Date: July 29, 2020
For preparation - Isaiah 40:18, 22-24
JULY 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal
JULY 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning
* SYRIA AND LEBANON [RLPB 556 (1 July)], where Christian security is being imperilled by a crippling and destabilising economic crisis. In Lebanon, pro-Hezbollah Shi'ite agitators deliberately inflamed sectarian tensions by invading and threatening Christian districts and provoking Sunnis with deliberately offensive slogans. In Syria, the area controlled by the government (which is where most Christians live) is now in a state of economic siege [RLPB 554 (17 June)]. Aleppo's Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji (49) insists that the US 'Caesar' sanctions are designed 'to increase the suffering of the population to fuel popular discontent and thus produce regime-change'. RLPB agrees with his analysis and his assessment that this 'sacrificing of millions of people, poor people and families' is 'inhumane' - 'a diabolical act' [RLPB 555 (24 June)].
ALEPPO'S MARONITE CATHEDRAL OPENS AFTER RESTORATION
On Monday 20 July Aleppo's Maronite Cathedral of St Elias (Elijah) - which is overseen by Archbishop Joseph Tobji - was re-consecrated and re-opened for worship. On three occasions between 2012-2016 the cathedral had been struck by mortar shells fired into the Christian quarter by rebel/jihadist forces, rendering the building unsafe and unusable. In 2013 [RLPB 196 (6 Feb 2013)], the cathedral was desecrated and looted by jihadists who had stormed the city's Christian quarter. The cathedral's restoration was funded through donations, in particular from Aid to the Church in Need and achieved with the help of volunteers, in particular those from the French Christian charity l'Oeuvre d'Orient (Oriental Work).
Before 2012, Aleppo (Syria's commercial capital) was home to some 180,000 Christians; today a mere 30,000 remain. Archbishop Tobji views the restored cathedral as 'a sign of hope and rebirth', not just materially, but spiritually. He hopes it will encourage Aleppo's remnant Christians to feel they have a future in the city. Archbishop Tobji laments the fact that Christians continue to emigrate, not only because of war (for government-held Aleppo is peaceful and free) but due to 'the extreme poverty linked to the sanctions imposed on the defenceless population'. Archbishop Tobji appeals for prayer, 'because prayer does a lot, it goes beyond the human, and there [beyond the human] is the Lord who acts.' AMEN. Please pray for the Church in Syria.
* IRAN [RLPB 557 (8 July)], where Shi'ite hard-liners, having consolidated their political power, are now cracking down hard on civil society and Christianity, indeed on anything they perceive as a threat to their rule.
UPDATE: Iranian-Armenian church leader, Joseph Shahbazian (56) - who was one of more than 30 believers arrested on 30 June - still has not been told what charges he faces. Furthermore, the three billion tomans (US$150,000) bail set by the judge is more than twice the previous highest bail set for any Christian. In an effort to raise this unprecedented bail, the family has submitted title deeds for two properties. But because the properties are worth less than the bail the family must await the judge's decision on whether or not he will accept the deeds in lieu of bail. Please pray.
* ETHIOPIA [RLPB 558 (15 July)], after 239 mostly ethnic Amhara Christians were killed, some 300 wounded (many critically) and more than 3360 displaced in Oromia Region. The violence, which appeared organised, was led by a militant faction of the ethnic-nationalist Oromo Liberation Front. Deputy Police Commissioner of Oromo Regional, Girma Gelan, has confirmed that in some cases the killings were purely religious - not ethnic. For example, he said, in East Arsi zone where 35 people were killed, only 13 were ethnic Amhara. 'Twenty-two of [the dead] were Oromos from Shoa [Shewa] and they were killed because they are Christians (Orthodox)'. He also confirmed that some of the dead had been beheaded. Please pray for peace in Ethiopia.
UPDATE ON THE BATTLE FOR ETHIOPIA
The Secretary-General of the Oromo Democratic Party, ‎Addisu Arega Kitessa is one of several Ethiopian officials to accuse Egypt of mobilising unrest in Ethiopia with the aim of bringing down the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Investigations are underway. Egypt - which has a long history of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front - objects to Ethiopia's filling of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) without a 'binding agreement'. Egypt's objections are based on speculation that the dam will prove detrimental to Egypt. Ethiopia insists it has no intention of leaving Egypt without Blue Nile water and has offered to sign a 'comprehensive agreement'.
The GERD is a ground-breaking and potentially transformative project that will, when complete, lift some 100 million Ethiopians out of poverty and provide cheap electricity to Sudan and the wider region. Mainstream media are parroting the Egyptian line that Egypt is imperilled with no other source of water. But this is false. Egypt has phenomenal ground water supplies (which Ethiopia does not). To guarantee water security, all Egypt needs to do is tap into its groundwater aquifers, just as Col Muammar Gaddafi did in 1984 when he launched construction on Libya's 'Great Man-Made River'. An engineering marvel, the world's largest irrigation project was entirely government funded. Today the Great Man-Made River provides 70 percent of all fresh water used in Libya. It is concerning that some in the administration of US President Donald Trump are advocating withholding aid from Ethiopia as they side with Egypt in the dam dispute. This, even as African Union-mediated talks progress.
