Category Archives: Middle Eastern Christianity

The Armenian Patriarchate and the Sanasaryan Han Religious Minority Property in Turkey

by Christopher Sheklian

Sanasaryan Han

Last month, the Court of Cassation in Turkey ruled that the historic and contested Sanasaryan Han will be the property of the Turkish state. Built in 1895, the Han (“Inn”) was bought by the foundation established by the philanthropist Mkrtich Sanasaryan to support the Sanasaryan College in the city of Erzurum in eastern Anatolia. It was put under the administration of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1920. In 1928, the Turkish State confiscated the building and maintained its revenue and rights until the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey filed a lawsuit for its return with the Istanbul 13th Civil Court of First Instance in 2014. After a circuitous legal route, the Court of Cassation—the court of last instance for civil and criminal cases—ruled last February (2018) for the admissibility of the lawsuit and filed for the return of the title deed to the Armenian Patriarchate. Widely seen to be a major victory for the Armenian Patriarchate and the question of religious minority properties in the Republic of Turkey, it seemed the Armenian Patriarchate would assume the deed within a couple years. Last month, however, the same Court of Cassation ruled that the title deed will remain with the Turkish state. The lawyer in the case, Ali Elbeyoğlu, plans to appeal the case to the Constitutional Court.

The case of the Sanasaryan Han is just one case—albeit a very high-profile case—regarding the properties of religious minority groups in the Republic of Turkey. Continue reading

Orthodox Christians in the Middle East Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Paul Gadalla

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Pope Tawadros II

Orthodox churches in the Middle East are facing their gravest existential threat since the Arab Conquest. The church communities in Christianity’s historic cradle are faced with shrinking flocks due to the lure of immigration, threats of sectarian violence, and increasing societal marginalization. With fewer members and less clout, church leaders have bet their waning political capital on secular—but often brutally oppressive—dictators in hopes of attaining communal survival, pitting their beleaguered flocks against protest movements calling for change.

Orthodox Christians raised in the West might be left scratching their heads at the sight of the Orthodox patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch standing in solidarity with strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ask: how are men of God dealing with such leaders?  How can the church remain silent in the face of brutal repression and even war crimes?

The answer to the church’s moral and political quandary is not simple. And a millennium of fraught church-state relations in the Middle East will likely take centuries more to unwind—if Christian communities there can survive that long. Continue reading

Christians of Holy Land and the Jewish State

by Michael G. Azar

Amid the growth of Islamist persecution in the last few years, a variety of think tanks and politicians have sought to bring the plight of Christians in the Middle East to the forefront of American politics. Amid such fervor, Israeli leaders have also claimed their role in the defense of Christians. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently told a Jerusalem gathering of over 180 Christian media representatives that Israel is the protector of the Christian people and “the only place in the Middle East” where Christians have “the freedom to worship as they please.” Together, he explained, Christians and Israel stand against Islamic fundamentalism. Indeed, many American Christians concur.

A likely reason why this media gathering, organized by Netanyahu’s Press Office, featured prominent Israeli officials and a visit to Israeli settlements, but no local Christian representatives nor visits to local Christian villages, is that most Christians of the Holy Land do not share the rosy view of the State of Israel that Netanyahu’s government wishes to promote. So why the disconnect? Continue reading

Modernity, Murder, and Coptic Identity

by Candace Lukasik

Bishop Epiphanius

On July 29, 2018, one of the most beloved bishops and scholars in the Coptic world, Bishop Epiphanius, was found murdered outside of his cell at the St. Macarius monastery. He was on his way to Midnight Prayer when he was assaulted and struck in the back of the head. While the Egyptian state has now officially charged an ex-monk and an accomplice at the monastery with the murder, Coptic social media prior to this was abuzz with speculation, not only for the murder’s brutality but also because of the way it brought to a head a century-long internal debate about Coptic identity.

For most Western Christians, Coptic Christianity offers a powerful testimony to modern martyrdom. Several American Christian leaders point to violence against the Copts in order to garner attention for the persecution of Christians in the modern world and to shape US policy. In this regard, US activists and scholars tend to portray Coptic Christians as passive, premodern victims of modern religious violence. Such characterizations fail to recognize the extent to which the community has undergone a series of transformations and divisions of late. Continue Reading…