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“Run, leave everything behind!” The mother picked up her youngest child, an infant of a few months old, grabbed her youngest daughter with her other hand and called the others. They left their home without looking back and set for the caves in the hills surrounding the small village. They met with other families and hid themselves. Outside they could hear the sounds of the nearing horsemen. Men were shouting and giving orders. The baby started to cry and his mother pressed him against her chest. The wait was long, and only when a fellow villager entered the cave to tell them the coast was clear, they dared to speak again. Some praised God. The mother looked at her boy, he had stopped breathing and passed away.

This particular event took place 99 years ago in the Christian village of Bote (Bardakci), a village near Midyat in current South East Turkey. And in the 99 years that followed this and other stories were passed on to younger generations of Aramean Christians, so we would never forget. The boy in the story, if he would have survived, would have been my grandfather’s uncle. What is known to the world as the ‘Armenian Genocide’ is also a dark chapter in the history of Greek and Aramean christians who lived in the Ottoman empire. It’s successor, the Turkish Republic, still denies that these events were in fact a genocide.

‘Never again’ said the whole world after World War II, ‘Never again’ said the world again after the horrible genocide committed by the Hutu on the Tutsi of Rwanda in 1993. But it is happening again, right under our eyes, in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and Sudan. With reports and graphic images pouring over Twitter and FaceBook feeds and other media, I can only ask: what is happening to the world, why is no one helping? I find it inapropriate to congratulate someone in the midst of these unnerving messages or post something about things as a football match. 

The US, France and England started to act by aiding the Kurds in Iraq’s beleaguered north. But the US is reluctant to commit itself again to a war (for which it holds part of the blame). Nearer to my home, the EU fails to formulate a sensible foreign policy and is still stuck in the aftermath of the financial crisis (where is Ashton by the way?). Russia, while more realistic towards the uprising in Syria a couple of years ago, shifted its focus to the Ukraine, a conflict it instigated for a large part.

The most blatant example of indifference towards the killing of thousands of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq came from the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs, mr Frans Timmermans. On questions asked by MP Pieter Omtzigt (CDA), which were sponsored by various other parties, on the current situation and whether the massacres can be classified as genocide. The Minister answered that although Christians have no easy time in Iraq, their rights are protected by law. Whether genocide is commited by IS can only be determined afterwards. His answers couldn’t have been more cynical. Who will give the people their churches, homes and livelihoods back? Who will be prosecuted in court for killing, raping and kidnapping of innocent women and children? A law can only protect someone if it’s enforced and if the society is willing to uphold and abide to it. While IS has shown no restraint whatsoever, the Dutch Parliament even failed to pass a motion to call on an international investigation to be led by the UN. Not long ago, there were a couple of million Christians living in Syria and Iraq. One can’t dare to imagine a Middle East without its indigenous people, but it will be a reality if actions are not taken soon.

100 years ago the world waited for the Ottoman empire to fall apart, to find out about it’s horrors much later. ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’ Hitler concluded his statement at the advent of the invasion of Poland with this reference. Had the world acted then, in 1939, the Holocaust would not have happened. ‘Never again’ was the credo of the United Nations and world leaders. Dear nations and leaders: it is happening again, please unite and lead.

Update 14-08-2014: The Dutch government now speaks of ‘possible acts of genocide committed by IS’. With this breakthrough, The Netherlands and others are called to action to prevent further destruction of lives and property by various MPs. According to the UN charter the world has to act. A Security Council resolution is desperately needed. EU talks will be held this Friday.


Never again was the promise of European countries to each other, that no cause or economic dispute, would lead to the domination of one over the other and the destruction of lives and cultures. Almost 70 years have passed since the end of WWII and Europe has been at peace and prospered (aside from the crisis in the Yugoslavian Republic in the 90s). But today, the 20th of July 2014, we see the world around us burning. It is this day that I stopped reading my Twitter feed for the first time because I couldn’t control my anger and frustration anymore. I can’t read anything anymore on #mh17, #nigeria, #gaza, #israel, #syria and especially I feel all my positive energy flowing away as I can only fathom to understand what has happened in #mosul today. For the first time in maybe 1800 years, there is no Christian living in Mosul, Iraq.