The Battle for Ethiopia is heating up. It is a battle between PM Abiy's vision of a strong and united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and prosperous Ethiopia versus the dream of ethnic-nationalists who would dismantle Ethiopia along ethnic lines. The idea of overthrowing the Abiy government, or even of dismantling Ethiopia, would appeal to an array of hostile state (e.g. Egypt) and non-state (e.g. al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Somali irredentists) actors. Those considering sanctioning Ethiopia - one of the world's poorest nations (with mostly Orthodox Amhara being the poorest region) - need to think strategically and consider the Big Picture. Please pray for Ethiopia.
* SUDAN [RLPB 559 (22 July)], after fundamentalist Muslims protested in Khartoum, North Khartoum and neighbouring Omdurman over the transitional government's legal reforms. The reforms remove a swath of discriminatory and repressive Islamic Sharia provisions. Incited by Islamic political parties and radical clerics, the protesters called for 'jihad' against the 'apostate government' of Prime Minister Hamdock. Please pray for Sudan.
JULY 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month
* ARMENIA: BETWEEN AZERBAIJAN AND TURKEY
On 12 July clashes erupted between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces on the northern reaches of their international border. While both sides have blamed the other, it seems Azerbaijani troops triggered the clashes when they attempted to seize an Armenian border post. Casualties were recorded by both sides. As Azerbaijan was quick to point out, the clashes took place not far from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline operated by British Petroleum. On 15 July Azerbaijanis rallied in Baku demanding they be mobilised for war against Armenia. Standing with its ally Azerbaijan, Turkey weighed in by threatening Armenia, warning that it 'will be crushed' and will 'definitely pay' for its actions. Turkey's President Erdogan has long fantasised about the prospect of establishing a pan-Turkic empire spreading eastward. Similarly, Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly been recorded fantasising about wiping Armenia off the map. Whilst most analysts do not anticipate a full-blown war, many are concerned that conflict could escalate. Clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani migrants and diaspora have also erupted in various cities including London, Brussels, Moscow and Los Angeles. Please pray for peace to be restored.
* CYPRUS: BUILD UP OF TURKISH TROOPS
In issue 1,2020 of Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy (ISSA), Greek political scientist and former Special Forces paratrooper, Omiros Fotiadis, reported that 'Turkey is substantially upgrading its military forces in the portion of northern Cyprus which it has illegally occupied since 1974, possibly preparatory to military operations to occupy the entire island.' According to Fotiadis, Turkey has chemical weapons stored in several locations on the island. On 28 July, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force on Cyprus, expressing serious concern at violations of the military status quo along the ceasefire line. Turkey immediately slammed the decision. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, it ethnically cleansed the north and set about erasing its Greek Christian heritage. The prospect that neo-Ottoman Turkey might attempt a take over the entire island would greatly concern the roughly 640,000 mostly Greek Orthodox Christians living in Greek-Cypriot controlled Cyprus. Please pray.
* IRAQ: CHRISTIANS DISPLACED BY TURKISH BOMBING
In mid-June Turkey, in co-operation with Iran, launched an 'anti-terror' operation ostensibly aimed at eradicating PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) positions in northern Iraq. The Turkish air campaign has inflicted terror on the Kurds and Assyrians of far north Iraq, driving them from their homes. Zakho district in Dohuk Province was home to around 12,000 Assyrian Christians. The airstrikes have emptied nine of the district's eleven Christian villages and left vast tracts of agricultural land burnt. In July the Iraqi government responded by establishing five military bases in Zakho's border areas, each manned by Kurdish Iraqi border guards. Because Turkey has no desire to bomb an Iraqi military base, these bases do greatly improve security; indeed, more bases are needed. Prayer is requested for the roughly 80 Christian families forced to flee. Many were already Internally Displaced Persons, having been driven from their Nineveh homes by Islamic State in 2014. May the Lord supply their every need, especially their need for security. Please pray.
ALERT: On 24 June a Turkish official confirmed that Turkey - which already has more than a dozen 'observation posts' inside Iraq - intends to establish three military bases and a 'buffer zone' inside Iraq, something the Iraqi government is bound to resist. If Turkey is serious about establishing bases and a 'buffer zone' in northern Iraq - just as it has done in northern Syria - then might not this bombing be ethnic cleansing?
* NIGERIA: TERROR AND GENOCIDE
On 22 July Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) released video footage of five captive aid workers (three Christians and two Muslims) being executed in the north-eastern state of Borno. Behind each kneeling and blindfolded aid worker is an executioner. Speaking in Hausa language, the spokesman addresses the camera: 'This is a message to all those being used by infidels to convert Muslims to Christianity ... If you don't heed our warning, the fate of these five individuals will be your fate.' At that point, the aid workers are all shot dead. Meanwhile, according to the Atrocities in Nigeria newsletter, in the week from 14-21 July, 93 percent of all violence against Christians in Nigeria was perpetrated by Fulani militias, with Boko Haram (ISWAP) responsible for just 7 percent. Kaduna State's mostly Christian southern Local Government Areas have been hardest hit. In June, the UK's All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief released a report entitled 'Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?' The Christian crisis in Nigeria continues; please pray.