ARMENIANS LAUNCH MASS DEMONSTRATIONS AGAINST THEIR LEADERS
Yerevan residents taking to the streets is no real surprise. This is the fourth summer in a row that mass protests have gripped the Armenian capital. In 2013, demonstrators protested price hikes for public transport. In 2014 pension reform. In 2015, what started as a protest against higher electricity bills became the “Electric Yerevan” movement that Russian media compared to Ukraine’s Maidan. But this summer’s protest is different. No longer are the demands social and economic; now the ultimatum is regime change. Yerevan residents are rallying to voice their support for an armed militant group that seized a police station in the Erebuni district on July 17. The militants are demanding the release of all political prisoners and the resignation of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.
They call themselves “The Sassoon Daredevils” after a medieval Armenian strongmen from Sassoun – a historic region of Armenia – and their struggle against Arab invaders. Among these latter-day Daredevils are two heroes of the War of 1992-1994, Pavlik Manukyan and Araik Khandoyan. Both are renowned throughout Armenia and the international Armenian diaspora. Most Daredevils members support The Founding Parliament movement, the main non-systemic opposition force in the country. One of their first demands was the release of Jirair Sefilian, leader of The Founding Parliament, who was arrested in June. The Daredevils released all their hostages on July 23 on the condition that a press centre be erected in the compound they control.
But the authorities responded in the usual way for a former Soviet republic. State-controlled television made no mention of the takeover of the police station for the first two days. Police dispersed supporters with excessive force. Video cameras captured riot police kicking demonstrators who had fallen to the ground. Only on July 22, five days after the armed conflict began, did a notice appear on President Sargasyan’s website condemning the militants. On July 27, it was reported that the militants had once again taken in hostages, though this information is disputed and difficult to verify. The National Security Service is calling the takeover a terrorist attack, but the number of Armenians who disagree with that assessment is growing daily.
Armenian society has a deep aversion to acts of violence. The bloody ethnic conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan and the terrorist attack against the parliament in 1999, when masked gunmen killed 8 deputies, is still fresh in people’s minds. Armenian society is, essentially, too small for corruption and crime to remain hidden. A consensus has formed that the authorities use their monopoly power for personal gain. People remember how President Sargsyan came to power by suppressing mass protests following the presidential elections in 2008. The Founding Parliament movement has never advocated the use of force to achieve a regime change, and the seizure of the police station seems to be a gesture of despair from some of their veteran members.
For years, Sefilian and his supporters took to the streets with placards, travelled around the country in caravans and used every possible peaceful means of protest available. They were however arrested, thrown into prison and beaten by people in civilian clothes. Armenia celebrates 25 years of independence in 2016, although it is difficult to find any citizens who would characterize the country as free and independent. According to official statistics, more than 600,000 people left Armenia during those years. Armenia was slated to sign an Agreement creating a free-trade zone with Europe in 2013, but after a meeting with President Putin in Moscow, President Sargsyan announced that he was rejecting integration with Europe in favour of joining the Eurasian Economic Union.
Over the past decade, Armenia has handed Russia control over many strategic facilities, including a Nuclear Power Plant, the Armenian State Bank, a Thermal Power Plant, and many other assets. Over the past 5 years, Russia has sold Azerbaijan – Armenia’s main enemy – offensive weapons worth more than $4 billion. Azerbaijan used those weapons during a four-day clash with Armenia in April 2016 that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Armenian soldiers. A consensus has formed in Armenia that corruption and the authoritarian regime are the main problems facing the country, and that they are destroying the economy and threatening Armenia’s sovereignty. The groundswell of support for the Sassoon Daredevils is an indication that the ruling elites are not in for an easy ride.
Source: by Grigor Atanesian editor of Russian Esquire
MUSLIM FATHER KILLS DAUGHTER BUT JESUS RESTORES HER TO LIFE
Ramza was born into a strict Muslim family in the Middle East. “I was religious from my childhood,” she told Bibles for Mideast. “I recited the Koran, prayed 5 times a day, and fasted during Ramadan.” She also wore the full head and face covering. Her family was large. Her father had three wives who bore 13 children. He generated a substantial income from several companies. After Ramza completed her education, a former schoolmate sharing with her about Jesus Christ. “She was the daughter of a pastor, ministering with Bibles for Mideast. But I never accepted her message and arguments. She gave me a sample gospel tract,” Ramza said. After her graduation, Ramza’s father proposed that she marry an older, wealthy man, who already had three wives and several children.
Ramza was sickened by the proposition, especially when she realized she would be younger than his youngest child. One evening she went to her father. “I pleaded with him not to arrange my marriage, but to send me for further studies. My father denied my request. I argued with him, for I was unable to imagine such a marriage. He did not listen to me at all,” she told Bibles for Mideast. Tearful and defiant, Ramza told her father she would run away from home before the marriage could take place. Enraged that she would argue or question his authority, he suddenly grabbed a chair and hit her on the head with one of its legs. Ramza collapsed to the ground, with a broken skull. Her father and stepmother were shocked when they realized she was dead.
