Conflicts Affecting Christians in Middle East

05 September, 2014

The study found an increase in conflicts based on religious disputes. It also found that Christians faced oppression in a growing number of countries in the Middle East.

Experts say nearly one million Christians have been forced to flee their homes in Iraq. Five hundred thousand others have left Syria. In Egypt, attackers set fire to a number of Coptic religious centers.

Yvonne Haddad teaches the history of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She says the number of Christians in the city of Jerusalem has been falling for many years.

"At one time, there was an estimate that 25 percent of the citizens of what is now called East Jerusalem were Christians. Now, they are less than two percent."

Professor Haddad says political developments and discrimination have caused the drop in the Middle East's Christian population. She says the formation of the state of Israel in 1947 resulted in displacement of Christians in the Galilee, which was mostly a Christian community. Then, the 1967 war pushed out more Christians who were living near Jerusalem.

Conflicts Affecting Christians in Middle East
In this photo taken on Sunday, April 20, 2014 and released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, removes a book from the ground next to a religious icon during his visit to the Christian village of Maaloula, near Damascus, Syria. (AP Photo/SANA)

She notes that the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 resulted in setting religious groups against each other. Recently, when Islamic State forces took control of some areas in Iraq and Syria, Christians were told to either to accept Islam, leave their homes or die.

Some Christian leaders are appealing to the world not to remain uncaring.

Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako is president of the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops in Iraq. He wrote an open letter, which was made public last month.

He wrote that what has happened to Iraqi Christians and other minorities is terrible and horrible. He says urgent and effective international support from all good will people is needed to save the Christians and another group – the Yazidis -- from dying out.

The Reverend Refaat Bader is president of the Center for Catholic Studies and Information in Amman, Jordan. He says Christians are facing discrimination throughout the Middle East. He notes that every time a constitution states that Islam is the official religion of the state, Christian citizens are not treated equally.

Paul Salem is vice president for policy and research at the Middle East Institute in Washington. He says Christians have become targets for militant Muslims. He hopes that the decline of the Christian population could be stopped by ending civil wars, re-establishing law and order, and fixing mistakes in laws and constitutions.

I'm Bob Doughty.