Church statements the latest use of Iran’s Assyrian, Armenian Christians as regime propaganda

Publication Date: 2/12/2022

Source: Article 18

The Iranian regime continues to use the voices of its recognised Christian minority as part of its propaganda drive against the ongoing protests in the country.
The latest example is a set of public statements – evidently penned by the intelligence services but bearing the insignia of the main branches of the Armenian and Assyrian churches in Tehran – released over the past two weeks.

The statements, which differ slightly in wording but not in tone, lament not the killing of more than 450 of protesters, including over 60 children, but the lost lives of security forces who have died “defending national security”.

In keeping with regime rhetoric, the protests are referred to as “disturbances”, blamed on “enemies” and “foreigners”, and support is declared for the “noble system” of the Islamic Republic.

The statements come after 40-50 Assyrian youths who either participated in or announced support online for protests were warned by their church leaders and MP, Sharli Envieh, at the behest of the security services.

The Assyrian former MP, Yonathan Betkolia, then gave a lengthy interview to state media, in which he called protesters and those who “incite” them a “poisonous fungus” and “cancerous tumour” that “must be operated on and separated from the Iranian Christian community”.

But while these leading Christian representatives inside the country continue to toe the party line, a host of Iranian-Armenian and Assyrian citizens from inside and outside the country have now come together to show they have a very different perspective.
In videos posted on social media, over 35 Iranian-Armenians and Assyrians express their full support for the protesters, whom they call their “heroes” and “brave brothers and sisters”, and repeat the slogan of the new revolution: “women, life, freedom.”

In one video, an Assyrian opens with the words, “In the name of the God of the rainbow” – as did the captain of Iran’s football team at the World Cup – in reference to a 10-year-old boy, Kian Pirfalak, killed in the protests who made a wooden vessel which he dedicated to this deity.

And Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, says that it is in these videos – and not the words of the church leaders – that the true voice of the Assyrian and Armenian minority can be found.

“Assyrians living inside the country who have engaged in protests have been silenced and at least 50 warned after posting online in support of the uprising,” he said. “And this has only been those identified with online surveillance. So, there may be more who are on the streets but refrain from online activities.

“And given the small size of their community [approximately 20,000-25,000 Assyrians live in Iran] their level of engagement has been considerable.

“No-one can say for certain that a majority are supportive of protests – or of the government for that matter! There are no reliable surveys in this respect. But as an indicator, for a small community to be warned in such a manner – with their MP and religious leaders summoned to a meeting with intelligence officials – and then forcing a statement out of each church denomination and providing a list of names of active protesters; all of this exposes the threat the regime faces, and the heavy investment they have made in time and resources to counter it.

“In other words, the counter measures used tell you something about the level of threat they sense.”


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