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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Persecution of Our Assyrian Brothers - It Must Stop

Maghdleta's name was called and she went to be sworn in as an American citizen.  Emerging from the courthouse, she paused a moment or two and looked back at the imposing building that cast a giant shadow on her frail stature.  She pulled her hands together, drew in a long breath, and slowly exhaled.  "I have been deprived of my nationality.  I'm entitled to a nationality.  Now I am an American on paper.  But I will always remain a trueborn Assyrian.  That is not negotiable," said Maghdleta in no uncertain terms.
(Rosie Malek-Yonan, The Crimson Field {Verdugo City, CA:  Pearlida Publishing, 2005) p. 532.

This past week, the stories out of Iraq and Syria have been heart-wrenching - Islam, which our clueless, delusional President Obama calls a "religion of peace," has fomented an ethnic cleansing of indigenous Assyrian Christians from the region, including a very old and rich community that lived near the city of Mosul.  Social media sites such as Facebook post these reports almost on an hourly basis, and while this happens, our government in the US has also stepped up its discrimination against people of faith - the recent articles note that Obama is trying to ramrod the "gay-rights" agenda down the throats of Christian businesses, compelling them to hire and/or give service to LGBT people even if it presents a conflict of interest for the Christian businessman.  The past week, it is as if Satan has been on a rampage against Christians (and Jews too - Hamas has been hammering Israel lately, and anti-semitism is on the rise on college campuses in the US, even supposedly "Christian" institutions who are catering to Palestinian terrorists over Jews) and it should really come as no surprise - in the last days, it says, perilous times shall come.  Whether or not we live in the last days or not is another discussion altogether, as current situations could also signal an immediate judgment before the end upon nations and the iniquitous ways.  And, America in just the past 20 years has been engulfed by so much iniquity recently that it is almost sickening to turn on the news, and it is about as disturbing to turn on a television program now without the gratuitous "gay" character being stuck in, often without any relevance to the story line of the program. However, I digress, as we are talking about something very serious that has been happening - the eradication of Christians from areas that are traditionally their homes.  

I have told my story many times about how in my high school years I became interested in Assyrians, and now almost 30 years later I still have a high regard and love for these dear people.  Over the years, I have also gotten to know many of them as personal friends, and they have been a real blessing.  Understanding who the Assyrians are, as well as having the same faith, has made me have a strong awareness of their identity as a people.  Also, having Converso heritage myself, I am a blood relative, as Assyrians are fellow Semites who share a great legacy of blessing with Israel.  That being said, I want to address some things here that have been weighing on me this past couple of weeks in regard to this whole series of events I have witnessed unfolding in the Middle East at this time.  

