sinjar captured the attention of the world. Some 3000 women were taken captive, to be sold as sex-slaves.

Patriarch Louis Sako, issued a statement on 10 Aug 2014, in which he warned that Iraq’s Christians “are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide”.

Lamenting that all the churches from Mosul to the border of Iraqi Kurdistan were now deserted and desecrated, he added, “The level of disaster is extreme.”

In SYRIA meanwhile
– where religious minorities makes up around 25 percent (12% Alawite, 10% Christian) the Syrian government stands as the last line of defence preventing a genocide of the minorities. The threat was made clear from the outset, for when the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood led a “day of rage” in the “Arab Spring” of April 2011, protesters were heard chanting in the streets, “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave”.

As Syria was flooded with international jihadis, the threat became existential.

In March 2013, the northern city of Al-Raqqa became the first provincial capital to fall under rebel control. In Jan 2014, ISIS and al-Nusra split – with al-Nusra concentrating on the Battle for Aleppo, and ISIS assuming full control of Al-Raqqa where they enforced Sharia law without compromise, without mercy. 

In March 2015, Idlib became the second provincial capital to fall under rebel control after a rebel coalition led by al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra, but including several FSA battalions, stormed the city.

Everywhere the rebels have gained control Christians have been forced to flee – many have perished.

In February 2015 – IS fighters raided a string of Assyrian villages along the Khabour River in north-eastern Haseka, displacing thousands. Some 230 Assyrians remain in IS captivity to this day.

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More than 250,000 Armenians
were massacred in the
pogroms of 1894-96.
Armenian Genocide Museum

How many times have you heard it said that the current crisis in the Middle East is “unprecedented”?

Well – I’d like to suggest that it is not the least bit unprecedented

Read up on the last century of the Caliphate: that is, through the 19C to the Armenian Genocide [1915-23]. The threat to minorities is not unprecedented. We have seen all this before!

Read up on the influence of the rabid anti-Semite Haj Amin al-Husseini the Mufti of Jerusalem, who aligned with the Nazis and incited violence against Jews throughout the Balkans and the Middle East. Today the Arab lands are proudly judenrein (free of Jews). So even the elimination of an entire ethno-religious group would not be unprecedented.

Today we lament Western silence in the face of genocide. But this too is not unprecedented. Western governments have routinely abandoned the minorities to their fate and stood idly by in silence as they were driven from their homes and slaughtered.

Why?
  1. Western powers have long believed their “vital interests” are best served by maintaining pro-Arab, pro-Muslim policies.
  2. Western powers have great faith in democracy (reduced these days to elections and majority rule). The trouble is, as Western efforts to democratise the Middle East have converged with Islamic revival, the result, for the minorities, has been catastrophic.
Yes – minority rule might be brutal – but a minority cannot eliminate a majority.

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I believe the Australia government should stand with the persecuted and maintain a foreign policy committed to advancing religious liberty and aiding vulnerable, existentially imperiled minorities.

Concerning those [existentially imperiled minorities] who want to stay in their homeland: I believe we should help them by providing aid directly to them, and by working with regional governments to secure safe havens – particularly a safe haven in the Nineveh Plain, the historic homeland of the Assyrian nation. If safe havens could be made secure – then displaced families could at least get on with educating their children.

Concerning those [existentially imperiled minorities] who just want to leave, because they desperately want their children to have a future: I believe we should help them too by guaranteeing them places in Australia.
Let’s encourage our government to do something really unprecedented and for once, put the plight of existentially threatened minorities ahead of economics, geo-politics and political correctness.

--------------------------


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


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Assyria Day 2015: 'After Saturday Comes Sunday'


The Following address entitled, “After Saturday Comes Sunday” (Arabic: Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad) was delivered in Sydney, Australia, on Assyria Day 28 June 2015.

