Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin August 2013 update
In the past couple of weeks, thousands have fled north-eastern Syria as violence escalates between Kurds and al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists backed by Turkey. Christian ethnic Assyrians comprise around 30 percent of the population of north-eastern Syria, which is contiguous with northern Iraq's Nineveh Province. More than 30,000 predominantly Kurdish refugees arrived in northern Iraq from 15 to 20 August, joining the 150,000 refugees already being sheltered there. The exodus continues. The Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq desc ribes what is happening in north-eastern Syria as 'genocide'. The UN High Commission for Refugees has said that the latest 'exodus' is 'among the largest we have so far seen during the conflict'.
On Saturday 17 August gunmen shot dead 15 people -- mostly Christians, including women and children -- who were dining at a roadside restaurant in Wadi al-Nasarra, a region in central Syria known as the Valley of the Christians. The massacre happened on a road in Homs Province that links the two Christian villages of Ein al-Ajouz and Nasrah. Eleya Dhaher, archbishop of the Wadi al-Nasarra region, laments that the killings have reached the very heart of the Christian homeland. 'It seems . . . no area can enjoy peace,' he said.
Rebels have tightened the siege on Aleppo in retaliation of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) retaking territory in the south and centre. Sources report that Christians in Aleppo are growing despondent as the y rapidly lose weight, health and hope. Those whose homes have been totally destroyed are now squatting in empty office buildings without amenities or food. Many fear that a rebel invasion is imminent. Last week five bus loads of Armenian Christians left Aleppo for the coast. Subsequently, rebels linked to the Syrian Islamic Front took control of the road to Aleppo, cutting SAA supply lines. Nobody knows what has happened to the Armenians. A Protestant pastor in Aleppo tells how his young son recently asked him when the rebels will come and kill them for being Christians. He says the men of the church are preparing for a rebel invasion and for death. He says Christians are greatly distressed and discouraged by the news that the US is preparing to strike, believing a US strike will advance the cause of jihadists and terrorists and hasten the demise of the Church.
Reports recently emerged of an alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.. Previously, US presiden t Barak Obama declared that if the Syrian regime was found to have deployed chemical weapons then it would have crossed a 'red line', triggering US intervention. While the US-led West is rushing to blame the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons, several points should be considered. Who stands to gain from this chemical attack? The SAA has been making great gains against rebel forces, so why would the regime risk everything by deploying chemical weapons against civilians? The chemicals used and the means of delivery are primitive rather than the hi-tech product one might expect from the mighty SAA. According to terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky, it was in Ghouta that Syrian rebels recently denounced the jihadists and laid down their arms with around a dozen reportedly defecting to the SAA. Interestingly, al-Monitor reports that the Saudis have some 25,000 fighters in Ghouta fighting with the Liwa' al-Islam armed group. Peace activist Walid Shoebat has released video footage showing rebels deploying chemicals, seized chemicals fro m Saudi Arabia and rebels discussing the use of Sarin nerve gas. In May a member of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Carla del Ponte, reported that her panel 'had not yet seen any evidence of Syrian government forces using chemical weapons', while there were 'strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof' that the rebels were using nerve gas. [Note that in asymmetric warfare it is normal strategy for the weaker party to use human shields and 'false flag' operations to create propaganda aimed at securing military aid from a stronger force.]
The consequences of a US intervention on the side of the jihadis would be diabolical, catastrophic for Syria and the whole region (especially for the Church) and detrimental to global security. Furthermore, God will not tolerate the West lending its military might to forces whose agenda includes eliminating the Church from the Middle East. Pray that God will intervene.
A Protestant pastor has been arrested on a charge of 'harming health' (by praying with the sick) and has been sent to the Almaty City Psychological-Psychiatric Assessment Centre. Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev of Astana's Grace Church (Presbyterian) has expressed concern that the authorities, who are shamed by negative international attention, might seek to whitewash the case by having him declared insane, when he knows he is 'psychologically healthy'.
Forum 18 reported on 22 August that Pastor Kashkumbayev is still in Almaty Psychiatric Clinic undergoing 'tests'. His detention has been extended until 17 September. Please pray that God will protect and deliver Pastor Kashkumbayev and preserve his church in Kazakhstan.
Violence against the Church is escalating. Terrorism analyst Yossef Bodnasky reports: 'The Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood has] dispatched several leaders -- both religious and former military -- to Arab countries with strong jihadist traditions in order to recruit jihadist volunteers for the Ikhwan's "Free Egyptian Army" to fight the Egyptian military, reverse Morsi's ouster, and unleash a jihad against Israel and for the liberation of al-Aqsa. Algerian security officials warned that the Egyptian recruiters had already signed up a few thousand Algerian volunteers. Among the recruited Algerians are dozens of street leaders and commanders from the Algerian civil war.'
Iran: Convert sentenced to 10 years
Mostafa Bordbar, a 27-year-old convert from Rasht, was arrested along with 50 believers on 27 December 2012 at a Christmas celebration in a private home in Tehran. He was detained in Evin Prison and Judge Pir-Abbas (the 'hanging judge') heard his case on 9 June. The judgment and sentence were released on 31 July. Bordbar has been found guilty of being part of an 'anti-security organisation' and of 'gathering with intent to commit crimes against Iranian national security'. He has been sentenced to ten years in prison. Pray for the Church in Iran.
Russia: Faithful priest found murdered
Russian Orthodox Priest Fr Pavel Adelgeim (75), a gulag survivor who ministered in Russia's north-western Pskov region, died on 5 August from blood loss after being stabbed. His death was doubtless hastened by the reluctance of medical services to come to his aid. Fr Pavel was known as a 'dissident priest' because of his fearless criticism of the systemic corruption plaguing the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Recently he outraged ROC elite by point ing out that what Pussy Riot had said about church corruption was actually correct; consequently, the church should reflect, humble itself and show grace rather than unleashing mechanisms of state power against them. Upon hearing of Fr Pavel's death, Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev lamented: 'The last free priest of the Moscow patriarchate has been killed. Which one of the priests, who are married and employed, can now say publicly and not anonymously, "Master, you are wrong"'? Fr Pavel was stabbed to death by a young man from Moscow who had come to him seeking help. Over a thousand attended his funeral at the Church of the Myrrh Bearers, where he served for the last decades of his life. Whilst the incident is being written off officially as the random act of a mentally ill person, circumstances around the killing are mysterious, arousing suspicion. If (as some suspect) corrupt church officials are complicit in the assassination of a faithful dissident, then ROC corruption will become a religious liberty issue.
Somalia: Christian mother of two kidnapped
Morning Star News reports that on 5 August Islamic militants (suspected to be al-Shabaab) abducted Shamsa Enow Hussein (28) and threatened her husband, Mohamed Isse Osman (31), because of their Christian faith. Osman, who has gone into hiding with their daughters aged three and five, has not heard anything from his wife since she was taken. Leaders in Somalia's underground Church confirm that Osman and his daughters are safe, but the family is greatly distressed and girls are constantly crying. Please pray that Shamsa will be freed and reunited with her family and that they will be safe. Pray for the gravely imperilled Church in Somalia.