Arab Spring has ‘negatively affected’ Middle East Christians – Patriarch

  • Written by:

Ruth Gledhill
The so-called “Arab Spring” has impacted “negatively” on Christians in the Middle East who face extortion, forced conversion or death, the United Nations Security Council in New York was told yesterday.
The Patriarch of Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq and the world, His Holiness Louis Sako, testified that conditions have deteriorated for all religious minorities and that Islamist extremists do not tolerate other faiths.

He also said the terrorism against Christians and other minorities should not be used to draw generalisations about all Muslims. “In fact, there is a silent and peaceful majority of Muslims that reject such politicisation of the religion,” he told the council.

He called for urgent humanitarian relief and action to remove Islamic State as quickly as possible.

He also argued that military intervention on its own was not enough, and called for international action against religious extremism, an end to all support for terrorists and for the rule of law to be restored.

Without help, the plight of minorities in the Middle East will become more dangerous and there will be escalating violence, he warned.

“Millions of children and young people are deprived of schools and education. Millions of refugees are being in camps without care and attention. The growing frustration, unemployment and poverty could easily develop an atmosphere of revenge and extremism.”

Last summer, Patriarch Sako wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him to put pressure on the international community to stop the genocide against Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs and other minorities of Iraq.

The French foreign minister Laurent Fabius also addressed the meeting, while outside, the group A Demand For Action, which has played a leading role in highlighting the plight of religious minorities in the region, held a peaceful rally on that same day to raise awareness of the plight of the Christians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Armenians, Yazidis and other threatened minorities of Iraq and Syria. A Demand For Action warned: “The UN must prevent the genocide that is currently underway against the indigenous people of Iraq and Syria.”

Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo presented a joint proposal with other countries in Europe to protect Christians in the Middle East and asking for international assistance. Support for Christians in distress has an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament.

Patriarch Sako’s full address is here:

On behalf of Christians of different ethnic and cultural denominations who are facing and enduring severe trial in the Middle East, I extend my thanks to the French government for leading this humanitarian initiative, especially to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs HE Laurent Fabius.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you may know, this year is the centenary of the massacres against Christians in 1915. Now a hundred years later, we are living a similar catastrophic situation, which pushes many families to leave the country. It is a big loss for all. Frankly, the so-called Arab Spring impacted negatively on us. While if we had the opportunity of working in harmony with the mosaic of religions and ethnic groups in our region, there would have been a driving force in the region towards peace, stability and progress.

From this tribune, I would like to convey a message inspired by the spiritual and humanitarian values: The positive coexistence, on the basis of justice and peace in the spirit of love and citizenship, should remain at the upper level of priorities for the Security Council and the United Nations.

With regards to my country, I call for supporting the Central Government and the Regional Government of Kurdistan towards the liberation of all Iraqi cities and for us Christians, Yezidis and Shabaks especially the city of Mosul as well as the towns in the Nineveh plain and villages; providing an International Protection for their inhabitants, who were forced to be displaced from their homes (Secure Zone); and promulgating a Real Estate and Property Law that ensure their rights in their lands, and enabling them to return home and resume their lives in a normal way. There is also a responsibility for the Central Government to compensate them for the damages incurred.

The major problem lies in understanding the different factors of state: religion, citizenship, individuals, community, the role of woman and the national education, in order to live together in peace and respect.

The Islamic extremist groups refuse to live with non-Muslims. They are persecuting and uprooting them from their homes and erasing their history (the memory). It is an ideological crisis and a way to monopolise the power, disabling institutions and restricting freedom.

This horrifying situation needs to establish principles, based on international laws, aiming to prevent this catastrophic discrimination against the human being and the mankind.

At the same time, it is important to understand that these terroristic acts should not be generalised to all Muslims. In fact, there is a silent and peaceful majority of Muslims that reject such politicisation of the religion; they are accepting to live a common life with others within the civil state and according to the law.

Peace and stability cannot be achieved solely by military actions; as they are unable to dismantle this clustered way of thinking that destroys human beings and stones – the civilisation.

This indicates that the international community including the Arab League and the Conference of the Islamic Countries are required to take legal decisions and definitive measures. This could be achieved by adopting political, cultural and educational solutions. These solutions should be appropriate to protect the national mosaic represented by individuals, persons and groups regardless of their religion and ethnic background. They have to safeguard the rights of all citizens and strengthen the relations among them.

Particular attention should be paid to a more significant threat. Millions of children and young people are deprived of schools and education. Millions of refugees are being in camps without care and attention. The growing frustration, unemployment and poverty could easily develop an atmosphere of revenge and extremism. Therefore there is the necessity to take care of these refugees responding to their needs and decreasing their pain.

A practical process is proposed to get out of this vicious cycle:

1. To claim, through the United Nations, the executive policy-based on updating of the constitutions and laws. This would promote justice, equality and dignity for all, as citizens without discriminating a group in a favor of another. It is imperative that our countries acquire civil governments where equality is granted among all citizens. These governments are responsible for the protection of all individuals and preserve the integral rights of all their citizens.

2. To encourage religious leaders so as to adopt a moderate discourse that deepens the sense of citizenship. They have to adopt a culture of belonging to their country and not exclusively to their religious denominations or tribes. A necessary factor is the reform of educational programs that would enhance the principles of respect between citizens and promote tolerance and communication. This would condemn division, hatred and spirit of revenge. All this will protect generations from the consequences of extremism, violence and terrorism. In order to achieve this, the Religious Hierarchy has to present an appropriate exegetic explanation of the religious texts, with zero tolerance to extracting the religious texts from their contexts.

3. To pass a law that criminalises all states and individuals who support terrorist groups financially or intellectually or with arms, and held them accountable, and consider their acts as a crime towards social peace.

4. To promote the development of organisations for human rights and civil society. These organisations should be supported such that they don’t only have a consulting role, but rather an executive one and thus on both levels: the regional and the international one.