Iran’s Assyrian Christians warned against further involvement in protests

Iran’s Assyrian Christians warned against further involvement in protests

Assyrian parliamentary representative Sharli Envieh.

Iran’s Assyrian Christian minority have been warned by their parliamentary representative and church leaders to have no further involvement in the ongoing protests. 

Article18 was informed yesterday by sources inside the country that between 40 and 50 Assyrian youths, who had either participated in protests or written messages of support on social media, were called this week by their church leaders and told they would be arrested if they did not stop. 

And after an Iranian Christian former prisoner of conscience, Farshid Fathi, lambasted the Assyrian MP and church leaders in an Instagram post, the MP, Sharli Envieh, responded angrily on his own Instagram account, while in so doing confirming the veracity of the claims.

Farshid’s message to Sharli Envieh, which was set as a “temporary post” so is no longer visible on his Insagram account.

Mr Envieh began by attacking Farshid, who is a Christian convert, calling him “a Muslim who only pretended to be a Christian”, before admitting that during a meeting with “security authorities”, he and the three heads of the Assyrian Church in Iran – Catholic, Protestant, and Church of the East – had agreed to “give their fatherly warning to people who work outside the framework set by the regime, so that there will not be any problems for the Assyrian community”.

“Where does it say in the Gospels that young people can be encouraged to engage in activities that break the law and cause issues for our community?” he said, adding: “If you’re really worried about the Iranian community, you could come back to Iran and do these things yourself!”

Article18 understands that the Assyrian youths were told by their church leaders: “Those who have been arrested have been sentenced to death. See what they have done to their own children, who are Muslim, and imagine what they will do to you who are non-Muslims! You are Assyrians; what part do you have in these things?”

But Article18’s sources said some of the Assyrians had responded: “Yes we are Assyrian, but we are also Iranian, and we live in this country. It’s our country too!”

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, called the actions of Mr Envieh and the Assyrian church leaders “an embarrassment and collusion with the oppressors, which brings dishonour to both the name of Christ and also the Christian community”. 

He added: “We’re glad that the younger generation are trying, with their actions and also by their words, to be better representatives of Christ in showing solidarity with those who are oppressed.”

And in a direct response to the Assyrian MP’s claim that Christians should not involve themselves in “actions that break the law”, Mr Borji said: “Throughout history a lot of Christian leaders have been exemplary voices of justice to not only their own community but to the rest of the world, gaining inspiration from biblical principles. People like Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Haik Hovsepian appealed to the Bible to speak up against injustice and be a prophetic voice in their society.

A screenshot of MP Sharli Envieh’s response to Farshid, and a later joint statement also signed by the three Assyrian church leaders.

“The Assyrian representative should read Psalm 82, which says: ‘How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’”

Mr Borji added: “It is astounding that he does not even recognise as Christian somebody who has spent over five years of his life in prison for the name of Christ. That shows how exclusive he is. I bet he would not even recognise the Armenian representative in the parliament as a Christian either!”

There are approximately 20,000-25,000 Assyrian Christians in Iran, who along with approximately 100,000 Armenians together make up Iran’s “recognised” Christian community. 

Meanwhile, Christian converts like Farshid are believed to number several hundred thousand – possibly even as many as one million – and yet they are unrecognised both by the regime and also by the senior Armenian and Assyrian leaders who take the regime’s side in exchange for relative peace.

“This is the latest example of how the Iranian authorities use their intelligence and security forces to use representatives of the Church and Iranian parliament as their mouthpiece,” Mr Borji said.

“And by collaborating with the oppressive regime, these church leaders are demonstrating a worrying trend that has been seen over the years, but is now demonstrated in the most explicit way. 

“In the more than 50 days that the protests have been taking place, the websites and social media belonging to the Armenian and Assyrian churches that have close relationships with the Iranian government have not said one single thing about the protests, as if they’re not even living in that context. 

“And now, when they finally speak, it is only to act once more as instruments of state suppression.” 

Mr Borji contrasted this approach with the example of two MPs from the Baluch and Kurdish ethnic minorities who have bravely taken a stand in recent days after 227 MPs called for protesters to be executed

In Farshid’s message, he speculated that the Assyrian representative was likely one of the 227. 

“Shame on you!” Farshid said, in Assyrian. “Stop selling your people!”

He added: “Repent and turn from your false ways, before the day comes when Jesus Christ tells you that he does not know you and ‘vomits you out of his mouth’, as it says in the Book of Revelation.”

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