Middle East Council of Churches

Unofficial news from the Middle Eastern Christian Ecumenical organization.

Maintained by Tom Scudder

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Friday, May 02, 2003
The MECC General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, travelled with a group of Christians and Muslims from Lebanon to the Sudan yesterday. They are attending a conference in Khartoum held by the Council for International People's Friendship entitled "Coexistence and the culture of peace." Other members of the group include Muhammad Sammak of al-Mustaqbal newspaper, Shi'ite clergyman Sayyed Hani Fahas, and Kamil Mnasseh of L'Orient le Jour newspaper.
posted by Tom at 4:12 PM

ICRC: Daily bulletin, May 1:

Wide-ranging report, including reports on places ICRC has not previously reported on, including several cities in south-central Iraq (Nasiriya, Samawah, Diwaniya, Najaf and al Amarah: "No major needs were reported, but some social institutions have either been totally looted or fear that any assistance distributed could be looted.") and eastern Iraq (al-Kut, Badra: "Al Kut has more or less returned to normality, with security no longer an issue during the day. Military operations are over. Badra for its part has been spared by the war, with the people from surrounding areas and cities who had sought refuge in Badra now returning to their places of origin. However, unexploded ordnance also seems to be a problem in these areas: several cases of related injuries have been treated so far in the health dispensary in Badra. In the town of al Kut (population 380,000) the contamination from unexploded ordnance seems to be greater and more widespread than in Badra. Children are generally the most affected group among the population. There is therefore an urgent need for an awareness programme concerning unexploded ordnance and other explosive remnants of war.")

posted by Tom at 3:46 PM

ICRC: Iraq: A not-so-unique tragedy:
After twenty years of detention in Iran, Adnan returned to Baghdad in March, at the start of the latest war. Everything had changed, including the street names. He could scarcely find his way around the modern city that Baghdad had become. Adnan became distressed, unable to cope with the changes in society and with the deterioration in the values he believed in. Even the stack of banknotes he received in return for his long years of detention was almost worthless. His dream of building a house soon evaporated.

Adnan's memory was not what it used to be either. It took him days to find his parents' house. Someone else was living there. Even the neighbours had moved. He finally met an old man who remembered him, but even he was shocked to see Adnan, as everyone had assumed he was dead. The man told him his father had died seven years previously, his mother three years later. Desparate, Adnan started searching for his wife. Several gruelling days later he found her phone number, and discovered that she was now living abroad.

The war had destroyed the telecommunications system, but someone directed him to the ICRC, which had set up a satellite phone service. He knew where their office was, because they had given him a detention certificate a few days before. At the office Adnan joined the queue, anticipation rising as he waited to call his wife. All around him, ICRC employees and Iraqi Red Crescent volunteers were busy processing requests, dialling phone numbers, putting people in touch with their relatives abroad for the first time in weeks. Adnan was getting more and more tense. Finally, his turn came. He took the phone and uttered a few stumbling words. A long pause. In the busy office, others sensed that something was desperately wrong. As all around him fell silent, Adnan burst into tears. He hung up the phone and walked away, his face drained of expression. His wife had re-married a year ago.

posted by Tom at 3:41 PM

Added to sidebar:
  • Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, a nonprofit organization seeking to increase awareness among American Christians of the urgent needs of Christians in the Holy Land, to enrich the lives of American Christians through contacts with Christians in the Holy Land, and to raise and distribute money for programs which will encourage and assist Christians to remain in the Holy Land.
  • Christian Foundation for the Holy Land, an apolitical organization dedicated to providing scholarships for Christians living in the Holy Land, both immigrant and native.

posted by Tom at 3:34 PM

National Council of Churches USA: Muslim, Christian, Jewish leaders release joint peace guidelines:
April 30, 2003, CHICAGO - As President Bush prepared his Thursday evening address to announce "the end of the Iraq war," more than 75 Muslim, Christian, Jewish and other faith leaders from across the United States converged on Chicago to issue a set of principles to lead toward a peaceful future. The summit addressed the humanitarian, spiritual and civil costs of war and its ramifications here at home.