To begin, I want to direct you as the reader to a passage in Isaiah 19:23-25 which relates to this situation.  The passage talks about the day of the Lord, and in that day there will be a highway which will go from the land of the Assyrians to upper Egypt (if one takes into account Isaiah 18, that highway could extend even further south into Ethiopia even, but that too is the subject of a whole other teaching).  Three nations on this highway - Assyria, Israel, and Egypt - are given special prophetic blessings by the Lord Himself through his prophet Isaiah, and each one is of interest.  Egypt is called by the Lord "my people," Israel is called "my heritage," and Assyria is called "my handiwork."  What exactly does this mean?  It means, as I have discovered in my own studies, that each of these nations has a plan of God upon them, a plan that he will bless.  It is of interest, to cite one example, that those among the first Gentile converts to Christianity were - you guessed it! - ethnic Assyrians!  As the ancient legend about that goes, after the Assyrian Empire crumbled in 612 B.C., many of its survivors founded a kingdom near the Euphrates River called Oeshroene, and its capital was the city of Edessa.  That actually makes perfect sense, because it would not be logical to position that Assyrians just sort of vanished from existence after their empire fell, and it would also be utterly ridiculous to even think such a thing, yet it is often taught as gospel truth by "mainstream" archaelogy and history.   Common sense would maintain that some Assyrians had to survive, and therefore they had to go somewhere!  As it turns out, that is exactly what happened.  The kingdom of Oeshroene survived for many centuries after the Assyrian Empire dissolved, and its people were the remnants of Assyria who were around at the coming of Christ.  When Christ walked the earth, the king of Oeshroene at the time was a man named Abgar Ukomo (often called "the Black," probably due to a debilitating illness), and somehow word reached him of Christ's ministry in Palestine.  Also being made aware of some of the opposition that Christ was getting from the Jewish powers-that-be then, Abgar was convinced that he could offer Christ a more receptive platform and therefore sent Him a letter inviting Him to come to Edessa to minister.   Christ politely turned the offer down, but was apparently touched by Abgar's hospitality and sent him a cloth that legend says miraculously healed Abgar of his illness.  That cloth was said to have a likeness of Jesus on it, and it is the basis for much of the story surrounding the Shroud of Turin actually.  Any rate, despite Jesus being unable to come, the king and his people did accept Christianity readily, and after Jesus ascended to heaven two of the original Seventy, Addai and Mari, were sent to Abgar's kingdom to disciple the people and build the Church.  For years, this legend was dismissed as a semi-fictional story, but as it turns out Abgar was a real king who did rule at around the time Christ walked the earth, and there is an oft-overlooked passage in John 12:20 and the subsequent parable which may give some credence to this legend.  In the Scriptural account, it talks about "certain Greeks" who came up to worship at the feast and wanted to see Jesus, and they asked Saint Philip if they could do so.  However, in verses 23-27, Jesus expounds on His own destiny that He must die for the world's salvation.   This passage is of interest, because somewhere in the translation every Gentile is automatically called a "Greek," and the theory I have researched recently seems to indicate that these "Greeks" could have been Assyrians sent as emissaries from Abgar's kingdom.  More needs to be researched regarding that, but it is important to mention that behind every legend is a truth that foundates it, and perhaps the story of Abgar and Jesus from extrabiblical sources may have a Scriptural premise in this passage from John.  

At any rate, when these Assyrian (or Syriac Christians, as some sources call them)  people became Christians, they launched one of the greatest evangelistic campaigns the world has ever seen, and within a matter of a few centuries, there were Christian communities in India, China, and Japan (the ones in India were called Nazranis, and today they still number in the millions as "Saint Thomas Christians," while in Japan they were called Keikyo).  The major work of the Church, as noted in Matthew 28, is to spread the Gospel to all lands, and I believe that by doing so in a major way, this is how the Assyrians were called "the work of God's hands" in Isaiah 19:25.  

The modern Assyrian flag

Many modern Assyrians speak Aramaic (or Syriac, its descendant dialect) as a mother tongue, and this is one reason why many people who deny they are who they say they are build their case - "Ah, the real Assyrians used cuneiform!" is a common argument.  However, as my friend and Assyrian author Fred Aprim notes, the Assyrian Empire adopted Aramaic as a lingua franca in the 7th century B.C., and that the Akkadian cuneiform script survived at least up until A.D. 74.  Aprim also notes that Assyrians, via the Church, preserved Aramaic and even created alphabets for tribes in Central Asia they evangelized (Fred Aprim, Assyrians: The Continuous Saga {California: Xlibris, 2005] pp. 132-134).  Much, much more could be said about post-Imperial Assyrians and their legacy, but we need to move on.

