Why a Mass Christian Exodus Will Have Disastrous Consequences for the Middle East

Assyrian Christians, who had fled the unrest in Syria and Iraq, carry placards and wave Assyrian flags during a gathering in front the UN house in down town Beirut, Lebanon, 28 February 2015. Protesters gathered to demand the release of hundreds of Assyrian Christians abducted recently by Islamic State (IS) group from Syria. Some 280 hostages are believed to be held by IS militants in Assyrian-dominated Khabur village. EPA/NABIL MOUNZER

What happens in the next few weeks in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is crucial for Mideast Christians — and the stability and pluralism of these countries and the wider region.

Christianity was born in the Middle East, yet Jesus Christ’s followers there face a perilous moment. The Christian share of the population has shrunk to about 5 percent (if that), down from more than 20 percent at the turn of the last century. The decline attests to a century of their ruthless persecution — bookended by the genocide committed by Turkey a century ago and the recent one attempted by ISIS.

In Iraq, protesters are demanding an end to sectarian government and equal citizenship for all regardless of ethnicity or religion. Recent years have seen ordinary Iraqis get squeezed between the Sunni totalitarians of ISIS and Shiite Iran’s imperial hegemony. They are fed up with both.

Which is why protesters are calling for the abolition of Iraq’s dependence on Islamic law in favor of an overtly civil state. The message has drawn Christian support, including from the Chaldean Catholic patriarch and other bishops and priests, who have marched alongside Muslim citizens. The protests have remained peaceful despite hundreds killed, primarily by Iranian-backed militias.

The future of the Iraqi state hangs in the balance. Either it will become more sectarian under the influence of its more powerful neighbors — or it will become the pluralistic country sought by thousands marching in the streets, including Christians.

Meanwhile, Turkey launched an incursion into northeast Syria, home to many Christian communities, with Turkey’s militia allies in Syria including Islamist terrorists, according to Christian leaders and credible regional observers.

Ankara has protested the recent bipartisan congressional resolution to recognize the Turkish genocide against Armenians and other Christians, and it has done little to alleviate concerns that its actions in the region will restage elements of those dark days when it comes to Christians and other regional minorities.

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SOURCE: New York Post, Cari Anderson