What are the numbers? Almost 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq when the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. With the rise of the Islamic State three-fourths have fled the country or died in the conflict. In the 1920s 33%of Syrians identified as Christians. Now only about 10% do.
What is the history? Before World War 1 four empires ruled: Ottoman, Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian. After the war they all collapsed, leaving vast territory to be divided with bitter conflict between Serbs and Kosovars, Germans and Poles, Jews and Palestinians, Greeks and Turks, Turks and Armenians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis, People groups became scattered but each retained their customs and beliefs. That simply increased conflicts as did the nationalistic fervor and wars of independence or wars of religion.
Islamist fanaticism is the latest round of Middle East violence. Christians are not the only victims. Muslim communities have also been victimized. But more often Muslims have been the attackers and Christians the martyrs, especially in Syria and Iraq.
How have they survived? By staying “invisible”, which means living in remote areas or not drawing attention to themselves in urban areas. In a line eerily in line with Jesus’ warnings, many Assyrian Christians fled to the mountains to escape the Ottoman persecution during World War 1.
They’ve survived by finding foreign protectors. In the 19th century various ethnic groups looked to different Christian groups and different countries for help.
And they’ve survived by attaching themselves to strong rulers, especially in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. They received a measure of protection, because rulers often saw them useful as supporters or scapegoats if things went wrong.
Times have changed. Those strategies are no longer effective. So now they can either fortify themselves with arms in secure places, flee as millions have, or stay and wait to be killed.
Walter Russell Mead concludes his “Wall Street Journal” article (the resource for this blog) commenting on our response . . .
“We can help the region’s minorities ‘fort up,’ as the Israelis, Kurds and Maronites have done. We can help them to escape and work with friends and allies around the world to help them find new homes and start new lives. Or we can do what history suggests, alas, our most probable course: We can wring our hands and weep piously as the ancient Christian communities in Syria and Iraq are murdered, raped and starved into oblivion, one by one.”
Jesus is there. A recent book by Tom Doyle, entitled Dreams and Visions, subtitled “Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?”, offers miraculous hope. Click on the link below to read Ben Witherington’s blog and watch a short video about Jesus himself apparently appearing in dreams and visions to lost Muslims. Below that is a map showing the extent of Islamic State’s territory in Syria and Iraq. But, “under the radar” (not in green!), Jesus is doing his saving work!