Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Armenians in Syria are forced to convert to Islam

A group of ArmeniansThe ghosts of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 – which Armenians refer to as Metz Yeghérn, the “Great Evil” – are coming back to haunt today’s war-torn Syria which has been invaded by thousands of Islamic radicals from more than 80 different countries.

One of the characterising elements of the first genocide in a century of genocides was the forced conversion of Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Syrians and Chaldeans) to Islam by the governors of the Ottoman Empire. 

Still to this day, there are people in Turkey whose grandparents were forced to convert to Islam in order to be spared their lives. Today these people secretly return to the faith of their ancestors.

In recent days, a number of Arabic language websites have reported that ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a group which has links to Al-Qaeda) militia have committed a string of atrocities against those they see as infidels, from beheadings to arson attacks against churches and even the forced conversion of some families of Apostolic Armenians to Islam.

Some of these news reports are accompanied by video footage showing what appears to be an elderly Armenian man standing beside a Muslim cleric who is announcing the man’s conversion to the faith of the Prophet, while the Allahu Akbar (“Allah is greatest”) phrase is chanted in the background. 

The cleric comments enthusiastically on the event, stating: “You see, there is no honour without Islam, without proclaiming out loud that Allah is the one and only God and Mohammed his Prophet.” 

The cleric adds that as the newly-converted man is the head of the family, his wife and children automatically become Muslims. “Everyone praises Allah.” 

It is quite clear that should the members of this family one day decide to renounce this newly-acquired identity, they would become apostates and have to face the consequences; i.e. possible death.
 
Because of its ancient history, Syria truly is a “religious mosaic”. Here, like in Lebanon, historical and geographical circumstances have led to Christians of all denominations and Muslims belonging to different branches of Islam living side by side for centuries. Relations between them have not always been rosy but for the most part these different faiths have managed to live together in harmony. 

During the persecutions carried out by the Ottoman Empire, many Muslims hid and protected Christians. This portrait of fraternity was kept pretty much in tact by the French and then by the secular Baath party. This is now being ruined, however, by the path of fundamentalism taken by radical Wahhabi militias that are being backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and tolerated by Erdoğan’s Islamist Turkey which has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
The cleric in the video claims the conversion depicted was “voluntary”, but there is no reason not doubt what he says is true given the circumstances. This only reinforces the concerns raised by various Syrian bishops about the emergence of an Islamic state, in the Geneva peace talks.

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