CNEWA

Middle East Christians, Scattered in Limbo

Yesterday, CNEWA’s Communications Director, Michael J.L. La Civita, spoke at a conference.

Yesterday, CNEWA’s Communications Director, Michael J.L. La Civita, spoke at a conference, “The Islamic State’s Religious Cleansing and the Urgency of a Strategic Response,” hosted by the Hudson Institute in New York. He placed the present crisis in context:

Long before there was ISIS, civil war in Syria, an Arab Spring, Al Qaeda, the U.S. invasions of Iraq, civil war in Lebanon, and the Israeli-Arab conflict, Middle East Christians were on the move. Whether hiding from persecution by Jewish leaders, Roman emperors, Persian forces, Byzantine bishops, Muslim Arab invaders or Ottoman bureaucrats, the region’s Christians demonstrated agility, tenacity and the will to survive. As they moved from place to place — leaving behind their ancient centers of Antioch or Edessa — Middle East Christians preserved their identities, their cultures, their languages, their rites and their unique approaches to the one Christian faith. They reestablished their monasteries and convents, churches and schools from Beirut to Baghdad, prospering in the modern era even with the rise of ideological fanaticism and its destructive twin, intolerance. But the sixth day of August 2014 will be forever seared into the psyches of all Middle East Christians. For on that day, maniacal extremists upended the lives of more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians, forcing them to flee their homes, leaving behind everything in a matter of minutes.

The human cost of the displacement of the Middle East’s Christians is tremendous. Although they may account for only about 5 percent of the region’s population — about 15.5 million people — Christians dominate the region’s middle classes, exercising prominence in the tourism industry, commercial and skilled labor sectors, and the civil service. And as they flee the extremists rapidly taking hold in the region, moderates from other communities follow, leaving behind those who cannot leave — the poor, the uneducated, the elderly and the infirmed — and those who stand to gain by fanning the flames of hate.

…The flight of Christians from the region is arduous and painfully slow. While hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes in Iraq and Syria, most exist in a sort of limbo, hunkering down with friends and family in safer areas of Lebanon, Syria’s Valley of the Christians, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan or Iraqi Kurdistan. Some 12,000 Syrian Armenian Christians have found refuge in Armenia, but few others have acquired the coveted visas necessary to emigrate to the Americas, Europe or Oceania, where most Middle Eastern Christians now live.

Just a few months into their exile, the Rifo family was not yet able to accept the possibility of emigration.

“We all agree that this is something we don’t want to think of,” said the matriarch of the family, Ibtihaj. “We will go back to our houses, even if the house is destroyed. Returning home is the only possibility we are thinking of and we don’t want to think of any other possibility.”

Her husband Nabil had different thoughts.

“Even if we go back to our houses, we have lost our sense of security,” he said, adding that some of his non-Christian neighbors and colleagues were responsible for the looting of abandoned Christian houses. Others joined ISIS.

“Will we ever return to normal?”

There is much more. Read the full speech at this link.

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