As the situation in war-torn parts of the Middle East worsens, Assyrian Christians in Iraq are faced with a stark choice — convert or die. Islamic State made clear their intention to eradicate Christians systematically from the region when they painted signs on the walls of cities they conquered proudly announcing“the caliphate is here”.
As the Greek Melkite Catholic archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, said: “It is a terrible situation. They do not accept anyone different. Anyone who is not like them and with the same choices has not got a right to live.” Hundreds of thousands of Christians in Iraq and Syria have suffered horrible atrocities at the hands of Islamic State with widely publicised tales of abductions, beheadings and killing.
The Christian communities in Iraq and Syria are among the oldest in the world, dating back to the early days of Christianity..Archbishop Jeanbart said “We hope that this war will end soon so we can continue to remain in this country, which is our country, where our ancestors are laying, and where we have been for 2,000 years. We belong to all this history and all this civilization”.
Perhaps the most disturbing news, according to a report from Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, is that Christianity in Iraq could die out in five years. At the time of Saddam Hussein, there were 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq. Today, only 260,000 remain — and they may not be there for long. By 2020 there may not be any Christians left in Iraq if they continue to be killed or driven out of their towns at the current rate.
Despite personal risk – he nearly lost his life twice – Archbishop Jeanbart remains determined to support the Christian community in Syria and refuses to leave his people or his homeland. “I would sacrifice my own life to be in Syria. It is the first church in the world. Like the captain of a ship, I won’t leave until everyone is safe,” he declared. The archbishop has made many statements hoping the West would begin to understand the persecution and fear Christians are being subjected to..
Western nations are finally realising that something needs to be done, sooner rather than later. Archbishop Jeanbart stated that this is “one of the most important challenges of our 2,000 year history.” In recently issued statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the brutality against Christians in Iraq:.
“Every day in countries across the world, Christians are systematically discriminated against, exploited and even driven from their homes because of their faith,” he said. “Now is not the time for silence. We must stand together and fight for a world where no one is persecuted because of what they believe.”
As yet there has been no statement from President Obama about the ongoing Christian genocide which many now acknowledge amounts to “ethnic cleansing”.