Organised by Sydney’s “Young Assyrians”, the theme of this year's national Assyria Day Conference was the Assyrian nation’s demand for an Autonomous Administrative Region in the historic Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plains, northern Iraq. For more details see: Assyrian Universal Alliance

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“After Saturday Comes Sunday”
Arabic: Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad

Assyria Day, 28 June 2015.
Elizabeth Kendal


There is a popular Arabic war cry which never fails to make the blood of Middle Eastern Christian run cold. Whether Muslims are spray-painting it on walls, whispering it in ears or chanting it in the streets, “After Saturday comes Sunday” (Arabic: Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad”) is issued as a threat – a warning to Christians – that after the Muslims have dealt with the Jews (who worship on Saturday), then they will deal with the Christians (who worship on Sunday).

It should be clear by now that this is no idle threat.

What I would like to do on this Assyria Day, is look at
(1) how this threat has been playing out in Iraq;
(2) how this threat has been playing out in Syria.|
 THEN
(3) I will look at the overall geo-political situation in the Middle East; and
 LASTLY
(4) we will turn our attention to the Cross of Jesus Christ; and there, at the Cross, we will turn that threat on its head.

IRAQ

In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem, carrying much of the Judean population into exile in Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans. While some Jews returned to Judea with Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah seventy years later, and set about rebuilding the nation, others remained in Mesopotamia where they had put down roots, assimilated and grown comfortable.

In 1906 an Ottoman census counted 256,000 Jews in the Ottoman vilayets (provinces) of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul (which together comprise modern-day Iraq).

Incited by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini, Arab anti-Semitism escalated through the 1920s – 30s – and 40s. Violent persecution escalated and by 1949, half the Jewish community had left.

In his book, ‘Banking on Baghdad,’ journalist and author Edwin Black writes: “An estimated 130,000 Jews lived in the Iraq of 1949, half of whom resided in Baghdad.  The Baghdad Chamber of Commerce listed 2,430 member companies. A third were Jewish . . . Jewish firms transacted 45 percent of the exports and nearly 75 percent of the imports. A quarter of all Iraqi Jews worked in transportation, such as railways and port administration. . .’ As Black makes clear – Iraq’s economy was largely dependent on Jews.

The anti-Jewish pogroms reached their peak in the early 1950s. Black writes, “Between January 1950 and December 1951, Israel airlifted, bussed, or otherwise smuggled out 119,788 Iraqi Jews – all but a few thousands. Within those two years, Iraq – to its national detriment – had excised one of its most commercially, industrially, and intellectually viable groups, a group that for 2,600 years had loyally seen the three provinces of Mesopotamia as their chosen place on earth.”

By 2004 only 35 Jews remained in Iraq; by 2008 there were ten, with eight of those living in Baghdad under the care of the Rev. Canon Andrew White (pictured) who described their situation as “more than desperate.”

There was alarm in 2011, after WikiLeaks published diplomatic Cables that identified Iraq’s last seven Jews. In October 2014, Rev Canon Andrew White was evacuated from Baghdad on the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury as his high profile made him an attractive target. Six Jews remained.

After Saturday comes Sunday

Long centred around its historic capital of Nineveh, the Assyrian nation is indigenous to Upper Mesopotamia. Tradition has it that the Assyrians began worshiping YWHW (Yahweh) the God of Israel after the prophet Jonah preached there sometime between 780-755 BC. Assyrians subsequently developed close ties with Jerusalem, and watched with interest as the scandal of Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be the Christ (the Messiah) played out. When news arrived in Nineveh that Jesus had risen from the dead and had been seen by many before ascending to heaven, the Assyrians believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of whom the scriptures spoke. Once an imperialistic regional superpower, Assyria became a great missionary power, spreading the gospel through Persia, Central Asia and as far east as China.

Then, in the 7th C came Islam, and the result was subjugation. Then, in the 14th C came Timur (Timur the Lame / Tamerlane), and the result was total decimation. From the 7th C until today – Assyrian history has been marked by repression and persecution; replete with massacres and genocides.

Iraq’s last official census (1987) counted 1.4 million Assyrians. But as Islamic zeal and Arab nationalism rose in the wake of Gulf War One (1991), Christians with means emigrated.

By the time of the March 2003 US-led invasion, the Christian population of Iraq was estimated to be between 800,000 and 1.2 million.

