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Prominent Iraqi Church Head on 'Tragic' Mideast Situation

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.christianpost.com/article/20070817/28941_Interview:_Prominent_Iraqi_Church_Head_on_ Tragic _Mideast_Situation.htm Interview: Prominent Iraqi Church
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 19, 2007

      Interview: Prominent Iraqi Church Head on 'Tragic' Mideast Situation
      Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Iraq: ''They have stolen
      the nights of Baghdad from us''
      World Council of Churches
      Juan Michel
      Fri, Aug. 17 2007 11:13 AM ET

      "I come from a wounded Iraq and a severely wounded Baghdad," said the
      man in black habit standing in front of some 130 silent church
      representatives from six continents gathered for a peace conference
      on the Middle East.

      "The situation in my country is tragic," the man continued.

      "We were promised freedom, but what we need today is freedom to have
      electricity, clean water, to satisfy the basic needs of life, to live
      without fear of being abducted."

      The man was Baghdad's Armenian Archbishop Avak Asadourian, primate of
      the Armenian Apostolic Church (See of Etchmiadzin) in Iraq, who was
      addressing the World Council of Churches (WCC) international
      conference in Amman, Jordan, earlier this summer.

      Asadourian was in Amman representing the Council of Christian Church
      Leaders in Baghdad. Created in June 2006, it is a body made up of 17
      church leaders, including two patriarchs, from four Christian
      families: Catholic, Oriental and Eastern Orthodox and mainline
      Protestants. The Armenian primate is its general secretary.

      In an interview with Juan Michel, WCC's media relations officer, the
      prominent Iraqi Christian shared his views on the situation in the
      violence-plagued country. The following are excerpts taken from the interview:

      Why did Baghdad's church leaders establish this council?

      Asadourian: To take care of our faithful in these difficult times and
      to keep in touch with other Christian bodies. The Council presents
      the needs of our people to humanitarian organizations and channels their help.

      What is the situation of Iraqi Christians today?

      Asadourian: The situation is the same for all Iraqis, Christians or
      Muslims, and it is a tragic one. Bullets do not discriminate between
      religions. Every day terrorist attacks are targeting people who could
      be the cornerstone of a new Iraq: professionals, physicians, and
      engineers. And this is resulting in an across-the-board brain drain,
      which is a shame since it takes decades to train qualified people.

      Are Christians being targeted because of their religion?

      Asadourian: Not as such, except lately when Christians living in a
      certain area of Baghdad have been ordered to leave or be killed. The
      violence is targeting everyone in the same way. Of course, in a
      context of complete lawlessness, some thugs do whatever they want.
      They can threaten you, kidnap or kill you.

      Recently, two Christian priests, one Orthodox and the other Chaldean,
      were killed. In my church, 27 members have died because of the
      violence since 2003. Although not personally targeted, they were
      simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Another 23 members have
      been kidnapped. Since many Christians are relatively well off, they
      become targets for possible ransom, just like well-off Muslims do.

      According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some
      1.2 million people have fled Iraq since the start of last year. What
      about the Iraqi Christians?

      Asadourian: Before the war, Christians made up some 7-8% of the
      population. Today, they are 3-4%. Christians are also moving north
      within the country, to relatively safer areas. The churches are
      emptying. In my own church, we used to have some 600-700 faithful
      worshipping every Sunday. Today, they are 100-150. The reasons are
      several: they might be afraid of going out, but they also might
      simply not have petrol in their cars - queues at gas stations are
      three to five kilometers long - or they might have moved out of Baghdad.

      What were Muslim-Christian relations like before the war and what are
      they like today?

      Asadourian: We Christians were in the country before Islam arrived,
      especially in the northern part. But faith-based distinctions were
      never an issue: Sunni, Shia, Christian. Our relationships were very
      amicable. These differences only became an issue after the war started.

      However, we work to maintain bridges. We have twice visited the
      country's most prominent Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, as
      well as the Sunni leadership. And I want to give credit where credit
      is due. High-ranking Muslim clerics deserve credit for their efforts
      in trying to prevent the present conflict from evolving into a
      full-blown civil war.

      Are you experiencing the impact of clashing civilizations?

      Asadourian: I don't see a clash of civilizations but a bungled war
      with tragic results for both sides. It seems to me that the occupying
      powers did not do their homework well. It is one thing to take over a
      country, and another thing to run it properly in order to allow
      people to be able to exercise freedom. Security is needed to make
      democracy viable. Democracy is not only a concept, but also a way of
      life. Today in Iraq, we need basic freedoms, like freedom from fear,
      freedom to work, to travel in order to satisfy basic needs. One of
      the tragic features of the current situation is the fact that they
      have stolen the nights of Baghdad from us.

      What do you think would be a possible way out?

      Asadourian: The occupying powers have to enforce the Geneva
      conventions and guarantee the security of the country. If they were
      able to bring about security, a lot of problems would be solved. Ours
      is a rich country. We have land, water, brainpower, the second
      largest oil reserves in the world - which ultimately instead of being
      a blessing has become a curse.

      My message to my flock is: do not be afraid, but be careful. Confront
      this dire situation with optimism, and pray and work for a better future.

      How could churches outside Iraq help you?

      Asadourian: I wonder whether churches outside Iraq are speaking about
      this issue boldly enough to be heard. If they were able to advocate
      effectively with their governments, they should tell the occupying
      powers to fulfill their promises of a better life for Iraq. Promises
      of a bright future should now be substantiated. One key point in the
      story of the Good Samaritan is that he not only extended help, but
      his help was complete and effective.

      Some US churches have been asking for a timetable for the withdrawal
      of US troops from Iraq. What do you think about this?

      Asadourian: At this point in time, I don't know... It's a two-edged
      sword. Is it going to bring about peace or play into the hands of
      terrorists? But an occupation is never acceptable and is always
      something temporary that should eventually come to an end.

      My message to churches outside Iraq, specially to those in the
      occupying countries, is: Help us to make life better for the Iraqi
      people, to alleviate its suffering, to keep their governments'
      promises for a better future in all walks of life, and ask for God's
      help in this humanitarian endeavor.

      Juan Michel, WCC media relations officer, is a member of the
      Evangelical Church of the River Plate in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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