Date: December 7, 2022
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 674
SYRIA & IRAQ: CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN MESOPOTAMIA
By Elizabeth Kendal
According to a recent report by the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the number of Christians living in Syria has dropped from 1.5 million or 10 percent of the population before 2011, to roughly 300,000 or two percent of the population today. Most Christians in Syria are ethnic Assyrian (the indigenous nation of the Fertile Crescent), Armenian and Greek. The situation is much the same in Iraq, where the Assyrian population has declined from 1.4 million (1987 census) to about 200,000 in 2016, to maybe as few as 100,000 today. According to Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Church (Nov 2022), half of Iraqi Christians have emigrated in the last five years and many others are ‘on the waiting list’; indeed, they are leaving ‘at a rate of around 20 families a month’. It is an existential crisis about which the West – who, over the course of at least 170 years, has repeatedly betrayed Christians into the hands of Muslims – prefers to remain silent.
Map source (July 2020)
SYRIA: Most Syrian Christians live with good, albeit fragile, religious security and liberty in government-controlled regions along the north-south Damascus to Aleppo axis, in the Alawite heartland of coastal Latakia, and in the Kurdish-controlled north-east. Very few (if any) Christians remain in Idlib Province in Syria’s far north-west which is controlled by al-Qaeda, infested with jihadists and protected by Turkey.
In government-held areas the greatest threat to the Christian presence is crippling poverty, lack of healthcare and the near total absence of any opportunity to work, rebuild or flourish. This is almost exclusively due to US sanctions, specifically the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which essentially places all government-controlled areas of Syria in a state of economic siege [see RLPB 580, Loving Syria’s Christians, 16 December 2020]. In June 2020 Joseph Tobji, the Maronite Archbishop of Aleppo, lamented that the US government was ‘willing to do anything, even to sacrifice millions of people, poor people, families’ in pursuit of its goals (e.g. regime change in Damascus). As Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, Georges Masri, recently confirmed (ACN, 7 Nov), it is due to sanctions that many Syrians now die for lack of medication.
Meanwhile, in the Kurdish-dominated north and north-east, the greatest threat comes from Turkish aggression [see RLPB 654 (20 July 2022)]. On 22 and 23 November, Turkish airstrikes on the Al-Hol camp – which holds thousands of Islamic State (IS) fighters and families – killed eight security officers from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) forces and enabled the escape of an unknown number of IS families. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the incident and spoke of ‘indescribable chaos’ in Al-Hol. Though Turkey is unlikely to launch a large-scale ground invasion deep into Syria’s north-east, it might settle for unleashing IS against the Kurds. The last thing Syria’s remnant Christians need is a return of IS terror. Meanwhile, Turkey might launch a limited ground invasion west of the Euphrates to seize control of Tel Rifaat (40km north of Aleppo) and Mambij in northern Aleppo Governorate – towns (along with Kobane) Turkey has identified as ‘sources of trouble’. The last thing Aleppo’s remnant Christians need is a return of Turkish forces and their murderous jihadist proxies. Lord have mercy!
Archbishop Bashar Warda
IRAQ: In Iraq today most Assyrians live either as refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan or as persecuted believers struggling to rebuild their lives in the historic Assyrian heartland of the Nineveh Plains in Nineveh Province, Northern Iraq. Assyrians who return to the Nineveh Plains face enormous challenges, including political marginalisation and violent persecution from land-grabbing Kurds (Sunnis, backed by the Kurdish administration) and Shabaks (Shi’ites, backed by Baghdad and Tehran) [see RLPB 642 (27 April 2022)]. In August, the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Cardinal Raphael Louis Sako warned that in the absence of major systemic political, social and economic changes, Christians in Iraq are ‘heading towards disappearance’ [RLPB 660 (31 Aug 2022)]. At the 2-3 November G20 Religion forum (R20) in Bali, Indonesia, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil addressed hundreds of religious leaders. He warned that after 1900 years of existing in the region, ‘we Christians of Iraq now find ourselves on the very edge of extinction’. [For more detail see: RLPB 545, Prayer for Assyria: ‘the Assyrian crisis is our crisis’, 15 Apr 2020.]
PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR MERCIFUL GOD WILL
- protect, sustain, guide and encourage Syria’s suffering and imperilled Christians who, having survived war and remained in their homeland, now find themselves languishing under ‘inhumane’ US sanctions and/or facing the prospect of renewed Islamic terror, foreign invasion and displacement. May the Lord intervene to bring the sanctions to an end. May the Lord intervene to establish peace in Syria. Lord have mercy!
- bless the numerous Christian churches and Christian ministries that are providing services and care to Syria’s poor, sick, hungry, threatened and displaced; may the Lord protect them and supply their every need. Lord have mercy!
- intervene in Iraq to protect, bless and build the Assyrian Church and nation according to his promise: 'The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria, the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance ' (Isaiah 19:25 ESV) (emphasis mine).