After the US occupation, sectarian killings, church bombings, ethnic-religious cleansing and targeted terrorism drove multitudes of Christians from their homes, especially from the provinces of Basra and Baghdad. Christians fled north, where they hunkered down in the ancient Assyrian heartland and homeland of the Nineveh Plain, mostly around the cities of Mosul, and Bakhdida / Qaraqosh.

But Nineveh was not secure. While the US “Surge” of 2007 did kill many al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists throughout the central provinces of Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala, many more had simply relocated north to Mosul, which subsequently became known as al-Qaeda’s base in Iraq.
From 2008, attacks against Mosul’s churches, assassinations of its Christian leaders and violent persecution of its Christian communities skyrocketed. Believers were extorted for jizya (protection money) and forced to submit to Sharia law.

Funeral after 31 Oct 2010
church massacre, Baghdad. 
By 2010, a remnant of around 400,000 Christians remained.

As persecution and threat escalated throughout the country, masses of Christians fled; with thousands finding refuge in Assad’s Syria. Those who remained suffered harassment and intimidation; not only from al-Qaeda, but from Muslim neighbours who supported the jihad.

The persecution went largely unremarked in mainstream media and political discourse, because attacks on Christians don’t pose a threat to the delicate and volatile sectarian situation in Baghdad, so they are generally deemed to be of no strategic significance.

In December 2011, as the last US troops prepared to withdraw thousands of Muslims emerged from Friday prayers across Nineveh to attack Christian communities – destroying businesses deemed “haram” (forbidden in Islam) [for example: licensed grocery stores].

David William Lazar of the American Mesopotamian Organization described the situation as “a big mess.” When asked who would be there to ensure the safety of Christians he answered, “Basically, no one.”

Long time Religious Liberty champion U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) commented: “The Iraqi Christians . . . are living in fear. Now with the forces leaving . . . I think the Iraqi Christians are going to go through a very, very difficult time.”

The Director of the Christian Defense Coalition expressed concern that unless the situation is addressed “the public expression of Christianity will be exterminated. America,” he said, “must realise, this horrible extermination of Christians is directly related to our failure in ensuring their safety. It is a tragedy that America's involvement in Iraq did not bring liberation for Christians but brutality, oppression and possible extinction. We cannot abandon them. We must do better.”

Archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church gave voice to the pervasive fear, that if the persecution continues with such intensity, “Iraq could be emptied of Christians”.

[Those quotes are all available on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 138: “Propaganda versus Reality” (13 Dec 2011).]

In Australia, the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) published an open letter to the Prime Minister, appealing for help from the Australian government. Written by Hermiz Shahen, and dated 12 December 2011 (same day Obama and al-Makili met in Washington to congratulate themselves for having defeated al-Qaeda and created a model democracy) the letter included this grave warning:

“The slow genocide of the indigenous Assyrians, also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs, in Iraq now sits at the tipping point of a relentless and inexorable genocide, leading to ethnic extinction.”

After detailing the destruction of churches, the targeted violent persecution of Christians and the desperate flight of more than 600,000 Assyrians since 2003, the AUA letter highlighted the saddest and most shameful aspect of all:

“Despite the scale of this human tragedy and the drastic displacement of the Assyrians, the International Community’s response has been almost non-existent and the displaced Assyrians have been left to their demise.” 

Yet again, the Assyrian nation has been betrayed and abandoned.

In March 2013 – on the 10-year anniversary of the US invasion – Canon Andrew White estimated that a mere 200,000 Christians remained in Iraq.

In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham /Syria (ISIS: formerly ISI, subsequently IS) stormed into Nineveh Province, capturing its capital Mosul in a blitzkrieg. Some 1,000 Christian families fled for their lives.

AINA
On Friday 18 July 2014, ISIS (now IS) issued an ultimatum. Christians would have until midday of the next day to either convert to Islam, submit as dhimmis (subjugated, second-class citizens without rights) and pay the jizya (protection money) – otherwise they would “face the sword”.