The summit participants’ "Urgent Call for Reflection, Hope and Action" calls on the President to:

  • draw back from the use and threat of "first strike" war;
  • draw back from unilateral US control over the reconstruction of Iraq;
  • bring the US occupation to a prompt end by transferring to the United Nations and multilateral, non-governmental organizations the authority to work with the Iraqi people toward Iraq’s own reconstruction;
  • make available US resources as part of a world effort to serve the needs and decisions of the Iraqi people.

    The religious leaders also called on all people of faith to make this a time of deliberate reflection and to gather in town meetings, teach-ins and other community forums "to explore what kind of society we seek to become." In a second document, titled "Words of Reflection," they called for a national day of prayer and reflection, with a special emphasis on interfaith gatherings. "We further call on the President to distance himself from religious leaders who demonize the faith of others," they said, and urged Americans not to forget "the continuing suffering of the Iraqi people, which demands large-scale international humanitarian relief."

  • posted by Tom at 3:22 PM

    WFN and PCUSA news: Presbyterian churches in Iraq escape major damage by Jerry L. Van Marter
    April 24, LOUISVILLE - Word has finally reached Presbyterian Church (USA) officials from Iraq that the five Presbyterian churches there have escaped significant damage and are carrying on with their ministries.

    In an April 24 email from Cairo, Worldwide Ministries Division coordinator for the Middle East Victor Makari wrote: "First-hand report indicates that the Presbyterian churches in Baghdad and in Mosul are managing fairly well under the circumstances. The Arab Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church of Baghdad was able to gather for services on Good Friday and on Easter."

    Makari said that the Rev. Nuhad Tomeh, the PC(USA)'s mission co-worker with the Middle East Council of Churches who is coordinating MECC relief efforts in Iraq, told him that the Good Friday service at Arab Evangelical church was
    broadcast live on Iraqi television.

    posted by Tom at 3:17 PM

    Wednesday, April 30, 2003
    ICRC: Iraq bulletin (primarily Baghdad), 28 April:

    Much stuff, including:

    Baghdad hospitals

    The general state of hospitals has not changed noticeably over recent days. The functional capacity of hospitals falls into three categories: a) a few hospitals whose staff have devised coping mechanisms allowing them to work but at reduced capacity; b) the majority of hospitals providing only emergency care; and c) quite a number of hospitals not functioning at all. During the period covered, the ICRC assisted al Rashad psychiatric hospital with food and basic medicines and al Karama hospital with a one-month food ration for 400 patients.

    Water and electricity supply

    Despite recent improvements the water and power situation remains difficult, with some parts of the city receiving little or no supplies. The ICRC estimates that over the weekend about 40 per cent of the normal electricity supply was restored. Infrastructure such as pumping stations, electrical substations and water- and waste water-treatment plants is still falling prey to looters. The situation at Rustumiya waste water-treatment plant remains critical, with the sewage of about three million people currently flowing untreated into the Dyiala River, a tributary of the Tigris.

    posted by Tom at 4:06 PM

    Action by Churches Together: Basra: water shortages continue by Hannu Pesonen (FinnChurchAid):
    Baghdad, April 28, 2003 -- The water lies stagnant and dirty in the irrigation canals of some of the poorest suburbs of Basra, Iraq's second largest city. Green and foul, this is the water that the city's two million inhabitants use for washing. And if for some reason, the water tanks brought in by INGOs cannot get through to the areas, people come to these canals and the dilapidated wells to draw their drinking water.

    Basra is still suffering from a shortage of water. The situation was bad even before the war, reminds Tor Valla, a water engineer with Action by Churches Together (ACT) International member, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA). Valla and other NCA staff have been seconded to UNICEF and were amongst the first people to start distributing water in southern Iraq in early April, while the war on Iraq was still going on. Several members of ACT International have helped fund this work.

    posted by Tom at 3:59 PM

    Action by Churches Together: Needed now - humanitarian 'resistance' by Jonathan Frerichs, ACT Press officer
    Baghdad, April 28, 2003 – "We need resistance in the trenches, not resistance in hotels". The saying, sharpened by a play on words in Arabic, is current in the streets of Baghdad. This captures the local political mood towards émigré Iraqis returning from fancy hotels in Europe as would-be leaders.