Not wanting anyone to know, they placed her body in a large plastic bag and placed it in the trunk of their car. They travelled into the desert until they arrived at a secluded date plantation. They found a dry well on the property and threw Ramza’s body down the shaft. Somehow Ramza had the awareness that her soul was going to hell, a place of terrible darkness. Her life flashed through her consciousness and she remembered her friend giving her the Gospel. She tried to reach out to grab a hold of it, but her hands could not touch it. She had the sense that if she could possess it, her soul would find rest “in an amazing garden.” As her body hurtled down the well, something incredible happened. There was “a strong, healthy and beautiful man” standing at the bottom of the well.
“He caught the sack in His hands,” she recounted. Then he untied the sack, placed his hands on her head and breathed life back into her. “I opened my eyes like waking from a dream. I saw the nail marks in His hands.” Immediately she knew it was Jesus, and believed in Him as Saviour and Lord. Then Jesus picked the young woman up in His arms and brought her out of the well. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live (John 11:25).” Jesus laid her gently on the ground and Ramza prostrated herself before Him. Tears and words began to flow: “Jesus, you’re my Lord. You were crucified and died for me. You are risen indeed. I believe in you.” She looked up towards Him, but there was no one there. He disappeared.
Now there was a pastor and his wife nearby and the Lord spoke to them in a vision: Go to a date plantation where you will find a young woman who needs help. Ramza picked herself up, but didn’t know what to do or where to go. “Within a few minutes, the husband and wife from Bibles for Mideast came to me. They said they were Christians and that Jesus had guided them to me.” She shared her experience with them. They gave her a Bible and brought her to a farmhouse where she could live with 5 other women. “They are born again. They teach me from the Word of God and we worship together.” “I don’t want to go back to my parents unless they accept Christ,” she said. “Pray for my family to be saved,” she said. “I am born again and am a citizen of the Kingdom of God.”
MYANMAR’S CHRISTIAN POPULATION GROWS TO 6.2 PER CENT
Myanmar’s Christian population has seen the most dramatic shift in numbers according to latest figures revealed in a supplement to the 2014 Population and Housing Census conducted by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Christians now make up 6.2 per cent of the population – more than three million people – compared to 4.9 per cent recorded the last time a full census was conducted in 1983. The religious data is the latest in a staggered release of volumes published over the last two years. Some commentators say it was delayed to avoid a backlash from nationalists anticipating a sharp rise in non-Buddhist religions, which they feel threaten Myanmar’s Buddhist identity.
Christianity remains the second most popular religion. Buddhism had a fall of one per cent since the 1983 census but with almost 88 per cent of the population identifying as Buddhists it remains the dominant religion. Hinduism showed small gains while animism and Islam showed a decline, although the census didn’t count the estimated one million Rohingya Muslims, considered as non-citizens. If they had been included, it would have brought the Muslim population to four per cent, instead of two per cent. The latest report showed that half of Myanmar’s three million Christians live in the states of Shan, Kachin and Chin. More than 85 per cent say they are Christian in Chin, which is the only state that doesn’t have a Buddhist majority.
Christians in Kachin account for 34 per cent of the population. However, Daw Khun Jar, coordinator of the Kachin Peace Network, feels the Buddhist majority in Kachin is a fabrication. “The government should release the real findings,” she said. Armed conflict in Kachin and Kayin (Karen) states prevented the full collection of data but the UN estimates that the religious makeup of those states will not significantly alter the proportion of Christians in the country. The relationship between both the Kachin and Karen ethnic groups – the two mainly identify as Christian – and the government is tense, and exacerbated by slow progress in identifying and prosecuting perpetrators of the many documented cases of sexual assault in the states by Myanmar troops.
In Karen, Christians have recently been threatened by Buddhists illegally building pagodas on church grounds. “Thomas Muller of Open Doors International commented: “As the Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha keeps warning against an influx of Muslims threatening the Buddhist majority in Myanmar, there were fears that if the census showed a growth in percentage of the Muslim population, it could fuel the tensions Ma Ba Tha is stoking. Ma Ba Tha is not just anti-Muslim, it is Buddhist nationalist, so Christians could increasingly come into its focus. Especially when, as the Myanmar Times reports, the number of Christians in Kachin State are heavily under-reported. The numbers show how religiously diverse Myanmar is and that the government faces challenges as a result.”
ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE IN INDIA AT AN ALARMING LEVEL
The leader of a Christian advocacy group in India says that incidents of anti-Christian violence in the country have reached an “alarming level”, with more than 30 incidents a month being reported. Tomson Thomas, coordinator for Persecution Relief India, says “the situation is getting worse in BJP-ruled states”. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party – Indian People’s Party), the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is known for espousing a Hindu nationalist agenda and is ruling several states in central and western India, as well as controlling the federal government. “There is an agenda and strategy behind it,” Thomas said from his base in Ranchi in eastern India. “There is an increasing sense of audacity among the Hindu nationalist groups carrying out attacks on Christians.”