This was no idle threat; ISIS had already marked the homes of the last remaining Christians with a large red Arabic letter “n” (pronounced noon) for “Nasrani (i.e. Christian – one who follows the Nazarene) and acquired their homes as “property of the Islamic State”.

By the end of the day, all but the most infirm and disabled Christians were departing. Forced to forfeit their homes, they were then met at checkpoints on the roads out of the city by ISIS militants who robbed them of their cash, gold, jewelry and passports – everything but the clothes on their backs.

Patriarch Louis Sako lamented: “Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Irbil. For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”

Then on 6 August 2014, IS forces overran Bakhdida / Qaraqosh.

Patriarch Louis Sako, issued a statement in which he warned that Iraqi Christians “are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide”.

Lamenting that all the churches from Mosul to the border of Iraqi Kurdistan were now deserted and desecrated, he added, “The level of disaster is extreme.”

SYRIA

As in Iraq, Judaism has been in Syria for millennia.

In Syria, as in Iraq, violent Arab anti-Semitism escalated through the 1920s – and 30s and 40s – and violent attacks on Jews became commonplace.

In 1947, Syria was home to some 40,000 Jews. After the United Nations voted in November 1947 to partition Palestine, Arab mobs rioted in Aleppo, attacking and devastating the 2,500-year-old Jewish community. Scores of Jews were killed and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed. Thousands of Jews fled Syria for refuge in Israel.

After Israel declared independence May 1948, another wave of violence erupted. Syrian Jews were beaten and killed while their homes were looted and burned. Jewish institutions were closed, holy books were burned, businesses were boycotted and properties were seized. Jews were left destitute.

To prevent Syria’s Jews escaping to Israel where they could strengthen the Israeli state and even become Israeli soldiers, Syria shut the doors, officially prohibiting Jewish emigration. However, that period was so chaotic and the Syrian regime so unstable, Jews continued to escape illegally into Lebanon and Turkey.

By the time the borders were sealed shut in 1958, only around 5,000 Jews remained – approximately 3,000 in Damascus, 1,500 in Aleppo, and another 500 or so in the town of Qamishli, (in the north-east, near the northern Syrian border with Turkey). Regulations were repressive and persecution was severe.

In 1967, Arabs lost the Six Day War, and in Syria local Jews paid the price – targeted with wholesale vigilante and state terror. Ultimately the only way to survive was to pay an exorbitant jizya; but even then, security was tenuous.

It was during that time that Canadian Jewish couple Rubin and Judy Feld took up the cause of Syrian Jewry. By late 1972, the Felds were in regular communication with a Rabbi in Damascus. When Rubin Feld (40) died of heart attack in June 1973, Judy devoted herself to the work of facilitating the rescue of Syrian Jews. Her first rescue was of a rabbi from Aleppo – 1977.

In April 1992, the Syrian government lifted the travel ban and the New York Syrian Jewish community organised a rescue operation through which several Jews were secretly airlifted out of Syria.

Judy Feld-Carr continued rescuing Syrian Jews until September 2001; her mission only ended because all the Jews who wanted to leave had left. By that time she had facilitated the rescue of 3,228 Syrian Jews.

In September 2013, as war raged in Syria, Sam Sokol reported for the Jerusalem Post that Syria’s remnant Jews – numbering about fifty – were hunkered down in central Damascus under the protection of President Bashar al-Assad. “The average age there is around 45 or 50” he said. “There are no more youths under that age to my knowledge. No youths, no children.” In other words, the end of the Jewish existence in Syria was in sight, all but guaranteed.

By 2014 there were as few as eleven Syrian Jews left in Syria. These were Jews who had chosen to stay and die in their homeland.

After Saturday comes Sunday

As in Iraq, Christianity, has been in Syria for some 2000 years – in fact it was in Antioch in Syria that the “disciples” (followers of Jesus) were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

Church choir, Damascus 2011.
Through 2011-12, northern Syria filled with jihadists who flooded over the Turkish border. In 2012 the Syrian Arab Army was withdrawn from the North-East so it could be concentrated in the north-south Damascus-Aleppo corridor, leaving the Kurds to fight the influx of jihadists.