Christians of various denominations and ethnicities build cities throughout the Fertile Crescent, sowed the fields, harvested the crops and tried to survive under Islamic rule. Some harsh spells aside, after the collapse of the Ottoman Republic they enjoyed modest religious freedoms. But for the first time in over 1600 years, no Sunday mass was celebrated in Mosul, as there is no church left anymore. The current war between Sunni’s and Shia’s has torn Syria and Iraq apart, and the various militant groups have made one thing absolutely clear: there is no future for Christians in Iraq or Syria. Christians have few options left: flee their homes, pay a djiza (special protection tax for non-Muslims), convert or die. They survived the Persian, Arabic and barbaric invasions that swept over their lands, but this storm is proving too strong, especially without allies coming to their aid. Their desperate pleas fell on deaf ears, and now they turn to the Kurds (the enemy during the First World War) for protection.

Mor Bar Hebraeus

But not all times were like these. There were times the Arab nobility and caliphs sought the wisdom held in the Christian monasteries, churches and schools in the Nineveh plains. Great polymaths like the Syrian Orthodox Maphrian Mor Gregorius Yuhana bar Hebreaus ( John Abu’l-Faraj) translated the works of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato from Greek to Syriac to Arabic in the 13th century. There were schools in Mosul where the teachings of Mor Jacob of Nisibin and his pupil Mor Ephrem the Syrian were passed on to each and every ruler who loved his own people and allowed them to benefit from the great corpus of Syriac literature and scientific knowledge. What the Islamic State is showing us is that they do not love peace. They do not love freedom and only seek hate and destruction. My frustration comes from the fact that the West did see it fit to remove Saddam Hussein from power, support groups that wanted to topple the Baathist regime of Assad in Syria, but fail to make a stand against a group that is far more evil and dangerous than anything the Middle East has seen before.

The people have fled their homes and are at the mercy of others. Mosul is in the darkest of its times and without its Christian population, will it ever see enlightenment again?

 


99 years ago hundreds of thousand Armenian, Greek and Aramean christians were murdered in what has become known as the first genocide of the modern era. The world stood by as the Ottomans gave Kurdish militias a free hand in cleansing Anatolia of its, mostly indigenous, Christian inhabitants. Sadder still, the modern Turkish Republic never came to terms with this dark page in its own history. Numerous Armenians and Greek fled the country and most of them could find a safe haven in their own countries. This was not an option for the remaining Arameans who have been living in the south eastern province of Mardin ever since history was recorded. They formed scattered communities all over the world. Although Erdogan has called upon them to return ‘home’, his administration has done little to provide a basis for their return. On the contrary, numerous lawsuits have been filed against monasteries and villages in an attempt to expropriate lands belonging to the small Aramean communities that remained.

Almost a hundred years have passed and even in the West the Turkish denial of the genocide is stinging like a sword (the Arameans call the events that passed ‘the times of the sword’) in the hearts of many descendants of the survivors. On April 24 a monument was taken into use at the Apostolic Armenian Church in Almelo, The Netherlands. A few hundred Turks took to the streets to protest against the use of the term ‘genocide’ and petitioned the local government to take down the monument. Seeing no results, a massive protest with nationalistic imagery only seen around football matches and elections was held last Sunday. Again, Almelo was the stage. Police counted 3000 participants. The demonstration was peaceful in nature, but its message was grim: ‘we do not acknowledge you’.

One could think that the present Turks can not be held accountable for the sins of their forefathers. But by keeping denying the events they rule out every possible form of rapprochement and reconciliation. I speak of Turks, but this has been and still is the official policy of the Turkish government. Even Turkish scholars like Taner Akçam have pointed this out and conclude that the current Turkish Republic is still responsible. It’s bad when your home country isn’t your home country, but it is even worse when deliberate policies are employed to erase the history, language and culture of the indigenous people of a country completely. Denying the right to commemorate our dead on our own properties in The Netherlands is a crime in itself.

 


Yesterday I wrote about the Pope’s visit to Palestine and the strange moments Mahmoud Abbas shared with the Pontiff. Monday evening, it was Benjamin Netanyahu’s turn in trying to show some love towards the Christians of Israel. Maybe his mistake of claiming that Jesus spoke Hebrew is a bit less scary than Abass’ antics, but it is exemplary for the tough relationship between Israel and the Church, and between Jews and Christians. The Pope corrected Netanyahu and said that Jesus spoke Aramaic, which Netanyahu quickly confirmed and added “but he did know Hebrew”. As a native Aramaic speaker (more specifically Syriac, the Western Aramaic dialect of Edessa) I was thrilled to see Netanyahu getting his facts served right, but at the same time I realized that we as Christians have a very long way to go in safeguarding our culture and heritage when even the PM of Israel struggles with our history, although Arameans have always lived in Israel.