    More plausible are leaders who have lived through war, dictatorship and sanctions, like the people they would lead - a people who have never determined their own fate and wonder even now if they ever really will.

    The 'trenches' of strife-torn and impoverished neighborhoods around this city are also the place where humanitarian 'resistance' is most needed now. There is no master relief strategy in place at present, but supplies are being rushed to the frontlines of suffering that crisscross this city. Some of them come from the global inter-church alliance, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International.

    St. Elya Chaldean Church served as one about 50 parish relief centers established by ACT member Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) during the war. Families seeking shelter and safety when the city was being bombed and besieged were welcomed at these centers with food, blankets and clean water. But St. Elya serves another purpose as well. From its safety and security, medicines and supplies are reaching small medical clinics fighting chronic disease, now re-opened in some of Baghdad's poorest neighborhoods.

    "If we would not have had St. Elya's, we could not have done anything during the war," said Alexander Christof, head of the German non-profit, APN. Three US members of ACT International assist his work as part of a special health campaign for Iraqi Children.

    posted by Tom at 3:56 PM

    Anglican Network for Inter-Faith Concerns: Christian-Muslim relations in a future Iraq: Recent media comment by Clare Amos:
    This is the first of a monthly series on an aspect of Christian-Muslim relationships. Reports in this series will firstly seek to provide a factual digest of news reports or other published information on the subject under discussion. They will also include a brief conclusion – which will contain the element of evaluation.
      Structure of following information:
    • Basic information regarding the situation of Christians in Iraq
    • Precis of major article in The Tablet March 15 2003
    • Information from Iraqi diaspora sources
    • Information based on comment/direct news etc of Christians in Iraq/Middle East
    • Possible difficulties relating to Western Christian
    • Conclusions
    There is both a substantial – and also historic – Christian community in Iraq. A reasonable estimate seems to be perhaps 750,000 out of a total population of approximately 24 million. There are also considerable numbers of Christians of Iraqi origin living outside the country (in some cases for generations). Detroit,in the US, is a particular base. What is the attitude of the Iraqi Christian community to the war and what does the future hold for them? They have received a reasonable amount of attention in the news media in recent weeks – and the following comments are based on that as well as an extended conversation with a senior Christian Iraqi currently resident in the United Kingdom.

    Read the whole thing. It's an excellent overview.
    posted by Tom at 3:51 PM

    Official Site: Pictures from Baghdad (Late March, 2003).

    Better late than never.
    posted by Tom at 3:46 PM

    Monday, April 28, 2003
    Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia: Armenian Martyr's Day (scroll down to find the story):
    On Thursday, 24 April 2003, on the occasion of the 88th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, thousands of Armenians attended the Divine Liturgy and requiem service for the one-and-a-half million Armenian Martyrs, the victims of the Genocide organized by the Turkish Government. The Holy Liturgy was presided over by His Holiness Catholicos Aram I.

    Bishop Dirayr Panossian celebrated the Divine Liturgy and delivered the sermon stressing the importance of 24 April in the life of our people.

    Following the Divine Liturgy His Holiness, surrounded by members of the brotherhood of Cilician Catholicosate, Seminarians and the faithful, walked in procession toward the Chapel of Martyrs, where he presided over the requiem service.

    In his message Aram I said: ¡ÈWe have not forgotten and will never forget our martyrs, because the martyrs are the source of the power of a people¡Çs existence and a way to eternity. People live with collective memory. The Armenian Genocide is deeply rooted in the collective memory of our people. All attempts to deny the Genocide will fail because the Genocide does not belong to history, it is part of the daily life of our people all around the world. A people that has martyrs and that knows how to be martyred for a sacred purpose is immortal¡É. His Holiness denounced all efforts aimed at compromising the memory of the Genocide and stressed the solidarity of our people in seeking to regain our just rights.

    posted by Tom at 4:57 PM

    Action by Churches Together: Open letter on post-war Iraq:
    April 22 - In post-war Iraq, humanitarian aid of all kinds must be clear about its purposes.