On Thursday 17 January 2013, some 300 jihadists linked to al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra crossed the Turkish border with three tanks to fight the Kurds in Ras al-Ayn in NE Syria’s al-Hasakah governorate. No longer safe in Hasakah, Assyrian refugees from Iraq fled back into totally insecure neighouring Nineveh.

In March 2013, Al-Raqqa fell to rebel forces, becoming the first provincial capital fully under rebel control. Within months, the jihadists had split: with al-Nusra pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda central’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the young-guns of ISIS remaining loyal to al-Baghdadi.  As al-Nusra devoted itself to the battle for Aleppo, ISIS consolidated its power-base in al-Raqqa. 

After seizing Mosul (June 2014) and running a bulldozer through the Iraq-Syria border – declaring an end to Sykes-Picot – ISIS moved to expand into Syria’s Deir-ez-Zor (east) and Hassekeh (north east).

In February 2015, ISIS fighters raided the 35 Assyrian villages along the Khabour River Hassekah. Some 230 Assyrian civilians remain in ISIS captivity to this day.
Idlibs falls - March 2015.
No Syrian nationalists here.

In March 2015 – an al-Nusra-led jihadi alliance known as Jayesh al Fateh (Army of Conquest) – seized control of Idlib, making it the second Provincial Capital to fall under rebel control. Rebels celebrated by burning the Syrian flag.

In subsequent weeks Jayesh al Fateh not only consolidated in Idlib, but cut the strategic M4 HWY which links Latakia to Aleppo.

On 20 May 2015, ISIS captured Palmyra, abducted a priest from Qaryatayn and won a battle against Hamas in Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus just 8 km south of the CBD.  It seems that ISIS is actually being squeezed towards Damascus. Doubtless plans are afoot to cut the M5 HWY which links Damascus to Homs and the north.

Meanwhile in the north, the Battle or Aleppo is heating up, led by the militant/terrorist proxies of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The war will remain asymmetric (with the SAA as the stronger force) as long as the SAA controls the skies. This is why the rebels / jihadists / terrorists are calling for air support (preferably US air support).

The Syrian government is the last line of defense for Syria’s religious minorities, including Christians. Should the government fall, then genocide is all but guaranteed. After all, this is precisely what Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood promised in April 2011 when its followers took to the streets chanting, “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave.”

That regime-changers Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia find that acceptable is unsurprising. That the US and the West might regard it as a price it is willing to pay, is flabbergasting.

These are pivotal days in Syria.

The Overall Geo-Political Situation in the Middle East

“In the end,” wrote former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, “peace can be achieved only by hegemony or by balance of power.”

Well -- not only has a century of Western hegemony come to an end, but so too has the balance of power dynamic that existed through much of the 20th century – largely through Sykes-Picot (which kept the Arabs divided), and the empowerment of minorities (Sunnis in Iraq and Alawites in Syria). As hegemony has crashed and the balance of power has been overturned - the region has dissolved into chaos.

Rushing to fill the power vacuum are the region’s three historic imperialistic powers: the Persians, the Arabs, and the neo-Ottoman Turks. Also in a struggle for hegemony are the region’s two main Islamic sects, Sunnis and the Shi’ites. Complicating matters – we also have two political axis: the US-aligned Turkey-Arab-Sunni Axis (divided between pro-anti MB factions) and the Iran-led, Shi'ite dominated Axis of Resistance (which includes several Sunni 'resistance' groups such as Hamas).

This is what it looks like on the map.


The struggle will be furious for the stakes are high, for these groups are fighting not merely for hegemony over Mesopotamia, but over the whole Middle East and Muslims.

And as the old African proverb goes, “When Elephants fight – it’s the grass that suffers”. [Ndovu wawili wakisongana, ziumiazo ni nyika (Swahili)]

BUT Christians are far more than mere collateral damage, for they are being targeted. What’s more, they are being targeted not merely for subjugation and exploitation, but for elimination!