The struggle is deep, just moments after the Pope’s visit to the Church of the Dormition a fire was discovered in one of the rooms. A couple of wooden crosses and a book in which pilgrims inscribe prayers was lost. No persons were arrested but suspicions point to radical Jews who want to see Mount Zion ‘cleaned’ of non Hebrew influences. Another act radical Jews and Palestinians alike take part in is throwing rocks at people who ‘don’t belong’ in Jerusalem. I had to run for my life after an encounter with Palestinian kids on the Mountain of the Olives last year. These conservative orthodox Jews pose a big challenge for the Israeli government. Some of them don’t recognize the government and refuse to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces, although a lot of military personnel protect the settlements they live in. Read some of stories of ex-IDF soldiers on http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/

Recent changes in applying for military service made it possible for ‘Christian Arabs’ to join the ranks voluntarily. Some christian groups, mainly based in the West Bank, see this as a deliberate attempt by the government to split Christians. Others, like some Aramaic Christians I know personally, welcome this step and even petitioned the governemt a year ago to allow them to enlist. ‘It’s our country too and we need to make clear to everyone that we are not Arabs. This will help us’. It’s a small step in the emancipation of this small group but it’s an important one. Abraham said; ‘my father was a wandering Aramean’ and in the years after, the Syrian Orthodox especially, have always wandered and lived under various rulers. After the fall of city states such as Damascus the people learned how to survive and pass on their culture and identity to this very day. When I introduced myself as ‘Aramit’ to IDF staff at the airports and various checkpoints, their eyes widened and I was treated with admiration even.

The Pope maybe has opened the eyes of Israelis a little bit, but there are still a lot of fires raging threatening the presence of Christians and their culture and traditions. Much more work is needed, but with this Pope, I think we have an excellent advocate.

 

 

 


Pope Francis’ visit to Israel, Jordan and Palestine held a message of peace to the Middle East and the world, but the message PM Abbas of Palestine was awkward at its best. Last December he claimed that Jesus was a Palestinian “who brought the gospel and became a guide for millions worldwide, just as we, the Palestinians, are fighting for our freedom, 2,000 years later. We try to walk in his footsteps to the extent possible.” In his latest attempts to depict Jesus as the Che Guevera of the Palestinian cause, Abbas presented doctored images of famous paintings that try to depict the current suffering of the Palestinian people. An extensive article was written by Paul Alster for foxnews.com: www.foxnews.com/world/2014/05/25/outcry-as-palestinians-present-doctored-christianpaintings-on-papal-route/

How inappropriate these pictures may be, Abbas feels he’s free to use them and express his opinions to the world. I would not deny him this right, but only if he also would consider the same freedom and rights for his Christian countrymen. Two weeks ago I wrote about islamist groups profiling themselves in Bethlehem and Nazareth. By distorting the narrative of the Bible and the image of Christ, Abbas is aiding those who do not allow a Christian presence in the streets, towns and villages where not only Christianity began, but where millions of people travel to experience what it is like to truly walk in His footsteps.

Pope Francis has invited Abbas to visit the Vatican, I would also recommend to give him a crash course on Christianity.


From my home in Enschede I can read, see and hear what goes around in this world. Although modern media are within a hand’s reach I also like to travel and learn more about this world we live in. I also like to share my views and thoughts on the matters which captivate me the most: Politics (I have served one term on the city council in Enschede), church (I am a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch) and society (because everything is tied together). Some older posts are only available in Dutch, I preserved them from my previous blog because I think they still hold relevance to these subjects. The views expressed here are my own and you are welcome to comment on them as long as you keep to the subject, not the person who wrote them.


Over de transitie in de jeugdzorg wordt veel gesproken en nu zo langzaam aan gelukkig ook besloten. Iedereen is het er wel over eens dat er veel op gemeentes af komt en dat de financiering eerder aan de krappe dan ruime kant zit. Echter door maar te blijven roepen dat er niet genoeg tijd en geld is en dat de kwaliteit achteruit zal hollen schiet niemand iets op, gemeentes niet, zorgaanbieders niet en clienten zeker niet. We moeten juist bezig gaan met de zaken waarvan we al weten dat we ze op moeten pakken en binnen de kaders en beperkingen die er zijn de transitie zo goed mogelijk inrichten. Ik steun iedere oproep richting Den Haag om de gemeentes meer tijd te gunnen, maar we weten dat we niet aan de transitie ontkomen en kunnen het ons niet veroorloven om op de uitkomst van deze discussie te blijven wachten.

