Protection of Christians in the Middle East must become an international priority

Ambassador's view
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
A woman walks inside a damaged church in Maaloula August 21, 2014. (Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)
The Middle East, the cradle of Christianity and human civilization, has been swept by a wave of extremism, while its interfaith and civilizational contradictions have become sharply aggravated.

Normal life and the very existence of many religious communities have been put under threat.

Since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, Russia has urged the world community to prevent religious extremists from hijacking the processes of change. Russia has been advocating settling the crises by political and diplomatic means and promoting the long overdue reforms via national dialogue. We spoke for a search for peace and accord between all religious groups, including various denominations of Islam and Christianity.

A dramatic situation has taken shape in Syria, which has historically been a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Its life was based on a unique model of peaceful and mutually respectful co-existence of various religious communities. Now this model is being destroyed as a result of connivance with extremists and attempts to use them in the struggle against President Assad. Terrorist groups are engaging in an orgy of violence in Syria and Iraq, which is being accompanied by the destruction of dozens of Christian churches, including ancient shrines, and by a Christian exodus.

Jihadists are perpetrating heinous crimes on the lands of “the caliphate” and are forcibly imposing obscurantist views by killing Christians, including clergymen, burning them alive, selling them into slavery, robbing them of their property, driving them from their lands or taking them hostage. It is hard to find words in reaction to the brutal massacre of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians that has been perpetrated in Libya recently.

The Christian exodus from the Middle East is likely to have the most negative influence on the structure of Arab societies and the preservation of the historical and spiritual legacy that is important for all humankind.

The tragic events in the Middle East suggest one more conclusion. It is necessary to give up once and for all the temptation to make the destinies of whole nations hostage to geopolitical ambitions, which are being achieved through crude interference in the affairs of sovereign states.

Our common task is to pool efforts for the struggle against extremism and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. Important steps towards this end were made with the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions, including resolutions 2170 and 2199. However, it is our joint ability to reliably block any channels of support for terrorists, such as ISIS, Jabhat al-Nuṣrah and the like, by using the available mechanisms of the Security Council that will play the decisive role. A no less urgent task is to prevent the jihadists from winning the minds and souls of young people and from recruiting them into their ranks.

We welcome the activities of the OSCE, which has already held conferences on countering Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and is preparing another conference on Christianophobia. We are urging the United Nations, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe to pay more attention to these issues, including within the framework of the Dialogue of Civilizations forum. We are convinced that the UN Human Rights Council should also contribute to finding solutions to these problems.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.