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Islam's Other Victims: Wars Against Christians By: Serge Trifkovic
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, December 26, 2002


(One in a series of excerpts adapted by Robert Locke from Dr. Serge Trifkovic’s new book The Sword of the Prophet: A Politically-Incorrect Guide to Islam)

Most people take for granted that the Middle East is a Moslem region of the world.  What they forget is that this region, which was of course the birthplace of Christianity, has a long history of Christian communities.  These, however, have been the most readily-accessible targets of jihad, so they have been under relentless attack for centuries. 

Let’s start in the late 19th century, when most of the Middle East was ruled, either actually or nominally, by the Ottoman Turkish Empire.  This empire was in a state of terminal decline and governmental incompetence, making it a constant source of worry to the European great powers of the day.  Thought had been given to carving it up among those powers, but this was never done for fear of starting a war and creating an even worse mess than already existed.

One of the tendencies of the crumbling Ottoman state was to lash out against the Christians under its rule. The tragedy of Christian communities under Turkish rule, as then-British Prime Minister William Gladstone saw it, was not “a question of Mohammedanism simply, but of Mohammedanism compounded with the peculiar character of a race.”  He wrote of the Turks:

“They were, upon the whole, from the black day when they first entered Europe, the one great anti-human specimen of humanity. Wherever they went a broad line of blood marked the track behind them, and, as far as their dominion reached, civilization disappeared from view. They represented everywhere government by force as opposed to government by law. — Yet a government by force can not be maintained without the aid of an intellectual element. —  Hence there grew up, what has been rare in the history of the world, a kind of tolerance in the midst of cruelty, tyranny and rapine. Much of Christian life was contemptuously left alone and a race of Greeks was attracted to Constantinople which has all along made up, in some degree, the deficiencies of Turkish Islam in the element of mind.”

“The attitude of the Moslems toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master towards slaves,” reported the British Vice Consul in Mosul (an Ottoman city in what is now Northern Iraq) a little later in 1909, “whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed.” This, of course, is the old story of dhimmitude or the second-class citizenship of non-Moslems under Moslem rule.

The Ottomans lurched from outrage to outrage. Regular slaughters of Armenians in Bayazid (1877), Alashgurd (1879), Sassun (1894), Constantinople (1896), Adana (1909) and Armenia itself (1895-96) claimed a total of two hundred thousand lives, but they were only rehearsals for the genocide of 1915. The slaughter of Christians in Alexandria in 1881 was only a rehearsal for the artificial famine induced by the Turks in 1915-16 that killed over a hundred thousand Maronite Christians in Lebanon and Syria. So imminent and ever-present was the peril, and so fresh the memory of these events in the minds of the non-Moslems, that illiterate Christian mothers dated events as so many years before or after “such and such a massacre.”  Across the Middle East, the bloodshed of 1915-1922 finally destroyed ancient Christian communities and cultures that had survived since Roman times—groups like the Jacobites (Syrian Orthodox), Nestorians (Iraqi Orthodox), and Chaldaeans (Iraqi Catholic).

The Ottoman Empire collapsed after it made the mistake of siding with Germany in WWI.  In order to save the ethnically-Turkish core of the empire, Turkish nationalists under Mustapha Kemal (this is the origin of the phrase “young Turk”) abandoned the non-Turkish periphery of the empire and retrenched to their Anatolian heartland.  They then set about a program of ethnic cleansing to rid this heartland of non-Turks.  This meant Christians, in addition to a war against the Moslem Kurds that is still going on today.  The Aegean coast of Turkey, for example, where Hector fought Achilles, had been inhabited by Greeks since classical times.  These Christian communities were uprooted or destroyed in place.  Ironically, Kemal was a secularist who imposed the first separation of mosque and state on a Moslem nation.  However, this did not stop him from being brutal to the Christians under Turkish rule, a signal warning to those who expect state-imposed top-down secularization to eradicate the ingrained habits of intolerance and domination bred into Moslem nations by Islam. The end result was the same: churches demolished or converted into mosques, and communities that used to worship in them dispersed or dead.

