Phoenix -- Religious scholar Nina Shea of the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom recently wrote an editorial titled "Iraq's Endangered Minorities."
The article is a harsh critique of the U.S. government and it's allies for not protecting minority religions of Iraq, including Iraq's Assyrian (Christian) communities. As Shea powerfully pointed out, "They don't sponsor terrorism, hold political power or have strong regional allies. Because they do not cause trouble, they are ignored."
It's why leaders of the valley's Assyrian community (it's estimated there are about 7,000 Assyrians in the state) are trying to attract attention to the extermination of Assyrians in Baghdad and surrounding towns. According to first-hand accounts and humanitarian reports, several hundred thousand Assyrians have been driven out of Baghdad and are refugees somewhere else. Hundreds have been killed, giving new tragic meaning to the term "the Martyr's Church," as described by Pope John Paul II. As documented by the Catholic Church's current Pope, religious extremists are bombing Assyrian churches, burning their businesses and executing their leaders.
So what does this mean for valley Christians, anyway?
Local Assyrian activist and author Mona Oshana says she hopes local Christians will feel compelled to donate money, medication and time to the cause. "We've got families that are being butchered, crucified, just like in Jesus' time," Oshana says. Watch video excerpts of her interview here.
Oshana points out that the Assyrian church has a special place in the Christian world by helping to preserve the Aramaic language, which is considered by historians to be the original language of Jesus. For more on Assyrians in general, writer Federick Aprim provides some useful information.
But more than anything, says Oshana, it's about doing the Christian thing. "This is a humanitarian situation. Even though I appeal to Christians, this isn't just about the Christian community," she says. "People are starving, people are hungry... Even though it's not as bad as when Saddam was ruling, people don't have any money and they don't have means to go from one place to another."
Talk to any local Assyrian, and they will likely be able to tell you a story about a sibling, cousin or friend who has been given the infamous ultimatum by religious Islamist extremists: Convert to the Muslim faith or else you will be forced out of your home. The targeted Christians are usually given a couple days to make their decision. If they don't act, they are killed.
"My brother-in-law was stabbed, his niece was shot in the mouth, and his two sisters were also shot... All thrown into the street and left for dead," says Esho Kais, a deacon of an Assyrian congregation located in Glendale. Kais's sister, now a widow, was forced to move with the masses into northern Iraq.
The martyrs of the Iraqi Christian faith should serve as heroes, not just for Christians, but for anyone who is a friend to democracy. These brave Iraqi's are refusing to give up their homes and their faith in the face of brutal oppression. Unfortunately, if or when Iraq is ever a stable representative government, minority groups like the Assyrians will be scattered and wounded.
By Joe Dana