27 December 2013

Christians and Other Minorities Under Fire in Iraq

It's been a while since I've posted.  Christmas has just passed and it has been a good time of reflection.

Some Christians around the world have been unable to freely celebrate the festival of Christ's birth.  In Iraq, it has been tedious and dangerous for Christians, many of whom live mainly in the north of Iraq, and other ethnic and religious minorities.  They have been under siege for a long time.

Iraqi Christians celebrate Jesus' birth behind blast walls, in a siege situation.  A Reuters news report laid out the stark conditions in the Christmas season 2013 for Christians
TYpical cement block wall, an Iraqi girl stands shyly in the shadow as we look in towards the inner courtyard
in Baghdad.  Soldiers and police ran bomb detectors across cars around Mar Yousif (Saint Joseph) Syriac Catholic church in western Baghdad and patted down visitors.  The church itself looked like a walled fortress.

The radical islamic groups seem to have the approach of conquer or destroy, convert or die.  This has not always the dominant viewpoint.  It seems to depend on who is in power and who has the guns at a particular item in a particular locale.

The neighboring Assad regime in Syria was cruel and repressive, and the revolutionaries there were first hailed by US and European leaders.  But the government's opponents are revealing themselves to likely be similarly unprincipled and uncompromising ideologues who will be as repressive, not along the lines of a liberal democracy originally touted.

Syrian Christians in have been driven from their homes in recent disruptions in that country.  Not just because of general disturbance, but because they are Christians.  This does not bode well for that situation.  Minorities are in a vulnerable position there.

The US made the mistake once of supporting Saddam Hussein against an "enemy" just because he was also against the same enemy, even if for nefarious purposes.  Without questioning Saddam's reasons for propogating his raw aggression on Iran and what the outcome would be, the US rushed weapons and materiel to the vicious dictator over a long period.  Let's hope more careful thought goes into the Syrian situation.

Meanwhile the Iraqi Christian communities were ignored and persecution increased.  They thought European arrival in military force would be a deliverance, but it has not turned out that way.

Christians in the east have suffered under pagan, then islamic regimes of various kinds. The early Arab Empires were generally benevolent, but Christians are always by definition second-class and experience official limitations. They flourished the most under the Ottoman Empire and subsequent colonial western protectorates before WWI and between the two world wars.

Three ancient Syrian or Syriac Aramaic (Aramaean) churches survive from the early centuries of Christian faith in Syria-Persia.  Non-Christian and non-Islamic traditional groups also struggle to survive,
like the Yazidis, with a strong advocacy community in Canada.

Mandeans are another ancient non-Christian sect, the only remaining organized Gnostic church.  They are a pre-Arab sect that honors various biblical characters as prophets, the last of which is John the Baptist.  Augustine of Hippo ("St Augustine") was a member of a similar very famous Gnostic religion called Manicheanism, before his conversion to Christ.  The last instance of the latter died out in about the 14th century in China, where it had migrated under missionaries.

Seasonal celebrations from the common ancient eastern calendar are still celebrated by many peoples of the region.  One of these is the celebration of Navroze, the ancient Medo-Persian New Year.  

Since modern Turkey, even with its current more reactionary traditional Muslim orientation, is a long-time ally of the USA and Europe, the ancient connection may be of further interest:    My article Yezidis, Kurds and Zoroastrianism discusses the relationships of the Yezidi and Kurds in regard to Navroze.

Updated 4 February 2014

Read further about these peoples and the cultural setting on my website:
The Yazidis – An Angelic Sect
Yezidis, Kurds and Zoroastrianism
Greek and Aramaic Among 1st Century Jews
Textual Themes and Language Variations in the late Prophets

Related on the Internet:
Christians in Syria Driven from their Homes
Another Dark Christmas for Iraqi Christians - Reuters
Read more about the dangers to Christians in Iraq
Will the Middle East’s Aramaic language survive?
[OBJ note:  There are several varieties of Aramaic.  The traditional family groupings of Aramaic languages in north-south or east-west variations of the Aramaic family were in existence at the time of Jesus.  Aramaic was the Greek of the east from ancient times, so had many varieties.]
The Mandeans - the last remaining Gnostic organized church

13 February 2013

Cyprus Napkin Holder and the Orthodox Sunday School

When we were living in Cyprus, we were in a duplex with our landlord and his famliy on the other side.  While having a late night supper with them one evening on their front veranda (a common Cypriot summer practice), we we admired the napkin holder, which bore a scripture passage in old Greek script.

 The verse on the napkin holder was Philippians 1:13 in the "original Greek" (as American pastors are so fond of saying), "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  The son, about 12 or 13, mentioned he had won this as a prize in his Sunday school class.

This led to a discussion about Sunday school and Bible study in the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.  We were intrigued to discover that they use this term "Sunday School" familiar in American churches.

They explained that not all the classes were on Sunday.  I saw that the word on the inscription was Catechismos, the equivalent of "Catechism Class."  So we asked if this was just for the youth preparing for adult membership.

