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Catholics in Iran: A community at risk of extinction?

ICC Note:

Journalist Camille Eid discusses the plight of Christians in Iran.

5/24/2010 Iran (ACN News) – An interview with Camille Eid – journalist, author and observer of middle East Churches

Q) Christians number about 100,000 in a population of 71 million. How are Christians viewed in Iran?

A) Christians are viewed as ethnic minorities because the Christians are predominantly Armenians, and Syro-Chaldeans. We have 80,000 Orthodox Armenians who are also called Gregorian or Apostolic Armenian, 5,000 Catholic Armenians, and around 20,000 Assyro-Chaldeans plus other communities such as Latin, Protestants churches which, all together make up between 100,000 to 110,000. So they are seen as ethnic minorities and as such, they are not allowed to celebrate their Rites in Farsi, the official language of Iran. So they can’t celebrate the Holy Mass in Farsi but in Armenian or Chaldean.

Q) To prevent the Iranians from being attracted to the faith?

A)Right and to prevent them [Iranians] from understanding what they [Christians] are saying. There was a unique case; I was in Tehran a few days after the death of Pope John Paul II and the priest read the Scriptures in Farsi in the presence of the authorities. So this was an exceptional case.

Q) Are the rights of Christians guaranteed by the Constitution?

A) No, it doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed in the Constitution. Article 13 mentions that all Iranians are equal by race, by language but religion is not mentioned. In article 14; if you allow me to read it: “All these non-Muslim communities should abstain from taking part in conspiracies against Islam and the Islamic republic of Iran”. And the last one, article 19, states: “All Iranians whatever ethnic group they belong to enjoy the same rights and that colour, race, or language does not offer any privilege”. Here too there is no reference to religion.

Q) What kind of other restrictions do Christians face in their daily life?

A) Well, in public administrations it is hard for Christians to find jobs. Even the directors of Christian schools are Muslims with one exception – in Isfahan about 2 or 4 years ago when the government nominated an Armenian for the Armenian school. But in most cases the directors of Christian schools are Muslims – to the few Christian schools that they [Christians] got back after confiscation in 1979 and 1980. Another example is in the army; some years ago they discovered that an officer, a Colonel Hamid Pourmand, converted to Christianity. He was prosecuted and was court marshaled but because of international pressure he was able to leave Iran. Over all it is very difficult for Christians to be in high government positions in Iran.

Q) What is the life for a Muslim convert?

A) One cannot declare one’s new faith inside Iran. It is only possible if one is able to go abroad. I know two Iranian families here in Italy who are converts. One of the families crossed the border between Iran and Turkey in winter. It was difficult and they were able to secure asylum. Inside Iran they cannot express or show their faith because they will face death. It is not easy.

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