On the Religion Report with Stephen Crittenden (thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist), Rosie Malek-Yonan details the ongoing plight of Christians in the Middle East, which we have exhaustively documented here over the years:
Stephen Crittenden: The plight of Christian minorities in the Islamic Middle East is one of the 20th century tragedies to which we pay least attention.
From the Copts in Egypt, to the Maronites, the Melkites in Lebanon, Orthodox and Chaldeans, the Christian population of the Middle East is a fraction of what it was, and more vulnerable than ever. Nowhere is the situation worse at the moment than in Iraq. And few groups are more vulnerable than the ancient Assyrian Christian community. In fact, this week the Italian journalist Sandro Magister, has warned of the end of Christianity in Iraq.
In early May in a heavily Christian suburb of Baghdad, a Sunni extremist group began broadcasting a fatwah over the loudspeakers of the neighbourhood mosque: the Assyrian Christian community had to convert to Islam or leave, or die. Their Muslim neighbours were to seize their property. The men were told they had to pay the gizya – the protection money Jews and Christians traditionally had to pay to their Muslim overlords – and families were told they could only stay if they married one of their daughters to a Muslim.
More than 300 Assyrian families have fled, mostly to the north into the Kurdish region of Iraq where they are not welcome either They are sleeping in cemeteries, they have no food, more than 30 of their churches have been bombed, their children are being kidnapped and murdered.
Rosie Malek-Yonan is an Assyrian-American. She is a successful film and television actor who has appeared in many popular shows including Dynasty, Seinfeld, E.R. and Chicago Hope. Her novel, The Crimson Field, is a fictionalised account of the little-known Assyrian genocide that took place at the hands of the Ottoman Turks during World War One at the same time that the better-known Armenian genocide was taking place. She recently directed a documentary film on the same subject. And last year she was invited to give testimony before the US Congress about the plight of Assyrian Christians in Iraq. Rosie Malek-Yonan spoke to me from her home in California.
Rosie Malek-Yonan: The Assyrian people are the indigenous people actually of Mesopotamia, before it even was Iraq. All of that area was Mesopotamia and is the original homeland of the Assyrians. They date back to over 6,000 years and were always concentrated in that region.
Stephen Crittenden: And Christianity was accepted by Assyrians, well virtually in apostolic times, right at the very, very beginning?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Right. Assyrians were actually the first nation to accept Christianity as an entire nation, not just individuals, but the entire nation, and we built the first church of the east.
Stephen Crittenden: And what about language? Aramaic for church, but what language does a typical Assyrian family in Baghdad speak at home?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Well the language that we typically speak is the modern Assyrian, which comes from the ancient Aramian, which is the language of Christ. The church liturgy still uses the ancient language, and we grew up learning it, and understanding it and knowing it, but it’s not typically used at home. At home we generally will speak the more modern Assyrian dialect.
Stephen Crittenden: Now in early May, a fatwah was issued by a militant Sunni group in Baghdad, calling on the Christians in a particular suburb of Baghdad called Dora, to convert to Islam or die.
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Yes. Actually as we are speaking, I’m getting bombarded with emails, and one of them is a plea to help the Assyrians of Iraq. The women in particular – I’ll just read you a little bit of this email – says the Virgin Mary put on a hijab (hijab is the covering) so why not all Christian women dress the same? They are asking all women to dress in that fashion.
Stephen Crittenden: I understand there’s a lot of kidnapping and murdering of particularly of young kids?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Absolutely. Our children are being murdered, they’re being kidnapped for ransom, even when the ransom is paid they’re still killed. Priests are being beheaded, nuns are being killed, and not just a beheading, they behead them, they cut also arms and legs, they hack them off and they return them in that manner. Little children, their heads are bashed with concrete blocks. This has been going on since the beginning of the Iraq War. This is isn’t just an isolated incident here or there, this is an ongoing genocide.
Yes it is. Read it all.