And unlike pre-WWI jihads, this 21stC jihad is not being fought with swords or even rifles, but with automatic firearms, tanks, US-made armor-piercing guided rockets, and by jihadists whose friends have chemical and nuclear weapons. This raises the stakes to a whole new level. Also raising the stakes is the jihadists’ ability to exploit mainstream media and communication technologies, especially social media, to propagandise and recruit on a global scale.

Geo-politically, the whole region is in flux. We have decades of turmoil ahead of us and it is not going to be pretty.

And lest we forget, the elimination of an entire ethnic-religious group is not without precedent; the Arab states have already been “cleansed” of Jews. Fortunately the Jews had a safe-haven – their ancestral homeland, Israel – which rescued them and absorbed them, giving them hope and a future.

It is possible that Christianity could be eliminated from the Middle East.

And the only thing necessary for this to be achieved is that we do nothing.

Let’s turn our attention to the Cross of Jesus Christ. 

Have you ever imagined how terrifyingly awful that crucifixion Friday must have been for those who had believed and invested so much in Jesus?


For the followers of Jesus, that Friday was the day when all their hopes, dreams and aspirations were violently, profoundly and humiliatingly dashed, smashed and obliterated. What were they to make of it? How could that weak, submissive, defenseless victim of injustice be the Messiah? That beaten, lacerated, bleeding and broken victim of savagery who just meekly submitted “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,” (Isaiah 53) – mocked, pierced (Psalm 22) how could he be Israel’s Saviour? What were Jesus’ followers to make of it?

Was Jesus a fraud or was he a madman? Had his followers been deceived, conned, led astray like fools? Would they now be laughed at or pitied as victims of a ridiculous scam? Or worse; had the Messiah indeed come and failed? Had the Christ been defeated? Had God’s eternal plan of redemption come unstuck? Had the world and devil triumphed over God’s anointed?

To make things worse, after Friday came Saturday. Yes, life would go on. Humiliation, confusion, darkness and profound emptiness, even anger seemed destined to continue without relief.  As far as Jesus’ followers could see, that Saturday was to be first day of the rest of their lives without Jesus.

And just as the deadly cross of Friday extinguished life, the deathly silence of Saturday devoured hope.  What were his faithful disciples to make of it? What were his followers to do? On Friday, before breathing his last, Jesus had declared, “It is finished.” On Saturday, as hopelessness reigned, Jesus’ followers must surely have thought: “It is finished indeed!”

But it wasn’t – was it?   . . . because ‘After Saturday came Sunday’ and what happened on Sunday changed everything – so much so that history revolves around it.

Caravaggio
We even see it in the Old Testament prophetic texts – Isaiah 52:13 to 54:3 and Psalm 22 – which start with the horrific crucifixion and death of the Lamb of God – but then everything changes – and salvation flows to the ends of the earth thereby fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.

Blessed through the sacrifice of the Christ? Who’d have thought it? God – whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) – he thought it.

The Cross (Friday through Sunday; crucifixion, grave, resurrection) is more than an event and even more than atonement. The Cross is revelation: that is it reveals something to us of how God works.

God does not sit on his comfortable heavenly throne firing rocket at his enemies. While he is indeed a super-power, that is not his way. Rather God comes and enters hostile territory himself, not only to subvert evil -- defeating it from within, as he did with sin and death -- but to work it for good in fulfillment of promise.

Theologian, Professor Carl R. Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary, notes: “If the cross of Christ, the most evil act in human history [crime for which all who have ever sinned are guilty], can be in line with God’s will and be the source of the decisive defeat of the very evil that caused it, then any other evil can also be subverted to the cause of good.

“Indeed, if God can take the greatest of evils and turn it to the greatest of goods, then how much more can he take the lesser evils which litter human history, from individual tragedies to international disasters, and turn them to his good purpose as well.”

Precisely because after Saturday (the day of the grave) comes Sunday (the day of resurrection and vindication), the Church can look directly into any crisis with realism and honesty, and call it what it is – horrific, evil, wicked – and still find God at work amidst the suffering.

