martedì, giugno 25, 2013

 

Iran: Christians in Urmia - new life after death and expulsion

By Aid to the Church in Need
by Reinhard Backes

Urmia lies in the north-west part of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the western shore of the lake of the same name. The name means "City on the Water". The distance from Urmia to the Turkish border is just under 50 kilometres, and to Teheran about 800. Today around 650,000 people live in the city, whose population was still 40 per cent Christian 100 years ago.
During the First World War the city experienced unprecedented massacres. Ottoman troops – supported by Kurdish and Iranian units – killed and expelled many thousands: Bishop Mar Dinkha of Tis lost his life on 23 February 1915. He had been working in Urmia for the "Church of the East", which was independent of Rome. In 1915 Turks and Kurds killed several thousand believers. In July 1918 the Chaldean Bishop Thomas Audo, the Apostolic Delegate Jacques-Emile Sontag and other Christians were killed, abducted or forced to flee. In the whole region nearly all Nestorians fell victim to the massacres, around 47,000 people. In Baku and the surrounding area Turkish troops also killed as many as 30,000 Armenians just before the end of the war.
According to estimates, 50,000 to 100,000 Armenians and other oriental Christians were killed in the Caucasus during the invasion which took place between May and September 1918 alone. This was on the initiative of the so-called Young Turks, the political movement whose members included Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the future founder of the state of Turkey. These events were part of the genocide committed against Armenians, Assyrians and Anatolian Greeks in the Ottoman Empire.
At that time Urmia belonged to Persia, but it was in the immediate vicinity of the Ottoman Empire, which decimated the number of its own Christian population drastically between 1914 and 1918 by genocide and expulsion. Estimates indicate a figure of between several thousand and two million victims, including 500,000 to 750,000 Arameans, who were beaten to death or shot or who otherwise lost their lives during deportations and organised hunger marches. The Young Turks' motives were of a religious and political nature. The policy of annihilation practised against the Christian minorities was in accordance with the ideological precepts and was intended to help secure their own claim to power. In the successor states to the Ottoman Empire, and especially in Turkey, silence has been maintained about this genocide, or it has been ignored, trivialised or denied.
This is also true of the massacres mentioned in relation to Orthodox and Catholic Christians in Urmia. Just under 100 years ago 1,000 people were killed in the French and American mission alone, and in the surrounding area 200 villages were destroyed. Christians were expelled, or died of starvation, exhaustion and the spread of epidemics. Christian life was extinguished and only ruins remained.
Today Urmia belongs to Iran. The Orthodox Bishop's see no longer exists. But 100 years after the death and expulsion the life of the Church has reawakened! The Chaldean-Catholic Archdiocese of Urmia-Salmas * today has only 1,350 followers, but these are firm in their faith. Among other things the Christians take care of the aged, socially weak and disadvantaged. Many Muslims hold the Christians in high regard and greet them publicly with great respect. The everyday collaboration proceeds smoothly. On the homepage of the Archdiocese a quotation from the Epistle to the Ephesians encourages Christians to bear courageous and living witness: "You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; Behave as children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and uprightness and Truth." (Ephesians 5,8-9) 

* The Chaldean Archbishop of Urmia-Salmas is nowadays Archbishop Thomas Meram.
Note by Baghdadhope

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