Tolerance should only be a temporal attitude and should lead to acceptance. To simply tolerate means to insult. (Goethe)
Goethe's famous words from the beginning of the 19th century seem to be unheard of in the Middle East in the 21st century. Tolerance, especially towards religious minorities, seems to be farther away than ever before. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Middle East is undergoing a tremendous change. The regional power structure has shifted massively and the uprisings in the Arab world in 2011 have catalysed this process. But the fall of regimes that suppressed their own people had much deeper implications for the internal structures of their respective societies as a whole. Religious minorities, for example, were suddenly exposed to hostilities which former regimes were able to subdue more or less successfully (Egypt) or were attacked in the course of a sectarian or ethnic conflict (Iraq).
Confronted with this completely new situation, with physical assaults, with human rights violations of many kinds, with Sharia legislation and with governments indifferent or unable to ease the plight of their most vulnerable citizens, hundreds of thousands of the Middle East's indigenous minorities left the region since the beginning of the last decade. Christian minority groups are very frequently caught in the crossfire of two or more opposing parties. They have no country that feels responsible for them and they are not strong enough to defend themselves. Particular countries of concern are Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey with a traditionally big indigenous Christian population. Yet, the numbers used to depict the emigration of Christians tend to differ tremendously, and there is no certainty about the countries these minorities have headed to. Hence, some legitimate questions arise: Is the data used and published by the media accurate and reliable? How many Christians have already left? What is the range of numbers presented by different groups? Is it only the upper classes who can afford to emigrate or is class irrelevant in this case? What are the reasons for them to leave anyway? Is it due to specific events, general blatant discrimination and fear for their own lives or could it be due to economic implications that affect other residents as well? Or is it a combination of both?
This article tries to shed some light on these questions to give a better understanding of the changing religious compilation of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey to be able to better understand the consequences of the Middle Eastern upheavals for its Christian inhabitants. The information collected and evaluated in this paper is based on (scientific) articles and personal opinions of regional experts as well as primary research conducted in the countries. Internet resources were also taken into consideration.
On the difficulties of obtaining reliable numbers
Before I start with the analysis of the different Christian minority groups' status, there are some notes to keep in mind while studying the numbers that will be mentioned:
There is no hard evidence in any of the countries under consideration for the numbers that will be presented. Since most governments do not use statistical methods or censuses to count the different religious groups (for diverging reasons) all numbers will have to be read with caution. Therefore, they are always based on estimates or individual information. In fact, the real number of Christians in the Middle East is highly contested and part of an ongoing debate. It fluctuates depending on the group presenting the numbers and therefore on the intentions of the respective group. The main reason for this is of a political nature. To give an example: if the situation is depicted worse than in reality, the number of Christians left in a country will be depicted as low whereas the number of emigrants will be much higher. Vice versa, to underline the strength of a Christian group, its number could be highly inflated and the number of its refugees could be played down. Simultaneously, governments could use both to their advantage --lower numbers of indigenous Christians and lower numbers of refugees. Therefore, I will always use the whole spectrum and will try to reach a credible assumption for the concerned countries.
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By M.K. Tozman