The Assyrians have suffered much for their convictions over the centuries, and in many cases one thing is to blame for that suffering - an abomination called Islam.  Islam has exacted more persecution on Christians and other minorities who live in the region than many would care to admit (or in this day of political-correctness, refuse to acknowledge) and most of the trouble that has been stirred up over there has had behind it somewhere some Islamic causation.  Does this mean all individual Muslims are at fault?  Not at all - many are peace-loving people, but the problem with Islam is that it can even stir up the most peaceful of its adherents by pushing the right buttons.  Let's go back to the 1930's for instance, when journalist William Shirer visited Afghanistan.   In 1930, Shirer had visited Afghanistan as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune in order to cover the coronation of the young tribal prince Nadir Shah as the nation's new king, and while there as he was traveling to Kabul he and a Swiss photographer who was accompanying him, Walter Bosshard, had stopped off in Jalalabad to get some photographs of a local bazaar.  A group of old men and young boys who were in the town center where the bazaar was at were having a pretty good time with these two foreigners until a group of radical young mullahs (a prelude of the Taliban to come) showed up and started inciting the crowd.  Immediately the atmosphere changed as the friendly men and boys became an angry, rabid mob who started shouting "Kafir! Kafir!" and then the stones started flying at Shirer and Bosshard.  Only when Bosshard fired a revolver into the air did the frenzied mob disperse (William Shirer, The Nightmare Years -1930-1940 {Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1984} pp. 16-18).  Reading this, you will understand that militant Islam is not limited to the past 13 years after 9/11, but is a bloody legacy that goes back to Islam's beginnings in the 7th century.  And, this is just the way they treat foreign visitors!  With that in mind, one can only imagine what a person who comes from a Christian background and is native to the region must have to deal with from these ruthless barbarians.  Also, the way that a crowd of apparently peaceful Muslims can be stirred up so fast into a frenzy suggests to me that there is something demonic behind that behavior.  It is as if something overtakes them and transforms them.  And, stories I have heard from friends of mine who are Assyrian, Maronite, and Coptic Christians suggest that this is the norm - there are Christians who may live peacefully next to Muslims for decades, even several generations, and then all of a sudden the Muslims have this personality shift and are looting their Christian neighbor's home, and even killing them in some cases.  What is this about??  It is obvious there is more going on here in the spiritual realm than maybe we understand, because only a demonic source could stir up such vitriol and savagery among people who previously had not been like that.  Even Hitler, as evil as he was, couldn't do that with the Germans; it took a lot of years for him to condition the hate he did in the German population, and after he was done away with, most Germans easily repented of that nonsense and moved on.  Not so with Islam for some reason.   Hence, that is why with Islam we are dealing with something that may be far more dangerous than the "guardians" of the "political-correct" little ideological boxes engulfing most of the secularized West now realize.

A burning Assyrian church just a couple of days ago near Mosul in northern Iraq, set ablaze by militant ISIS fanatics.

To understand this behavior, you have to understand something about Islam and its worldview.  I am not going to give a full theological discourse on Islam and a verse-by-verse commentary on Quranic passages, but suffice to say Islam views the world in two spheres - one is called the Umma, which essentially is the part of the world that is dominated by Islam, and the other is called the Dar-el-Harb (land of war), which is made up of the kafirs (infidels) who are non-Muslim.  It is the duty of every faithful Muslim to engage in a jihad, or "holy war," against the Dar-el-Harb in order to subject it to Islamic law and thus bring what they believe is "Allah's divine order" to areas it conquers.  These two spheres are not necessarily geographical either, as Islam can have the Dar-el-Harb even existing among the Umma, and in that case the kafirs go by another name - Dhimmi.  Most of the indigenous Christian populations of the Middle East, which of course is overwhelmingly Muslim, are considered dhimmis, as are Jews and other non-Muslims who pay a "tax" (a high school bully does the same thing, by the way, and it is called extortion) called a Zakat that "protects" (which is what the term dhimmi implies) them from Islamic assimilation.  However, the trick to that is that the individual Muslim can choose to uphold it or break it at his discretion, and thus minorities who are of this dhimmitude status are often forced to live out a walk-on-eggshells existence.  And, to complicate that further, Islamic Sharia law makes ridiculous dress codes, building codes, and other stupid measures to ensure that the dhimmis are kept in this state of intimidation - the idea is to make life appear so attractive as a Muslim and so miserable as a Christian or Jew that it compels conversion.   However, the continued existence - and perseverance - of these minority communities in the midst of this horrible bondage proves that these dhimmi peoples have a resolve and will beyond themselves which has maintained them in the worst of persecution, and Islam is rabidly livid over the fact that these "filthy kafirs" still persist among them and elsewhere, and in recent years it has led to an intensification of the violence.  The Jewish writer and activist Bat Ye'or also ties this into the current Israel-Palestinian conflict - she notes that the very foundation of the Islamic jihad-dhimmitude system is the principle of land (and wealth) for peace and security (Bat Ye'or.  Eurabia - The Euro-Arab Axis {Teaneck, NJ:  Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005} pp. 104-105).  This is how Islamic Arab armies overran the native populations in the first place, and then forcing many to convert and assimilate into a false Arabization that wiped out their existence and identity, save a few courageous holdouts who were brutally persecuted as a reward for their refusal to assimilate and sacrifice their God-given identities.  That being said, it must be understood that although some Arab Christians do collaborate with these Islamic regimes and even spout the propaganda, the anti-Israel rhetoric of so many is not about land rights as much as it is about Islamization of the whole Middle East, and Israel is seen as a direct threat to that.  Which now leads me to the next important part of this discussion.