The older daughter answered they have Sunday School and Bible study classes for all ages, like churches I grew up in.  This was interesting, since we knew that in the British and European context, "Sunday school" is commnly only for children.

I had already learned that the Eastern Orthodox have a simpler Confirmation process than the Roman Catholic and other western churches.  What is called "Confirmation" in the west is just handled at the Baptism, going back to an early practice in Christian history.

I learned later that this was indeed the ancient practice, called the Charisma ("The gift").  This involves an anointing of oil, to signify the receiving of the Holy Spirit, as in the New Testament references, which few western chuches still observe.  In Orthodox practice, this joint baptism and Charism varies in time from a few weeks to a few months old!

Learn more about Cyprus and its fascinting, deep-history culture at these links on my website:
Across the Greek Divide
Cyprus: Notes and Perceptions
Eastern Orthodoxy
  This article links to several other sources of information
Eastern Orthodoxy - Presentation
Prayer for Cyprus
History and Art in Cyprus
Italians, Etruscans and Greeks: Genetics and Ethnicity

For More on Cyprus
History of Cyprus
The Church of Cyprus - Official Site
For More on Eastern Orthodox Churches
Autonomous Orthodox Churches of the World

This blog article includes material first published in November 2000 in The Cyprus Sentinel, a periodic newsletter on cross-cultural communication, published in Nicosia, Cyprus

08 January 2013

Language and Identity

A major resource in our understanding of peoples of the world is the Ethnologue, the primary authority on languages of the world.  A few years ago the codeset of the Ethnologue became the world standard of the International Standards Organization (ISO) for languages of the world.

The entries in the Ethnologue indicate the main name of a language.  Dialects of the language are listed, as well as alternative names under which the language or dialects have been listed previously.

In people group research, the Ethnologue language code is correlated with the similar code for peoples from the Registry of Peoples.  In many cases the name of a dialect corresponds with the name of an ethnic group that speaks that form of the broader language.  That just depends on the self-identity attitude of that group.  You have to find out from them.  This is where field linguists and anthropologists are so critical.

For reference purposes, a list of peoples (ethnicities, tribes or people groups) of the world needs to indicate whether a certain known group is a separate entry or is considered a sub-group of another people.  The formal world-level classification may be different from a more local database or cultural profile looking at more details of local relationships and interaction.

So What Do you Do?
I had this problem, for example, with the Gawwada people of Ethiopia.  Several divisions of the Gawwada people were listed under the Gawwada entry in the Ethnologue, with their individual populations.  But the Gobeze sub-group identified by the Ethnologue had no population.

Should these people all be listed separately though they all spoke one language?  What about the Gobeze?  How different were they?  Limited information is frustrating for the analytical westerner!

As editor of the Registry of Peoples at the time, I had to make a call for classification purposes.  At that point, I assumed that the report in the Ethnologue indicates that there are some separate ethnic groups who all speak forms of the same language.  But I do not know how closely related they consider themselves.  And why is no separate population or information given on the Gobeze people/dialect?

With the state of information available, I considered that those listed with populations think of themselves as separate ethnic groups, but closely related.  The information seemed to indicate that the name Gobeze referred to an identifiable variation of speech, but that if this name also indicates a discrete group of people (like a family, a village, a region, etc.), they consider themselves still to be part of the Gawwada.

This was confirmed to some degree by a linguist investigating these speech forms (personal communication to me).  He indicates that the term Gobeze is used for the main dialect, spoken by the greatest number and used as a "standard" language form for these closely-related peoples.

With the uncertainty, I decided not to enter separate ethnic names in the main people group database, but to provide a complete picture, I would indicate them in the profile.  We are always watching for further information and updates are made as needed.

Anything that will clarify the communication and relationship patterns will be critical for outsiders who wish to work with this people cluster.  This is a common situaiton around the world.

So Who Cares?
Language information can sometimes help clarify people identity.  Linguists working on literacy development sometimes report one village or clan is unwilling to accept oral or written resources in the dialect of the neighboring village because it is not "theirs," even though they can communicate with no trouble at all with those neighbors.  This is a complicating factor for the task-oriented westerner limited by funds, time and other resources in developing literacy programs and materials.

This is not due to a peevish childish self-centeredness of that village or clan.  This is a factor of the fundamental orientation to the world.  The western worker has to decide:  Do you want to help them learn to read and provide written or oral resources meaningful in their context?  Or do you want to have to convert a whole culture to a new worldview and orientation to reality first?

Worldviews change as opportunities appear and challenges are met.  Self-identity is integrally related to Shared Significant Experiences within the group.  Initial communication and presentation of possiblities must start within the current worldview.

For more on the relationship of Language and Ethnicity
Accent, Dialect and Language
Dialects, Peoples and Cultural Change
Peoples and Languages
What Makes a Dialect a Dialect?

For more on how to define a "people"
Assimilation: How Peoples Develop and Change
Cities and People Groups
What is a People Group?

This blog includes some content originally published in September 2001 in Research Highlights, a research and culture newsletter published in Nicosia, Cyprus
This topic posted 8 January 2013
Last updated 14 February 2013