Two thousand years of presence of Christianity in the Middle East is under threat
Many experts have called the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill in Havana as historic. The document, signed at the end of this meeting, consists of three dozen points, and it is fashionable to call those that concern the protection of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa the most urgent of them.
"Our gaze is primarily directed at those regions of the world where Christians are persecuted. In many Middle Eastern and North African countries, our brothers and sisters in Christ are exterminated by entire families, villages and towns. Their temples are subjected to barbaric disruption and looting, shrines - desecration, monuments - destruction. In Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, with pain we see a mass exodus of Christians from the land, where our faith began to spread and where they have lived since Apostolic times, together with other religious communities. We urge the international community to take immediate action to prevent further repression of Christians in the Middle East. By raising our voice in defense of persecuted Christians, we empathize with the sufferings of followers of other religious traditions, who become victims of the civil war, chaos and terrorist violence. In Syria and Iraq, this violence claimed thousands of lives and left millions of people without shelter and livelihood. We urge the international community to unite in order to put an end to violence and terrorism, and at the same time, contribute to fast achievement of civil peace through dialogue. Large-scale humanitarian assistance to the suffering people and many refugees in neighboring countries is necessary. We ask all those who can influence the fate of all abductees, including metropolitans of Aleppo Paul and John Ibrahim, captured in April of 2013, to do everything necessary for their speedy release," the joint statement of the heads of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches says.
Commenting on this document, Russian Foreign Ministry Commissioner for human rights, democracy and rule of law, Konstantin Dolgov, stated that the situation in the Middle East and North Africa is indeed very difficult: "There are attempts being made, first of all, by the terrorist, extremist forces to clear the Middle East of Christians. It is simply impossible to describe it in another way. And two thousand years of Christian presence in the Middle East is actually under real threat. One of the non-Russian political scientists used such a formulation, that soon it will be time to put the Christians in the Middle East into the Red Book. This may not be an entirely correct parallel, but, unfortunately, it reflects the realities of today."
According to Dolgov, "millions of Christians have been driven out of Iraq and Syria, monasteries and shrines were destroyed. Until now, by the way, two clerics, metropolitans, are being held hostage. Efforts are being made to secure their release. But, unfortunately, we are talking about the fact that a number of crimes committed against Christians have all the hallmarks of genocide within the meaning of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. This is no exaggeration."
Dolgov acknowledged that terrorists kill not only Christians, but also Muslims and representatives of other faiths. "But still there is a very difficult situation with the persecution of Christians. And, of course, there is a hope that the historic meeting of the Patriarch and the Pope, its results, of course, will allow to mobilize additionally the international efforts to support the fight against the persecution of Christians. The Russian Federation will continue its own efforts in this direction. You know, we are working within the framework of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in collaboration with the Vatican, Lebanon, a number of other countries, we have a lot of like-minded people. And these efforts are sure to be pursued. Since we are against any persecution against anyone on religious grounds, any racial hatred. This is an extremely dangerous phenomenon, and a policy in any multicultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic region, and the Middle East is a cradle of three religions of course, any attempt to attack one or another religion, the legal rights of millions of believers, of course, they are fraught with the most unpredictable, severe consequences," Dolgov believes.