In this period, the burning of the Greek city of Smyrna and the massacre and scattering of its three hundred thousand Christian inhabitants is one of the most poignant – if not, after the vast outrages of the 20th century, the bloodiest – crimes in all history. It marked the end of the Greek community in Asia Minor. On the eve of its destruction, Smyrna was a bustling port and commercial center. It was a genuinely civilized, in the old-world sense, place. An American consul-general later remembered a busy social life that included teas, dances, musical afternoons, games of tennis and bridge, and soirees given in the salons of the highly cultured Armenian and Greek bourgeoisie.

Sic gloria transit: sporadic killings of Christians, mostly Armenians, started as soon as the Turks overran it on September 9, 1922.  Within days, they escalated to mass slaughter. It did not “get out of hand,” however, in the sense of an uncontrolled chaos perpetrated by an uncommanded military rabble. The Turkish military authorities deliberately escalated it. The Greek Orthodox Bishop Chrysostomos remained with his flock. The Moslem mob fell upon him, uprooted his eyes and, as he was bleeding, dragged him by his beard through the streets of the Turkish quarter, beating and kicking him. Every now and then, when he had the strength to do so, he would raise his right hand and blessed his persecutors. A Turk got so furious at this gesture that he cut off his  hand with his sword. He fell to the ground, and was hacked to pieces by the angry mob. The carnage culminated in the burning of Smyrna, which started on September 13 when the Turks put the Armenian quarter to torch and the conflagration engulfed the city. The remaining inhabitants were trapped at the seafront, from which there was no escaping the flames on one side, or Turkish bayonets on the other.  This was the end of Christianity in Asia Minor, whose history goes back to events recorded in the New Testament itself. 

The topic of the genocide of the Christian Armenians by the Turks between 1915 and 1923 – a genocide that the Turkish government denies to this day, a situation analogous to having Holocaust-denial be the official position of the German government – is a vast one in itself and cannot be adequately treated here beyond noting that 1.5 million died.

The suffering of Middle Eastern Christian communities enjoyed a brief lull after WWI. Particularly in the newly-independent or semi-dependent Arab states that had been set up by the British and French as franchisees of their empires, the new European colonial presence meant that it was no longer possible to enforce the more drastic discriminatory practices, let alone ethnic cleansing, against the surviving Christian population. Britain and France were still meaningfully Christian nations at this time, and their colonial administrators did not tolerate the grosser forms of anti-Christian persecution in the lands under their rule. But this was merely a temporary improvement, not a permanent solution.  As one scholar has lamented,

“But at the very time that Europe achieved its military and geopolitical advantage, the moral and religious decline that culminated in the autogenocides of 1914 and 1939 had become evident. Having found in their grasp places their Crusader predecessors had only dreamed of reclaiming Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople - effete and demoralized European governments made no effort to re-christianise them and, within a few decades, meekly abandoned them. The moral disarmament of contemporary post-Christian Europe is now nearly universal. After World War I, with the installation of nominally “pro-Western” governments in many Moslem countries fashioned from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, the West seems to have convinced itself of the existence of benign Islam.”

The Europeans, of course, eventually left, the British having given the world, albeit in a clumsy and dishonest manner that they tried to back out of in the end, the state of Israel; the French having accomplished essentially nothing beyond bringing a bit of elegance to Beirut, once known as the Paris of the Middle East.

Since WWII, the Moslem nations of the Middle East and environs have lurched from one disastrous political experiment to another, flirting with socialism (Egypt under Nasser), fascism (the Ba’ath Party in Syria and Iraq), Marxism (Yemen), development-oriented authoritarianism (Iran under the Shah), monarcho-kleptocracy (Kuwait), monarcho-Islamism (Saudi Arabia), Islamism (Iran under the mullahs), ethnic gerrymandering (Lebanon prior to 1975), civil war (Lebanon 1975-1990), colonialism (Syrian rule in Lebanon 1990-present), Pan-Africanism (Khadaffy in some of his moods), fake democracy (Jordan), secular militarism (Turkey, except when Islamists were nominally in charge), and warlordism (Afghanistan).   Each of these experiments has been somewhat more or less tolerant of Christians, but the constant has been that none has been particularly friendly.  There have been a few shining exceptions, like the years in Lebanon when Christians had a secured place in government thanks to the “national pact” and the pro-Western Shah of Iran, who was fairly reasonable not only towards Christians, but towards Jews and to Iran’s two exotic religious minorities, the Zoroastrians and the Bahais.