    Providing aid solely on the basis of need is not only sufficient grounds for aiding Iraq but also the most solid ground for doing so – especially, we believe, for church-related agencies working in the Middle East. Basing aid on need is a core principle of humanitarian conduct, clearly codified in international humanitarian law and broadly accepted within the worldwide humanitarian community.

    Those who need help have the right to receive aid on the basis of that need and to be served regardless of their race, creed or nationality. Those who provide help must respond, in turn, without attaching political, military or religious conditions to their aid or making adverse distinctions among the recipients. ACT International and its member agencies whole-heartily endorse these standards both as practitioners and as signatories to the international humanitarian codes of conduct.

    posted by Tom at 4:45 PM

    Human Rights Watch (via ReliefWeb): Northern Iraq: Civilian deaths higher since war ended
    (Arbil, Iraq, April 27, 2003) The number of civilians killed or wounded since the war ended in northern Iraq is higher than it was during the conflict, Human Rights Watch said today.

    Extensive research at five hospitals and morgues in Kirkuk and Mosul suggests that the high civilian tolls can be attributed to general lawlessness after the collapse of local authorities; the ready availability of weapons and ammunition; and the vast stores of ammunition and ammunition components left behind by the Iraqi military, including landmines, rocket-propelled grenades, and other explosives.

    Many of the victims have been children who play with explosives or pick up unexploded ordinance (UXO) as toys and sustain serious injuries as a result.

    "In some ways, the peace has proved more lethal than the war," said Hania Mufti, London Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

    posted by Tom at 4:43 PM

    Action by Churches Together: A new 'inspector's' brief for Iraq, today by Jonathan Frerichs:
    On the Amman-Baghdad Highway, April 24, 2003 ¡¦We are on the road to Baghdad, a small team of inspectors of sorts. Not a high level mission ahead, just "grassroots" visits. No U-2 flights and Geiger counters, just a notebook or two. Not life at the eye of a political storm, just time with people whose dramas make few headlines.

    But there will be evidence to find on this inspection program and growing pressure for international action before too much time will be allowed to pass. That's because, like the world-famous weapons inspectors in Iraq, we are also hunting for things that can kill people.

    The evidence should not be too hard to find. Before we even crossed the border, locals and travelers were giving us tips on where to look. We have questions, for example, about activities at one Baghdad hospital. In a particular pediatrics ward, which has 12 cots, children have been spending only two hours in treatment. Reportedly, staff admit twelve at a time, do what they can in short order, and then discharge them to make room for another batch.


    And there are politics ahead as well, even at the level where we work. One "informant" (a Danish journalist also interested in biological and other "Weapons of micro destruction" told us to watch out for what people would
    say. Residents of an impoverished Baghdad neighborhood told her this week: "We want Saddam back. We had water. We had electricity. Now we are afraid to send our children out to play. We hated Saddam Hussein but at least we
    were safe."

    But good prospects surely outweigh the bad. There are no intractable mysteries surrounding inspections like ours. No immovable obstacles, personas or political positions block success either. With each passing day, local volunteers and professionals, outside aid workers and United Nations staff are setting foot on more and more of Iraq.

    This growing 'army' of inspections will get somewhere. The threats take some finding and they will take some fixing. But remedies are readily available and quite low in cost. The soap some of us sent in to kids¡¦clinics just before the war cost about $3 per child for six months. Never mind that we just heard that a whole truckload was dissolved by a misguided bomb.

    There is more where soap comes from, and basic medicines, clean water, temporary rations -- even job programs and new governments, too. All are relative bargains in this crisis, and they save lives without any arguments.

    These inspections need not take long. A long standoff with disease and hunger could soon be over.

    posted by Tom at 4:38 PM

    New Posting schedule: Given that things are happening slightly less quickly, this site will be updated 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday).
    posted by Tom at 4:33 PM