Assyrian Patriarch Mar Benjamin Shimun, who was martyred by the Kurdish terrorist leader Simkoo in 1918.

A grisly image of Assyrian victims of the August 1933 massacre that occurred in Simele, Iraq at the hands of Bakr Siddique, a renegade Arab Islamic terrorist and tribal chief.

I need to be more frank than I want to be, but something needs to be said about some anti-semitic rhetoric that I hear at times from certain groups of Middle Eastern Christians, and it really bothers me.  It bothers me because I myself have Jewish heritage.  It also bothers me because I want more than anything for all Middle Eastern Christians to have their own sovereignty free of Islamic bullying.  At the present time, the Middle Eastern Christian communities are divided as to how they view the existence of Israel - some actually are wanting to be closer with Israel, as they understand the bigger picture, while others have bought into the Arabist/Islamic propaganda mechanism (coupled also with some long-established inbred antisemitism that dates back to at least the time of the Crusades and earlier, due to misunderstandings about some things maybe that Patristic writers said, etc.) and view Israel as the troublemaker in the region - they blame Israel in some cases for causing the Muslims to make scapegoats out of them.  When I hear these things, I get very troubled because it creates an inner conflict for me personally.  And, Israel hasn't helped much either, and I will tell you why.  No one is probably a stronger pro-Israel supporter than I am, and I also understand the Biblical foundation behind Israel and its existence.  However, it must be remembered that Jewish people, although chosen of God too, are not perfect, and Israel has made some serious tactical errors in its dealings with indigenous Christians over the years.  As I see it, and logic should dictate, in all honesty the nation of Israel and the indigenous Christians of the region should be natural allies, due to the fact that in many cases they face the same enemy (radical Islam).  According to Isaiah 19:23-25, this is indeed supposed to be the case, and being God is ultimately right, it will be one day I truly believe.  That being said, there are some things that need to happen in order to forge that natural alliance between the Jews and Christians of the region.  

The natural solution in the Middle East would be a three-state solution as opposed to the current two-state proposal of Israel and an Arab Palestine.  The third state, as Gene Schwimmer proposes correctly, should be a Christian entity of some sort that would provide a haven for Christians of all minorities and church denominations to go to, and also provide a better balance of power in the region.  Islamic militants fear this, however, both based on their concept of Umma but also due to the fact that if Muslims allowed Christians the dignity of persona est sui iuris, it would mean that they would lose control over their people, and the individual Muslim would be able to follow their conscience freely, and Schwimmer (who is Jewish, not Christian, ironically!) notes that if that happened, a significant number of Muslims would find Christ and convert (Gene Schwimmer, The Christian State {copyright by the author, 2008} p. 134).   That, naturally threatens the demonic principalities that drive Islamic fanaticism, and "Allah forbid" that happens!  So, their solution is to brutally oppress Christians.  However, God is now having the last laugh in two unique ways.  The first is something God himself is doing by allowing Muslims to meet Christ and accept Him via supernatural means, namely dreams and visions.  This is happening now with increasing frequency in recent years, and in many cases only the miraculous can reach these people because they are so closed off from Christian influence that only God himself can reach them.  As Tom Doyle writes, "Jesus is introducing Himself to Muslims." (Tom Doyle, Dreams and Visions - Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? {Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2012} p. xiii) Doyle writes a paragraph or so later in the same text that more Muslims have come to Christ in the last ten years than in the fourteen centuries of Islam's existence, and perhaps there is a prophetic aspect we should pay attention to here.  Statistics on this phenomenon are not available, as it would probably endanger lives, but it's pretty vast as I understand it.  One region - North Africa - where this is quite pronounced ties into the second way God is working, and that is by restoring a sense of identity to the Berber (or Amazigh as they should be called) tribes of the region.  Amazighs have for centuries been Islamized and Arabized, much of it against their will, and in the past couple of decades these people are asserting themselves in a profound way, and I believe that some of these supernatural visions may have a part to play in that.  Since the death of the courageous Queen Kahena in A.D. 693, Islam has ravaged Amazigh identity until fairly recently, and then something happened.  It seems at around the same time as more reports of these miraculous visions of Christ started happening, a new Amazigh nationalist revival started happening in which these people began to assert their true identity and also started to cast off the forced Arabization they have endured for centuries.  Some of them have begun to do the math too, and are equating Islam with Arabization, and in doing so they are starting to take a fresh look at their own history.  What they are finding is a rich treasure of Christian heritage that includes such luminaries as Tertullian, St. Augustine, and others who were of their own people (Yes, for the less-informed Western Christian reading this, St. Augustine was a Berber!).  This newfound sense of Amazigh pride, coupled with supernatural visitations from Jesus in the visions and dreams of these precious people, may ignite a religious awakening unlike anything ever seen in the history of the Church, and I would love to see that happen.  Satan may do much damage - and Islam is a fatal weapon of his - but in the end he and his demonic minions still lose.  Praise be to God for that!   

