by Uzay Bulut
In the eyes of many devout Muslims, tolerance seems to be a one-way street.
“The relation between Islam and the rest of the world is marked by asymmetry. Muslims may and do enjoy all kinds of freedoms and privileges in the lands of the Kuffar [the infidels]; however non-Muslims are not granted the same rights and privileges when they live in countries governed by Muslim governments… In our globalized world, this state of affairs should not continue.” — Jacob Thomas.
The West, coming as it does from the Judeo-Christian culture of love and compassion, would seem to have a moral responsibility to help first the Christians, the most beleaguered and most benign of immigrants.
Around 45,000 Armenian and Assyrian Christians (also known as Syriac and Chaldean) who fled Syria and Iraq and have settled in small Anatolian cities in Turkey, are forced to hide their religious identity, according to the Hurriyet daily newspaper.
Since the Islamic State (ISIS) invaded Iraqi and Syrian cities, Christians and Yazidis have become the group’s main target, facing another possible genocide at the hands of Muslims.
Anonis Alis Salciyan, an Armenian who fled Iraq for Turkey, told Hurriyet that in public, they pretend to be Muslim.
“My husband and I fled [Iraq] with our two children one year ago with around 20 other families. There was pressure on us in Iraq,” Salciyan said, recalling that her husband, who ran a jewelry shop in Iraq, is now unemployed. “We have relatives in Europe. Only thanks to their support are we getting by. Our children cannot go to school here; they cannot speak Turkish.”
What makes the plight of Christian refugees in Turkey even more tragic is that the ancestors of some of those refugees were driven out of Anatolia by the Ottoman authorities and local Muslims a century ago, during what is known as the Armenian Genocide.
Another family, Linda and Vahan Markaryan also fled to Turkey with their two children. Their home in Baghdad had been raided by ISIS jihadists.
“My daughter, Nu?ik, seven, stopped talking that day. She has not spoken since. We are working hard to provide her treatment, but she still will not speak,” Linda Markaryan said, adding that it was hard for them to practice their religion. “We have to conduct our prayers at home.”
Islamic jihadist armies have invaded the Middle Eastern and North African lands starting in the 7th century. The indigenous, non-Muslim, peoples of those lands have doubtless forgotten what safety, security and religious freedom mean.
In every country that is now majority-Muslim, there are horror stories of violent subjugation, rapes, slavery and murder of the non-Muslim people at the hands of jihadists.
Christians have existed in Syria since the earliest days of Christianity; today, after the raids of ISIS, they are fleeing for their lives.
Muslim invasions of Byzantine Syria occurred under Muhammad’s successors, the Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar ibn Khattab in the 7th century. In 634, Damascus, then mostly Christian, became the first major city of the Byzantine Empire to fall to the Rashidun Caliphate.
Damascus subsequently became the capital of the Ummayad Caliphate, the second of the four major Islamic caliphates, and Arabic became the official state language.
In Iraq, from where many Christian refugees in Turkey also come, there has also been a campaign of Islamization.
Muslim Arabs captured what is today termed “Iraq” from Persian Sassanid Empire in 636. They burned Zoroastrian scriptures, executed priests, pillaged cities and seized slaves — just as ISIS does today.
When Muslim armies captured non-Muslim lands, the Christians and Jews were given the choice of either converting, being killed, or living as “dhimmis”: third-class, barely “tolerated” people in their dispossessed land, and having to pay a tax (the jizya) in exchange for so-called “protection.”
Now, in the 21st century, Christian refugees in Turkey say they still live in fear.
On December 28, 2012, for instance, 85-year-old Maritsa Kucuk, an Armenian woman, was beaten and stabbed to death in her home in the neighborhood of Samatya (one of the largest Armenian communities in Istanbul), where she lived alone. Her son, Zadig Kucuk, who found her dead body at home, said that a cross had been carved on her chest.
In December 2012, also in Samatya, another woman, T.A., 87, was attacked, beaten, and choked in her home. She lost an eye.
“The press, the police , politicians, and authorities have not focused on this issue,” wrote Rober Koptas, the then chief editor of the Armenian bilingual weekly newspaper, Agos. “They prefer to stay silent as if these attacks never took place. It increases the uneasiness of all Armenians living in Turkey.”
In January, 2013, Ilker Sahin, 40, a teacher working at an Armenian school in Istanbul, was beheaded in his home.
In 2011, a Turkish taxi driver in Istanbul punched an Armenian customer. “Your accent is bad,” he told her. “You are a kafir [infidel].”
In the eyes of many devout Muslims, tolerance seems to be a one-way street. Many Muslims have apparently still not learned to treat other people with respect. Non-Muslims all around the “Muslim world” are either murdered or forced to live in fear. Many Muslims evidently still think that non-Muslims are their dhimmis, and that they can treat them as terribly as they would like.
In Western countries, Muslims are equal citizens with equal rights. But some of them often demand more “rights” — privileges from their governments — such as Islamic sharia courts with a parallel legal system. If their demands are not met, they accuse people of “Islamophobia” or “racism.”
In majority-Muslim countries, including Turkey, non-Muslims are continually insulted, threatened or even murdered — and most Muslims, including state authorities, do not seem to care.
“The relation between Islam and the rest of the world is marked by asymmetry,” wrote the author Jacob Thomas,
“Muslims may and do enjoy all kinds of freedoms and privileges in the lands of the Kuffar [the infidels]; however non-Muslims are not granted the same rights and privileges when they live in Daru’l Islam [“the home of Islam”, countries governed by Muslim governments]. Western politicians don’t seem to notice this anomaly; while most Western academicians don’t appear concerned about this lack of quid pro quo in the Islamic world. In our globalized world, this state of affairs should not continue.”
Unfortunately, Christian-hatred has become a norm in Muslim countries, and this norm will not soon go away. This means that Christians in the Middle East will continue suffering or even getting murdered and will eventually become extinct in the East if the civilized world does not help them.
As the Christian refugee, Linda Markaryan, who fled ISIS in Iraq and who is now living in Turkey, said: “We do not have a future here. Everything in our lives is uncertain. Our only wish is to provide a better future for our children in a place where they are safe and secure.”
“We are only working in temporary jobs in places like construction sites,” her husband Vahan Markaryan said. “The other workers [Turkish citizens] are paid around 100 Turkish liras a day but we are only paid 25 liras a day for the same work. We cannot demand our rights.”
The newspaper Hurriyet also reported that the Christian refugees in Turkey have applied to the United Nations to be able to go to the U.S., Canada or Austria; they have been granted residency in Turkey only until 2023.
All Western states should give priority to Christians in Muslim countries while granting refugee status to people. The West, coming as it does from the Judeo-Christian culture of love and compassion, would seem to have a moral responsibility to help first the Christians, these most beleaguered and most benign of immigrants.
Uzay Bulut, born and raised a Muslim, is a Turkish journalist based in Ankara.