But generally in the post-WWII era, the perceived slight of infidel presence and direct or indirect dominance in the Arab world has resulted in a backlash in the form of an Islamic religious revival. Notably in the aftermath of the Arab defeats of 1967 and 1973, Christians were subjected to new restrictions.  In Egypt the construction of new churches by the Copts was obstructed, a quota system was instituted regarding university admissions, Christians were barred from high government positions, and they were even accused of complicity with Zionism on the grounds of conciliatory statements from the Vatican about the Jews. The process of Islamic resurgence reached a new peak with the fall of the Shah and the Islamic revolution in Iran 1979.  It is notable that only religious communities predating the arrival of Islam in Persia are tolerated, while the later ones, such as Bahais, are regarded as apostates subject to death penalty.

As late as 1955, Istanbul’s Christians suffered what William Dalrymple called “the worst race riot in Europe since Kristallnacht.” Following the last pogrom, Christians have retained only nominal presence in Turkey, completely contingent on the good will of the government in Ankara. Further east, in Asia Minor and the Lepanto, some Christian communities survive, but their numbers, like the exterminated Jewish villages of Poland, are a pale shadow of what they were only two centuries ago. Entire Christian peoples have been obliterated since that time, in completely successful acts of ethnocide.

It is remarkable that in this age of rampant victimology the persecutions of Christians by Moslems has become a taboo subject in the Western academe. A complex web of myths, outright lies, and deliberately imposed silence dominates it. Thirteen centuries of religious discrimination, causing suffering and death of countless millions, have been covered by the myth of Islamic “tolerance” that is as hurtful to the few descendants of the victims as it is useless as a means of appeasing latter-day jihadists. The silence and lies, perpetrated by the Western academe and media class, facilitates the perpetuation of religious discrimination and persecution even today.

Note: here is a brief list of the surviving Christian communities of the Middle East, courtesy of ArabicBible.com.

Egypt: The Copts of Egypt -- Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants -- are estimated to be between 10 and 12 million, dispersed across the country. They are the descendants of the ancient Egyptian people living under the Pharaohs. Their numbers shrank after the Arab-Moslem invasion in 740 A.D. and flourished under the British in the 19th century. One million Copts live in the diaspora, particularly in the United States and Canada.

Sudan: Seven million black Africans live in the south. Most of these tribes are Christians-Anglicans, other Protestants, and Catholics. After the Islamic conquest, the Africans of Nubia were displaced to the south. Since the Islamist takeover in the north in 1989, they have been submitted to ethnic cleansing and forced to abandon their faith in order to protect their lives. One million south Sudanese are living in exile.

Lebanon: The Christians --Maronites, Orthodox, Melkites, and others, including Protestants -- number about 1.5 million. Since 1975, hundreds of thousands have been massacred, displaced, and exiled. Since 1990, the Christian areas of Lebanon have been under Syrian occupation. There are more than 7 million Lebanese Christians in the diaspora. More than 1.5 million Americans are of Lebanese descent.

Iraq: About 1 million Christian Assyrians, Nestorians, Chaldeans, and others live in Iraq. Most are concentrated in the north. The Assyrians are submitted to cultural and political repression. Approximately 1 million Christian Mesopotamians live in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Syria: One million Christians are Syrian citizens. Deprived of cultural and educational rights, Syria's Aramaeans, Armenians, Orthodox, and Melkites are present in the northeast and in the major cities.

Iran: Five hundred thousand Persian, Armenian, and Assyrian Christians from all denominations live in constant fear under the Islamic Republic of Iran. Christian spiritual leaders are executed by the government.  There is slightly greater tolerance for varieties of Christianity that pre-date Islam in Persia.


Serge Trifkovic received his PhD from the University of Southampton in England and pursued postdoctoral research at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. His past journalistic outlets have included the BBC World Service, the Voice of America, CNN International, MSNBC, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Times of London, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He is foreign affairs editor of Chronicles.


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