“If Christianity [in the Middle East] survives, it will not be because of any interest taken by Christians in our part of the world, but rather because the State of Israel, the people of Israel, and conscientious Jews everywhere are dedicated to saving it,” said Dr. Paul Merkley, Professor of History at Carleton University, last week in a panel discussion at Toronto’s Beth Radom synagogue.
The academic conference, titled “Christian Genocide in the Middle East: Why is the World Silent?” was co-sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.
“In 1910, it’s estimated that Christians were 14% of the Middle Eastern population” said Dr. Frederick Krantz, Director of CIJR. “Today, they are under 4% and rapidly declining.”
Other figures were highlighted throughout the conference, such as how in Iraq alone, there were 1.5 million Christians until 2003. Today, that number is estimated at 275,000 with the strong likelihood that there won’t be any more of a community left within five years.
Much of the present-day persecution was tied to the Islamic State. National Executive Director of ICEJ Canada, Donna Holbrook, showed graphic images of the genocide of Christians currently taking place in Iraq.
“This mother was killed, but not before the terrorists made her watch them kill her baby,” said Holbrook, showing a horrific image of an Iraqi Christian woman murdered by ISIS terrorists.
Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari, Chief Executive Officer of the Near East Center for Strategic Engagement, who recently returned from Iraq, weighed in on the atrocities being committed by ISIS against Assyrian Christians. Sangari showed footage from a summer school program, whose children lost a year of schooling due to the ISIS invasion.
“ISIS. They are all beasts! They didn’t leave us anything in this country!” said a young Assyrian boy at the school, overwhelmed with tears as he recounted being expelled from his home. His mother was dying of cancer as a result of ISIS bombing his neighborhood.
While in Iraq, Sangari worked to promote unity of effort and commonality of purpose between the churches, political parties and Christian militias in Iraq, in a first-of-its kind document signed by representatives of these groups and blessed by church leaders. The agreement affirmed the signatories to work as partners to retake their historical homeland in the Nineveh Plain.
Apart from criticizing the silence of Western governments and churches in the face of this genocide, Israel was highlighted as the last hope for Christians in the region.
“There is a powerful irony in the fact that the last hope for Christians in the Middle East is in Israel,” said Carleton history professor Merkley. “Israel is the only polity within the entire Middle East where Christian numbers are increasing.” Merkley went on to praise the Jewish State for providing protection and aid to Ethiopian and Somalian Christians taking refuge in Israel, noting that Christians are to be found in every aspect of Israeli society such as the private sector, the government, the military, and even the Supreme Court.
Merkley also condemned UNESCO for their recent resolution denying Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, describing it as “utterly insane.” The panel affirmed that the Judeo-Christian values that tied Israel and Christians in the region together were under attack.
“It’s not the denial of genocide that is being perpetrated,” said Sangari, “but the denial of the existence of evil.… The good is represented by the Chosen People, the Jewish people, and the principles and ideals which are an integral part of their inheritance.” Sangari would later say that it was precisely the strong commitment to these Judeo-Christian values that led to the ongoing genocide of Assyrian Christians by ISIS.
Sangari cited biblical texts to illustrate that the Assyrian Christians and the Jewish people were “bound together by a common inheritance of good.” Examples included Genesis 11:31, which states that Abraham came from Ur of Kaśdim, which is ancient Assyria. The Book of Jonah details how God sent the Prophet Jonah to the Ninevites to prophesy against their wickedness. Assyrian Christians to this day commemorate that event with an annual three-day fast to praise God for their deliverance from evil.
Sangari also cited Isaiah 19:23-25, which details how there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria with God blessing the three nations: “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”
Sangari advocates closer ties between Israel, Assyrian Christians, and Egyptian Copts. Apart from being a refuge for Christians within its borders, Israel was looked upon as a model for how to resolve the continuing decline of Christians throughout the Middle East.
An audience member asked the panel how practical such a solution could be for Assyrian and other Christians in the Nineveh Plain, considering the demographic disadvantage Christians face in the region when compared to the overwhelming Muslim majority in Iraq and throughout the region. Sangari dismissed this concern, saying that while he was in Iraq, he was privy to a force consisting of a 20,000-man Yazidi-Christian-Assyrian capability that stretches from the Nineveh Plain to the Sinjar Mountains.
On that note, the panel closed with Merkley quoting Luma Simms, Associate Fellow at the Philos Project.
“Let it always be said: In the dark age of ISIS, when desolation and despair covered the Arab world, Israel was the house of light. Like the prophet, Jonah whom God commanded to go to Nineveh and offer redemption to the Assyrians, may Israel go and redeem Assyria — redeem the Nineveh plains once again.”