Christian influence is rapidly disappearing from the Middle East. Because of ethnic and religious persecution, many Middle Eastern Christians are leaving their homelands and becoming refugees, while those who remain suffer increasing harassment and violence. At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 20 percent of the Middle Eastern population was Christian. Today, the percentage has been reduced to five.
Through the Geneva Visiting Artist and Lecture Series (GVALS), which provides free community events each semester, two speakers with firsthand knowledge of this situation recently appeared at Geneva College and nearby Pathway Church: Juliana Taimoorazy, founder and president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, and Dr. Ashraf Ramelah, founder and president of Voice of the Copts. They spoke to students, faculty, staff and members of the community at large about their faith, the trials they personally faced as Christians in the Middle East, and the tremendous hardships endured by Christ’s followers in this part of the world.
Taimoorazy is an Assyrian Christian who lived in Tehran, Iran, until fleeing to escape religious persecution in 1989 at the age of 16. She arrived in America a year later, earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, and became a U.S. citizen. Because of her strong desire to help others, Taimoorazy began mentoring young Iraqi Christian women arriving from refugee camps in Turkey and Syria, and then founded the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. The mission of this organization is to raise awareness of the religious and ethnic cleansing of Assyrians, as well as to obtain financial assistance and request prayers for Christians in Iraq.
Ramelah is from Cairo, Egypt, where he lived until leaving for Italy to study architecture when he was 17. He moved from his homeland because of the oppression he endured as a Coptic Christian. The events of 9/11 inspired him to found Voice of the Copts, a human rights organization dedicated to drawing attention to the suffering of the Copts and educating others about the effects of Sharia (Islamic law).
In addition to speaking at colleges like Geneva, Taimoorazy has appeared at churches, charitable organizations and even met with members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington D.C. “I want people to know what is happening,” said Taimoorazy. “Christians in the West need to wake up and help.”
Ramelah, who addressed the European Parliament in 2010 and was the 2011 keynote speaker in the Italian Parliament on the issue of Coptic persecution in Egypt, agreed: “Americans need to open their eyes and ears. Young people need to think critically.”
Learning to think critically is the reason Geneva invites renowned speakers like Taimoorazy and Ramelah to campus. Dr. Thomas Copeland, professor of political science, brings guests that will not only enrich the academic experience, but also challenge students, faculty, staff and members of the community to address current issues and topics from an informed, Christian perspective.