Zowel in de stedelijke commissie als in de Raadsvergadering van 24 juni jl heb ik de bezuiniging, want daar gaat het vanuit rijkswege wel in de eerste plaats om, zeker niet als zoete koek verkocht. De mening dat de transitie voor sommige partijen automatisch in kwaliteitsverbetering uit zal pakken deel ik niet, wel zie ik kansen en mogelijkheden om daadwerkelijk veranderingen in het systeem aan te brengen die zowel de clienten als de financiers (voor een groot deel de belastingbetaler) voordelen op leveren. Hiertoe moeten wel bestaande structuren en culturen doorbroken worden, en mijn angst is dat de bereidheid om structuren anders in te richten niet groot genoeg is en dat de noodzakelijke cultuurverandering veel meer tijd nodig heeft. Het lastigste bij een cultuurverandering is dat het schier onmogelijk is om die op een vastgestelde deadline te bereiken, het gaat immers om ongrijpbare zaken die ingebakken zijn in de bedrijfscultuur en opvattingen van mensen.

In Enschede is nu een visie nota vastgesteld die uit gaat van eigen kracht en het organiseren van de zorg zo dicht mogelijk bij de mensen. Veel concrete punten staan er nog niet in, maar als het aan mij ligt worden mensen niet eerst twee maanden van het kastje naar de muur gestuurd na een eerste contact, hoeven ze niet meerdere malen hun verhaal te doen en hoeven ze niet met een trits aan zorgverleners afspraken te maken hoe de zorg voor hun kind te organiseren. Dit zijn problemen die vooral ouders nu in het systeem van de jeugdzorg ervaren en waarvoor we nu de kans hebben om deze op te lossen. Om dit om te draaien naar een positieve ervaring moeten gezinscoaches afspraken kunnen maken met aanbieders (daarbij de keuzevrijheid van ouders en jongeren uiteraard wel respecteren) en moet informatie beter gedeeld worden. Met name feedback binnen het systeem is nu gebrekkig waardoor de ene zorgverlener niet weet wat een ander gedaan heeft aan interventies, laat staan weet wat daar de uitkomsten van zijn. Hier zitten ook juridische haken en ogen aan en ik kan vanuit mijn ervaring als IT professional spreken: een dergelijk systeem zet je niet in een of twee jaar op. Bovendien moeten alle betrokken partijen zich committeren aan één systeem met één set aan definities en gegevens. Alleen al het overzetten van bestaande gegevenverzamelingen naar een nieuwe kan partijen er toe doen bewegen hier weinig enthousiasme voor te tonen. Gemeenten moeten dan ook een stok achter de deur hebben om hen hier toch toe aan te zetten. Enschede doet mee aan een pilot om dit op te zetten, ik ben uiterst benieuwd naar de resultaten en wat de verwachtingen zijn als een dergelijk systeem regionaal uitgerold moet worden.

We kunnen alleen andere resultaten (gelijke of betere kwaliteit met minder geld) alleen bereiken als we zaken ook echt anders gaan doen. Een motie van de VVD die op riep om terughoudend te zijn bij het overnemen van preffered supplier schappen of bestaande langlopende contracten en zoveel mogelijk ruimte te bieden aan nieuwe partijen kon op de steun van het CDA en gelukkig die van een meerderheid rekenen. De bezwaren kwamen met name van de kant van de SP, die vreest dat lopende zorgarrangementen weg zullen vallen. Continuiteit moet gewaarbotgd blijven, maar we moeten anders durven kijken naar de organisatie van de zorg en de samenwerking met betrokken partners. En als het nodig is moeten we structuren doorbreken, als de gemeentes alles hetzelfde doen als de provincie of het rijk voorheen, dan zal de bezuiniging niet worden gehaald en zal de kwaliteit zeker niet verbeteren.

Zie ook mijn eerdere bericht over dit onderwerp: https://ejilgun.com/2013/06/04/transitie-jeugdzorg-grote-opgave-grote-zorgen/