Artistic rendering of the courageous 7th-century Amazigh queen Kahina.

The Amazigh flag

An interesting paradox exists here regarding how we who profess Christianity in the West measure up to those in these areas that face such heavy persecution.  Western Christians have, in recent years, become complacent, apostate (many churches teach and believe anything, and Religion faculties at Christian universities are worse) and with some exceptions they have no clue.  However, as mentioned earlier, things are changing, as now it is becoming a more serious commitment to be a Christian in 21st-century America. For instance, our enemies are not necessarily radical Islamists, but militant homosexuals and radical secularism is starting to attack Christians on all levels - look what these reprobates did earlier this year to Phil Robertson, the devoutly Christian patriarch of the family featured on the popular Duck Dynasty series on television.  Not just Robertson, but also businesses like Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, a baker in Colorado who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, and so many others.  And, then there are those whose religion "offends" because of its practice - those poor serpent-handlers in the Appalachians are a good example.  And, anti-semitism against Jews is increasing on college campuses - it is "racist" to oppose Obama over some of his ridiculous policies, but OK to incite violence against Jews at Harvard or Berkeley (two of the most wicked places on earth these days, in my humble opinion).  Will it get better?  That all depends on your perspective.  Being that a great many people are believing we are living in the last days now, if this is the case it means the persecution may intensify, and what we see happening to Assyrians in Mosul today could be happening to Americans in Boston tomorrow.  But, we must remember something very important - God is still on the throne, is ultimately in control, and according to Romans 8:28, it is all going to work together for our good, as in the end God does win.  In these perilous and uncertain times we live in, the truth of God's Word in his promises is our comfort, and likewise for my Assyrian, Jewish, and Coptic friends, let Romans 8:28 and Isaiah 19:23-25 be your comfort - Assyria I believe WILL rise again, and although the persecution is violent now, the day of redemption is coming!  Therefore, this is meant to encourage the persecuted as well as educating the uninformed about what is going on.  God bless until next time. 

"Seventy thousand Assyrians, a mere seventy thousand of that great people, and all the others quiet in death and all the greatness crumbled and ignored, and a young man in America learning to be a barber, and a young man lamenting bitterly the course of history.  This work is a tribute to Iowa, to Japan, to Assyria, to Armenia, to the race of man everywhere, to the dignity of that race, the brotherhood of things alive...I am thinking of seventy thousand Assyrians, one at a time, alive, a great race.  I am thinking of Theodore Badal, himself seventy thousand Assyrians and seventy million Assyrians, himself Assyria, and man, standing in a barber's shop, in San Francisco, in 1933, and being, still, himself, the whole race."

- William Saroyan, from his short story "Seventy Thousand Assyrians."