As each day brings more terrible news from the Middle East, a war-weary American public may be tempted to look the other way. This is understandable because of the brutal and unusually evil nature of ISIS, even by middle-eastern standards. We may be tempted to turn off the news, log off twitter, avoid RSS feeds, because hearing about children being beheaded, or about Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities being massacred is depressing to hear.
As ULC ministers, even as human beings, we must not look away nor ignore the atrocities being committed. The Universal Life Church Monastery is an advocate of the freedom of religion, and the freedom of the individual to determine their own spirituality. We believe that we are all children of the same universe, and that we each have a right to be here.
ISIS does not agree. They have shown that they’ll kill any who don’t share their terrible vision of an Islamic Caliphate, a state ruled by harsh Islamic law, governed by a supreme religious and political leader known as the caliph.
The reality of the situation is difficult for us citizens to grasp, we who are not accustomed to the horrors of war. But for the men and women who have served and fought against radical militants, the situation is gravely clear. This is especially true for Benjamin Abajian, soldier and ULC minister who served in the 2003 Iraq war. Abajian’s second tour had him serving in the city of Mosul, where a majority of the atrocities are occurring due to the recent ISIS takeover.
Abajian remembers that during his deployment in Mosul in 2008, American soldiers, Assyrian, and Kurdish peoples worked together against their common enemy, Al Qaeda. Though Christians and Muslims had been leaving peacefully together in Mosul for years, many Christians met a violent and tragic death at the hands of Al Qaeda. In his blog, B.A. Intelligence Network, Abajian recounts, “Although I wasn’t a devout Christian, we somehow shared a commonality as both Americans and Assyrians, and the innocence and gratitude of the people and their children brought a seldom smile to our faces amidst the brutality of our mission.”
One of these children was a young Iraqi Christian girl. This girl would come and hold Abajian’s pinky as he patrolled through her neighborhood. She gave him cards depicting Christian saints, and often the soldiers would give the children little treats and gifts.
Though American forces were able to defeat Al Qaeda in the city and killed their primary leader, Abu Khalaf, on June 27, 2008, they returned to find the area, once vibrant with people, solemn and empty. Abajian never saw the young Christian girl again. From Abajian’s blog:
Almost six years have passed since I came home from Mosul and today we find the Assyrian Christian population, among many minorities to include Kurds and Yazidis, in an even worse situation than when my unit arrived in 2007. If anyone was our friend in the aftermath of the Iraq War, which ended on the 15th of March 2011, it was them. Yazidi, Kurdish, and Assyrian Christians risked their lives and those of their families daily while serving as interpreters; walking alongside us on the frontline. They served in their new nation’s army in the few Iraqi units we could rely upon and trust and their neighborhoods displayed constant gratitude and whatever possible support they could for our welfare and safety. Now that we have left, they are completely helpless to the bloodthirsty destruction and barbarism of ISIS who has systematically taken over the city.
Though Al Qaeda was mostly defeated, a new terror has risen in it’s place. ISIS is much more violent and hateful in it’s ideology. They have killed Christian children like the little girl Abajian befriended and placed their heads on spikes. It’s estimated that nearly 300,000 Christians in Iraq are fleeing from extermination by ISIS militants.
It’s natural for us, here in America, to want to block out such horrific and evil images. But that will not stop them from happening. Regardless of what religion or spirituality you follow, we cannot and should not ignore what is happening to the people in Iraq and Syria. Abajian writes:
Unfortunately, many of us who are blessed to be born in a nation like the United States would rather continue on our daily business and pretend such atrocities aren’t happening to our brothers and sisters across the globe than face the tragic truth. We only care for what directly affects us in our day to day lives within the bountiful nation we reside. I myself have tried to forget the tragedies seen and heard during the Iraq War and focus on the future, however, the people I speak of weren’t complete strangers in some unknown foreign land. They were the few friends I had aside from my brothers in arms there. I may not be able to go back and protect those like the little girl and her family, but I do have a voice. If there is one thing necessary it is to bring awareness to the world starting one person at a time.
Not all of us are soldiers, not all of us have the means or ability to help, but each and every one of us has a voice. In unison Abajian and the ULC Monastery use our voice to help raise awareness of the terrible suffering and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities face in Iraq and Syria. Awareness is important, but it is not all we can do to help. Organizations such as Save the Children and the Iraqi Christian Relief Council are working hard to provide relief and save lives. Please pray for the Iraqi and Syrian minorities, and earnestly consider how you can help, whether by donating, raising awareness, or any other means.
The Iraqi Christian Relief Council
The Iraqi Children’s Relief Fund
Benjamin Abajian’s account on B.A. Intelligence Network