Persecution can be deliberate and targeted, as in Ethiopia, or it may be a consequence of some well-intentioned but not well thought out legislation, as in Syria.
The assassination of popular singer and champion of Oromo interests, Hachalu Hundessa, in the capital Addis Ababa on 29 June 2020, has been used as a pretext for violence against Ethiopian Christians. Hundessa was an ethnic Oromo Christian, whose protest songs became anthems for millions of ethnic Oromo during the years of anti-government protests from 2015 to 2018.
In 2018 Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali, was elected Ethiopia's first ethnic Oromo Prime Minister. With an ethnic Oromo Muslim father and an ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Dr Abiy is a convert to evangelical Protestant Christianity. A former soldier, he holds a PhD (2017) in conflict resolution. PM Abiy's reforms have been breathtaking and his brokering of peace with Eritrea earned him a well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize (2019).
The current “ethnic/religious” violence appears to have been organised with the intent to destabilise the nation and derail PM Abiy's reform agenda. Gangs of Oromo nationalists specifically targeted ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in some 40 districts of Oromia region. The 239 dead, some 300 wounded and more than 3360 displaced are all ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. 493 homes and businesses belonging to Amhara Christians were torched.
The future of Ethiopia itself is at stake here. This is a battle between the vision of a strong and united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious Ethiopia versus the dream of ethnic nationalists to rule themselves in independent states.
There are many ethnic minorities which are at risk of discrimination, subjugation, slaughter and ethnic cleansing as demonstrated recently in Oromo.
The USA's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which took effect on 17 June 2020, places Damascus in a state of economic siege. It started with good intentions: it was enacted 'to halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, encourage a negotiated political settlement, and hold Syrian human rights abusers accountable for their crimes'.
That sounds highly desirable! But wait – look at this closely. The Act mandates that any foreign entity found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or 'entering into contracts related to reconstruction' in areas controlled by the Syrian, Russian or Iranian governments will face US sanctions. Yet the region's most repressive, vile and anti-Christian human rights abusers - NATO-member Turkey and US-allied Saudi Arabia - are not covered by the Act.
It does not apply to business and reconstruction in the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), nor in Idlib - a jihadist sanctuary under the protection of Turkey - nor in the eastern oil fields of Deir ez Zor which are controlled by Islamic jihadists under US protection.
Almost all Syria's Christians, including those displaced by war, live in areas controlled by the Syrian government, where they were both safe and free. The sanctions mean that hardship will escalate to catastrophic levels, reconstruction will grind to a halt and, most critically, if the Syrian Army is forced to pull back, security for Christian front-line communities in the north and east will deteriorate markedly.
It remains to be seen, for example, if the Hungarian government is sanctioned if it continues to assist persecuted Christians with reconstruction through its 'Hungary Helps' program. Will aid groups such as the Assyrian Aid Society, Open Doors, or Aid to the Church in Need, or Assyrians and Armenians in Syria's diaspora community, face sanctions for helping decimated and devastated Christian communities rebuild?
Effectively, the Act has created a situation of economic siege and has removed protections that existed for Christian communities in Syria. It may ultimately result in a coup, a revolt or surrender to an Islamist takeover in pursuit of their dream to run oil and gas pipelines from Qatar to Turkey via Syria.
How can we pray?
Psalm 140 seems to have been written for such circumstances. I encourage you to read it through as a prayer, to insert “Ethiopian and Syrian Christians” instead of “me” and “”their” instead of “my” and make it your prayer for the people of Ethiopia and Syria. The Psalmist doesn’t pull any punches in verses 10 and 11 so I think we are within our rights to pray similarly!
Let us pray for God to thwart all evil plots and to bless our brother PM Abiy with security, wisdom, insight, discernment and strength, all while keeping him humble with 'eyes fixed on Jesus' (Hebrews Chapter 12 verse 2).
We need to ask God to comfort those who are grieving; heal those who are wounded; provide food, water, shelter and medical aid to those who are displaced, and impart wisdom, grace, energy and authority to those who seek to lead according to the will and purpose of the Lord.
For Syria I encourage you to pray that religious freedom be protected and any scheme that would imperil Syria's Church be re-thought. May Jehovah Jireh (God our provider) supply the Syrian Church with all the food, water and medicines she requires, and enable Christians to rebuild what has been destroyed.
Most critically, may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts; the commander of heaven's angelic forces) protect Syrian Christians from the genocidal plots of Turkey and its jihadist proxies, as well as from a resurgent Islamic State.
We cannot be complacent, just because all this is happening so far away from us both geographically and emotionally.
Aira Chilcott is a retired secondary school teacher with lots of science andtheology under her belt. Aira is an editor for PSI and indulges inreading, bushwalking and volunteering at a nature reserve. Aira’s husband Bill passed away in 2022 and she is left with three wonderful adult sons and one grandson.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html