As “The Nation of the Cross” (as ISIS likes to call us), we know that because God works through affliction, appearances can be deceptive. As 'the Nation of the Cross', we know that even in the midst of darkness and confusion, when God seems absent and all seems hopeless and we can barely see through our tears or breathe through our grief; even when it appears that the “world” has won and the devil reigns supreme, God is at work -- just as he was on that first Easter. God is busy subverting evil, redeeming it as blessing in fulfillment of promise.

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
(William Cowper, 18thC)

So, just because Muslims deliver “After Saturday comes Sunday,” (Arabic: Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad) to Christians as a threat, doesn’t mean Christians have to receive it that way.

For when Christians feed Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad through a theology of the Cross something wonderful happens --- the threat gets lost in translation.

Sunday is up on us alright – and it is not the Sunday those Muslims are dreaming of.

I’d like to conclude – with a little story that I find incredibly moving.

One Sunday in Tel Isqof 

Tel Isqof is an Assyrian village in the north of the Nineveh Plains. On 7 August 2014, Islamic State jihadists seized Tel Isqof sending some 7,000 Assyrian Christians fleeing for their lives.
Kurdish pershmerga launched a counter offensive and by 17 August had driven the jihadists back.  Though Tel Isqof had been liberated (and looted) it was far too dangerous to return to as Islamic State fighters still controlled the surrounds, and routinely attempted forays into the town.

On Sunday 9 November 2014, something happened in Tel Isqof that was certainly symbolic and possibly even prophetic. Fr. Paul Thabit Mekko, a displaced Assyrian priest holed up in Arbil, tells what happened:
Tel Isqof, Sunday 9 Nov 2014.
The Cross rises over Nineveh.

“A group of young men, now refugees in Kurdistan, wanted to go there [to Tel Isqof] with a priest for a few hours, with the intent to open the church, ring the bells and celebrate mass. After the liturgy they returned to the north, to the places where they are currently living as refugees. It was a way of saying that we do not abandon our lands, and we hope to return to our homes and our churches soon.” 

I would like to say that, just as ISIS silenced the bells and removed the cross in order to make a statement (Christianity is finished – dead and buried), those young Assyrian Christian men rang the bells and restored the cross to its rightful place atop the dome of the church overlooking the Nineveh Plain in order to make a statement of their own – a statement of faith.

It might seem like Easter Saturday – a day of fear, grief, hopelessness – but Sunday (resurrection, vindication) is coming. I have no doubt that God has preserved an Assyrian remnant precisely because he intends to restore them to their lands, in what will be a reverse exodus. For God has promised:

 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”
(Isaiah 19: 23-24 ESV)

When I speak to Western/Anglo churches about this, I ask them, “Do you want to be part of this great work of God?” And when they say yes, I say, “Then die to self and follow Christ there.”

Some Christians and churches say, “Oh but this is so unprecedented”, as if that is an excuse for disengagement. But this persecution is not unprecedented -- it has been going on since the birth of the Church. And who better to testify to that than the Assyrian nation?

What is unprecedented however – thanks to the development of information and communication technologies – is the ability of the Church to be globally aware and globally connected – so that any church today can be aware of suffering on the other side of the world, even as it unfolds – and respond immediately – for the saving of many lives.

These are days of unprecedented opportunity for the Church to truly demonstrate what it means to be One Body in Christ – a holy nation – a people (as we are described in 1 Peter 2:9). This is the day for active engagement in faith.

And to you – my dear Assyrian brothers and sisters – I say: fix your eyes upon Jesus – and remember the CROSS! Never give up, never lose hope. He is faithful who promised.

AND whenever anyone tries to terrorise you with Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad -  “After Saturday comes Sunday” -- remember God’s Easter paradigm and say, “Yes! After Saturday comes Sunday indeed!”

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Elizabeth Kendal is currently writing a book under the working title: “After Saturday Comes Sunday”: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East. The above Assyria Day message draws largely on material from chapters one and ten of that work.
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 

She also writes a weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB), to facilitate strategic prayer for the persecuted Church.