Most recently, the advocacy group reported three major incidents of attacks against Christians. The first incident took place on17 July, when dozens of Hindu fundamentalists assaulted college student Umesh Patel, his father, Sudhama Patel, and their family friend, Kiran Vishwakarma, in the BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh state. Thomas said the three Christians were “brutally assaulted” for professing faith in Christianity and had to be hospitalised. The assailants also ransacked the Patel’s’ house. “Umesh had been arrested and sent to jail for distributing Bibles six months ago,” added Thomas. (Chhattisgarh has a stringent “anti-conversion law” in place, which seeks to deter proselytising.) Thomas said the Hindus had been planning to target Patel as soon as he was released from bail.
In a second incident, on 22 July, a 14-year-old Christian girl was raped and murdered. The scantily clad body of Sangeeta Siri was found in a forest near Jattarbeda village, Kondagaon district, also in Chhattisgarh state. Thomas said that her father, Maner, suspected that his daughter was killed for his family’s faith. Pastor A. K. Netam told UCAN that it was “a revenge attack for her not abandoning her Christian faith”. He said the girl’s family had become Christians 18 years ago but had been under pressure from local Hindu leaders to return to Hinduism. In a third incident, in the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh state, also ruled by the BJP, a Pentecostal pastor and a member of his congregation were abducted, tortured, arrested by police and denied bail by the court.
Pastor Rampal Kori, and Nand Lal, were dragged out of a prayer meeting on the evening of 21 July in Rewa district. Thomas said the abductors tied them to a tree, beat them with sticks, kicked and punched them, and accused them of converting Hindus to Christianity. The police, who arrived the next morning, arrested the Christians and imprisoned them, charging them with hurting Hindu religious sentiments and violating the provisions of Pradesh’s own “anti-conversion law”. “The court also initially denied them bail. They were only bailed out on 27 July,” said Thomas. “The state is being used to persecute the Christians,” he said. “The fundamentalists beat up Christians and then use the police to torment them further. It is becoming a daily occurrence.
FIJI WIN THEIR FIRST EVER OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL AND GIVE GLORY TO GOD
“First of all, I thank the Lord, he has been our source of strength… We reminded each other how God had taken us through the last two years and that the same God that we serve is here with us in Rio.” That’s what the Olympic Rugby Sevens winners told the media when asked the reason for their success. The island nation of Fiji has won its first ever Olympic medal – a gold – but while fans hailed one of the great Olympic achievements, the players have given the glory to God. Rugby Sevens became an Olympic event this year for the first time. Though Fiji are ranked number one in the world, the country had never won a medal at any event before so the pressure was on.
The team came through that pressure to win the tournament – defeating Great Britain 43-7 in the final – and dominating far bigger countries such as New Zealand. The players dropped to their knees and prayed upon the outcome of the match. Many pointed to the sky before joining in wild celebrations. Captain Osea Kolinisau, who scored the first try of the final, said, “I told the boys: ‘God called us to do this. He chose us and when he chose us he justified us and brought us glory today. Go crazy, go nuts, you deserve this.'” The Fijian Prime Minister was among the crowds in the stadium to see the team win gold. Fijian coach John McKee told us the team’s deep unity comes from their shared faith.
“Every afternoon after our training session we pray as part of our training and preparation. The Christian faith is very strong in Fijian society,” McKee explained. “That reflects in the team environment. It is part of the players’ way of life. Daily they all have a prayer session which can double up as a team meeting. It is an important devotion for the players.” The Fijian team is expected to be given a heroes’ welcome upon its return to the Pacific nation, which consists of more than 300 islands, has a population less than a million people and where rugby is the national sport. Around two thirds of Fijians are Christians.
FRANKLIN GRAHAM CHALLENGES POPE ON CLAIM THAT WAR IS NOT BETWEEN RELIGIONS
Evangelist Franklin Graham took Pope Francis to task over his comments that the world is at war, but that it’s not a war between religions. In a Facebook post, Graham said: “I agree that the world is at war – but I disagree that it’s not a war of religion. It is most certainly a war of religion. Religion is behind the violence and jihad we’re seeing in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and here in America,” he said. Pope Francis made his remarks after the recent killing of an elderly priest at a French church. He told reporters he won’t label Islam as “terrorist” because that would be unfair and untrue. ISIS claimed responsibility for the murder of Father Jacques Hamel, 85, whose throat was slit during a morning mass after he was forced to kneel.
Reporters asked him why he never uses the word “Islam” when referring to terrorism. “It’s not right to identify Islam with violence” the pope said. “Every religion wants peace,” he said. Graham disagreed that Islam wants peace. “It’s a religion that calls for the extermination of ‘infidels’, specifically Jews and Christians. It calls on its soldiers to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is Great’ in Arabic) as they behead, rape, and murder in the name of Islam,” he wrote. The pope noted there are violent people in every religion but there are also imams who are seeking peace. “The world is at war because it’s lost its peace.” Graham concluded: “Islamists are following the teachings of the Quran. We should call it for what it is.”