Researcher: Iran Is Squeezing Christians and Other Minorities Out of the Middle East
Since the country’s 1979 revolution, Islamic leaders in Iran have described adherents to minority religions such as Christianity and Judaism as ‘pollution.’
A researcher with the Philos Project told journalists Tuesday that Iran is using incremental strategies to squeeze non-Muslims out of the country and in nearby states, such as Iraq and Syria, and that the plight of Christians in the Middle East is “truly misunderstood” by most in the West.
Senior research fellow Farhad Rezaei, an Iranian Kurd, is a Christian convert who fled Iran and now teaches at York University in Canada. The Philos Project is a nonprofit group that educates about and advocates for Christians in the Near East.
Rezaei said during a Feb. 22 briefing that the narrative that only jihadists have contributed to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East is “too simplistic” and ignores the influence of Iran-backed militias in countries like Iraq.
A native Iranian, Rezaei noted that since the country’s 1979 revolution, Islamic leaders in Iran have described adherents to minority religions such as Christianity and Judaism as “pollution” and have taken steps to shrink the size of the Christian and Jewish communities by pushing them out of the country.
In Iraq, Rezaei noted, Iran-backed Shiite militias have carried out numerous abductions, killings and sexual assaults in recent years. They have also seized large areas of land belonging to Christians, especially in the Nineveh Plain. In total, at least 20,000 acres of farmland have been burned, and the militias have carried out at least 75 attacks on places of worship, with at least nine instances of using a church as a military base.
However, many of these crimes have been attributed to Sunni jihadist groups such as the Islamic State, rather than to Iran, Rezaei asserted. In northern Iraq, it’s not widely known that Iranian forces are occupying large areas, he said, with Shiite forces squeezing the native Christians out by seizing property.
A recently declassified report from the U.S. Department of Defense highlighted the continued threat of Iran-aligned militias in Iraq and noted that officers sympathetic to Iranian or militia interests are scattered throughout the country’s security services.
When asked what the global Christian community can do in the face of this persecution, Rezaei said resources have to be poured in to rebuild Christian communities in areas where Shiite militias have tried to drive them out. In addition, he asserted, the Iranian regime has to be condemned for their actions, and leaders must be sanctioned.