‘Iran ostracises and silences Assyrians and Armenians who speak out’

‘Iran ostracises and silences Assyrians and Armenians who speak out’

Dabrina Bet-Tamraz (second from right) speaking at the European Parliament launch of the Open Doors World Watch List last week.

The daughter of Iranian-Assyrian church leaders, who were forced to flee Iran after being sentenced to a combined 15 years in prison, has sought to explain the “very strong contrast” between Christians like her parents and those who make public statements in support of the regime.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the representatives of Iranian Christians of Armenian and Assyrian descent – who unlike converts to Christianity are recognised as Christian by the regime – have regularly spoken of the “full religious freedom” they and other religious minorities purportedly enjoy.

At the same time, Iranian-Assyrians like the Bet-Tamraz family, and Iranian-Armenians like Joseph Shahbazian and Anooshavan Avedian, have been harassed, arrested and handed long prison sentences for exercising their religious rights.

Now, at the European Parliament launch of Open Doors’ World Watch List – of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian – Dabrina Bet-Tamraz has attempted to explain why.

“In November, the former MP of Iran’s Assyrian minority called Christians who have participated in or encouraged participation in the ongoing protests a ‘poisonous fungus’ and ‘cancerous tumour that should be operated on and separated from the Christian community’. This might shock you,” she said, “but for the past 40 years this is the kind of public statement that Armenian and Assyrian Christian leaders were pressured to make. And those who refuse to toe the line, like my parents, are ostracised and silenced by whatever means.

“My parents, like me, were forced to flee Iran a couple of years ago. They were sentenced to a combined 15 years in prison, only for continuing to serve and minister to converts, as should have been their right under the international covenants [Iran has signed]. 

“Instead they were arrested, they were imprisoned, and they were forced to leave. Their accusations were ‘acting against national security’, ‘training and educating spies’ against the regime.

“For the past four decades, the recognised Christian community in Iran has been subjected to monitoring, restrictions and control, resulting in a very strong contrast, as you see today, between leaders like my parents, who were forced out, and those like our Assyrian and Armenian MPs, who come out with public statements in support of the regime.”

Dabrina said the protests in Iran had come about because Iranians wanted “to live in a way that corresponds with their beliefs”, and called on the international community to cut off all diplomatic ties with the regime.

She said she had “got used to being discriminated against mistreated” – she reported being threatened with rape and “accidents” on multiple occasions by Iranian security forces – and said her prayer was that this would not also be the fate of the next generation in Iran.