The word genocide should never be used lightly. But it must be used when it accurately describes what is going on in a region—like the genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in Northern Iraq.
I am sensitive to this issue of genocide, because I have friends whose families were part of the Armenian genocide carried out by Ottoman Turks in 1915. Also because my wife’s grandmother’s family was wiped out in the Greek genocide of Asia Minor in 1923. Her grandmother survived the Greek holocaust in Smyrna. The stories about slaughtering men, raping the women, and burning their homes are all true. My wife’s grandmother was 12 years old when she got on the last boat out of Smyrna as the city was being burned. She came as a refugee to the United States. These early 20th century genocides were aimed at driving Christians out of Asia Minor.
American Christians usually know something of church history in the West. But we are less familiar with the spread of the Christian faith to the north, the South, and to the East through Persia. There was, for a long time, a strong Christian presence throughout Arabia and Persia. In our life time there has remained a small Christian presence in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan and Egypt. Christians have lived in these areas for over 1800 years. But over time radical Islamic governments have increased the persecution and aimed to finally exterminate Christianity and other religious minorities from this part of the world.
What we have seen in the Middle East in the last few years, (in Egypt, Syria, Turkey Iraq and Iran) is a continuation of that aim and an intensification of it. Last year scores of Coptic churches were set ablaze and destroyed in Egypt. Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom says it was “the worst pogrom on Christians in Egypt for about 700 years.”
What we are now seeing in 2014 is an attempted genocide carried out by the group calling itself Islamic State, or ISIS. This violent Islamic militant group is a spin off of al Qaeda.
They are attempting to purge northwestern Iraq of its Christian and Yazidi populations. They are also targeting other minority religious minorities, including Muslim groups.
Iraq’s Christian heartland is in the northern province on the Ninevah plain. Islamic State has been destroying Christian towns with the goal of imposing comprehensive Sharia law.
In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, Christians were given an ultimatum with three choices: convert to Islam, or pay a fine and give your daughters and wives over to Islamist leaders, or die by the sword. Word is, 95% of Christians have fled, and some 5% converted. If you are a Christian, Islamic State will put a red death stamp on your house, to target you.
Many families have fled in advance of the militants. Estimates of those who have abandoned homes in fear ahead of Islamic State’s advance are now in the hundreds of thousands.
Islamic State is destroying and looting churches, monasteries, mosques, and other significant historic landmarks—including Jonah’s tomb. There are reports of children being beheaded and their heads put on sticks and displayed in parks, of mothers being raped and killed, and fathers being hung. Videos proudly displaying this brutality are now being posted on the internet, promoted by those sympathetic to Islamic State.
All this of course has created a terrible humanitarian situation.
Up till now, many in the West have been silent in the face of this evil. The Western media has been silent, not wanting to seem intolerant towards Islamic groups. They have not come to terms with the ideology of radical Islamic thought. Our government has done little until yesterday. Many Western Christians have been lulled to sleep by our own creature comforts.
So what do we do in the wake of this genocide? First, realize the important role the US has in the world. We cannot be passive. We must wisely use our power in just ways.
Second, become informed. Groups like International Christian Concern provide daily updates on the persecuted church. See their website: http://www.persecution.org/
Third, call on government officials and international organizations to take action, providing assistance to sustain a Christian presence in the Middle East.
Finally, pray for your brothers and sisters in the suffering church and make sure your church prays for them now. They are crying out for help. If you listen, you will hear it.