Iran Responds to IRGC Assassination
By Claire Evans
01/07/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – If Iranian State Media is to be believed, the country is in deep mourning following the US assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani, a Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) member and leader of the elite Quds Force. Videos purport to show Iranians pouring onto the streets, grieving a national hero. Green trees line the roads, but it is winter in Iran. Close-up photos of mourners show trees barren of leaves. Is the country barren of sorrow as well?
The death of Soleimani, whose funeral was held yesterday, has sent reverberations throughout the Middle East region. As leader of the Quds Force, Soleimani was responsible for expanding Iran’s international influence. As a leader within the IRGC, he was tasked with protecting the Islamic identity of Iran. His funeral was filled with strong expressions of grief by Iran’s ruling Islamic clergy. The full consequences of his death have yet to be realized.
For Iranian Christians, the IRGC is an institution of terror. The government views them as a national security threat, as a challenge to Iran’s Islamic identity. The IRGC collects intelligence on Christians. They conduct searches, make arrests, play a role in conducting sham trials, and hold Christians in some of the country’s worst prisons.
The assassination of a high-level IRGC leader, even one whose job description caused him to spend a significant amount of time outside of Iran, means something impactful for Christians. What exactly the impact looks like remains the question. Will persecution increase, change in style, decrease, or remain the same?
“Iranian Revolutionary Guards are tasked with safeguarding the Islamic revolution ideology and exporting it to other countries,” explained Dr. Mike Ansari, an Iranian Christian from Heart4Iran. “Converts to Christianity are watched and acted against on a regular basis. However, when Iran’s relationship with the West is strained, the Iranian Christian persecution ramps up.”
“These human rights violations are in the form of harassment, physical abuse, bogus arrests, and sometimes [the] disappearance of Christians. In light of this latest news, one can expect a major crackdown on Christians and other minorities living in Iran,” he continued.
Other Iranian Christians have a different perspective. “As the government is focused on its financial problems, the protests, and now the external threat of the United States, they will have less focus on tracking and persecuting Christians,” said Pastor Hormoz from Iran Alive Ministries.
“Fewer arrests does not mean the government will stop persecuting Christians,” he added. “They will just change their strategy: fewer arrests, but unusually long jail terms to put fear in the hearts of Christians.”
This worry extends into the West. Iran’s persecution of non-Muslims has caused many to flee the country. Christians who have left Iran have not forgotten their home country. They continue to pray for Iran, and to encourage those Christians who remain inside. The assassination of a Quds Force leader causes some concern that the IRGC may increase their activities toward Iranians who immigrated.
“The IRGC has been identifying and actively monitoring Iranian groups or factions residing in the West, whom they deem as a threat to the Islamic institution of Iran. This includes Iranian churches, synagogues, student groups, and opposition leaders residing outside of Iran. The threat of IRGC retaliation may extend to any of these groups in the West,” warned Dr. Ansari.
This has not stopped Iranian Christians from continuing their ministries.
“The deep economic problems of the people, the brutality of the government in killing protesters on the streets, the fear of an imminent war with the US, and the desperation and hopelessness in the country has provided a great opportunity for Christians in Iran to be different and shine for Jesus,” said Pastor Hormoz. “They have a great opportunity to bring real hope in Jesus into people’s lives.”
“Daily on our satellite broadcast, we are teaching and encouraging Christians in Iran not to be fearful and hopeless like others, but [to] share the good news of the Gospel boldly, bringing salvation, peace and hope in people’s lives,” he continued. “Christians in the West should wake up and know that this is an opportunity of historical proportion to feed the flame of revival already started in Iran.”
Soleimani’s life and legacy caused so much darkness for his country, and the wider region. Iran’s clergy may be grieving, but Iran is a complicated country. Iranians know just how much harm their government has caused the nation. Iranians have repeatedly asked for freedom, for change. With his death, change is coming. But which way, only the coming days can tell.