Two new Hungarian citizens: Part of assistance to persecuted Christians

I read with astonishment that two Syriac Orthodox Christian prelates have just received Hungarian citizenship. The two men swore allegiance to their adopted country at the Hungarian consulate in Erbil. They are Sharaf Saman Matti Sharaf (Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf), the metropolitan of Mosul & Environs, and Azeez Raed Ablahad (Mor Timotheus Mousa A. Shamani), bishop of the Mat Mattai monastery, 20 km from Mosul. Sharaf Saman Matti Sharaf thanked János Áder and the Hungarian people for their generosity and solidarity in a time of need.

The brief announcement gave no explanation for this rather unusual event, which prompted me to learn more about the background of these two men. I was lucky as far as Sharaf Saman Matti Sharaf was concerned because I managed to track him down in Canada, where he visited his parents and his brother with his wife and family. From the article written about this 2015 visit I learned that in June 2014, at the urging of his friend, the minister of interior of Kurdistan, the metropolitan left Mosul and settled in Ankawa, a Kurdish town 90 km from Mosul. Apparently there are 140,000 Iraqi Christian refugees in Kurdistan.

Metropolitan Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf

A year later both men were in the news. The Express reported that Metropolitan Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf and Bishop Timotheus Mousa Shamani had hoped to visit Great Britain for the November 24, 2016 consecration of the St. Thomas Cathedral in London, which is the first Syriac Orthodox cathedral in the country. They were denied entry by the Home Office. It’s possible that the Hungarian passports the two prelates are entitled to are intended to save them from similar experiences in the future.

All that took me to the Orbán government’s mission to defend Christians living in territories where they could face persecution on account of their religion. At the end of last summer, during his visit to the Vatican, Viktor Orbán met Christian prelates from the Middle East. Their plight apparently moved him to extend aid and assistance to Christian communities in the region. I suspect that he also figured that such generosity would somewhat mitigate the bad reputation Hungary had acquired as a result of the Orbán government’s heartless treatment of the refugees.

Bishop Mor Timotheus Mousa A. Shamani

So, last fall Zoltán Balog’s ministry of human resources got the job of setting up a special department headed by an assistant undersecretary with a staff of ten. The job of undersecretary was entrusted to Tamás Török, formerly chargé d’affaires of the Hungarian Embassy in Rome. The department received a yearly budget of almost 1 billion forints. One of their bigger projects was the renovation of a school building in Erbil that would apparently house 700 students. The government gave 120 million forints for the project, to which the Hungarian Catholic Church added another 80 million. Orbán explained that the school project “proves that we Hungarians don’t have stones in place of our hearts.” The school was supposed to open by this September, but something went awry. The ministry decided that the fault lay with Tamás Török, who was apparently unceremoniously fired. The mini-department devoted to fighting the persecution of Christians is now headed by a young man, Tristan Azbej.

The name of the new assistant undersecretary in charge of assistance to persecuted Christians sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him until I found the first article about Azbej from 2013 when he headed the ill-fated “Come Home” program. Azbej, who had just returned from the United States where he received his Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, was one of the vice presidents of IKSZ (Ifjúsági Kereszténydemokrata Szövetség/Association of Young Christian Democrats). He found the large number of Hungarians leaving the country and establishing new lives in foreign countries distressing and convinced the ministry of human resources to sponsor an organization whose task would be to convince emigres to return to Hungary. About 100 million forints was allocated to the project. The idea was to convince a number of private firms to offer jobs to those wanting to take advantage of the offer. The project was a total flop. In two years only three families picked up their belongings and returned to Hungary. During these two years Azbej had an office in the ministry and I assume he was also paid a salary.

Once the project came to an end, Azbej was out of a job, but soon enough the media learned that Azbej was going to Tel Aviv to serve as the “science and technology attaché” at the Hungarian Embassy. The position was created for him. What he did there is hard to know, but by now he describes himself as having knowledge of Middle Eastern politics as well as some diplomatic experience. After three years in Tel Aviv he returned to Hungary this spring. He gave a few lectures and also wrote a glowing article about the most charitable Hungarian attitude toward the refugees. He specifically praised the “Hungary Helps” program, to which Viktor Orbán assigned close to one billion forints. As he put it in an article which appeared in Magyar Hírlap, the Hungary Helps program makes it clear that “Hungary’s refugee program can receive an A from love.” And the ceiling didn’t fall on the young man, as a Hungarian would say.

Tristan Azbej was born in Paris to a French mother and a Hungarian father. His father’s family is apparently of Armenian origin, but he claims that his ancestors have been in the Carpathian Basin for the last 350 years. Otherwise he describes himself on his blog as an “enthusiastic realist, multicultural patriot, young KDNP, tolerant conservative, refined Fradi animal, pro-economy environmentalist, workaholic father, pacifist Christian, foreign-service ‘come home’ activist, gentle provocateur.”

The new assistant undersecretary will have to make sure that the school building will be ready soon. The Hungary Helps program, it seems, has a host of projects. It will supply medicine to a hospital and will renovate churches. One project seems particularly ambitious. Hungary will pay for the renovation of an entire town with a population of 11,000. The town is Tesqopa (Tel Eskof) in northern Iraq. It was briefly occupied by ISIS twice, once in 2014 and again in 2016. As of September, a number of Christian students will be able to study at Hungarian universities.

Viktor Orbán’s generosity is touching. I wish he had similar feelings when it comes to Hungarians living in poverty.

September 23, 2017
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Anita
Guest
Guest

Of course, this might explain some things – always remember the Fidesz motto:
We’re only in it for the money!

Ferenc
Guest

In this case, We’re OILY in it for the money…

wrfree
Guest

Appears the country has found a new activity…proselytizing. Once there was the Word but now perhaps it’s more the Word of the irrepressible Defender of the Faith Orban and his new apostles…taking care of spiritual bizness. Certainly no touch of sanctity there when government prescribes the truth, the way, the life. The self-interest reeks to high heaven.

Istvan
Guest

I have enormous empathy for Orthodox Christians in Iraq and Syria, they have been slaughtered by Islamic State fanatics. In areas seized by the Islamic State, Christians were ordered to convert to Islam, pay jizya (a religious levy), or face death. In the Syrian province of Hassakeh in February 2015, hundreds of Christian women were turned into sex slaves for IS fighters.

My own daughter, now a Major in the US Army reserves, worked with some of these kidnapped women as a civil affairs officer in Iraq, she also did the same in Afghanistan. Their tragic stories are as overwhelming as those of Holocaust survivors. The USA has significant responsibility for our lighting this powder keg in Iraq with our invasion and destruction of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, I opposed the second war against Iraq along with the occupation. But saying I told you so is of no value to these destroyed women.

tappanch
Guest

Once I read a theological discussion on the internet by Da’esh people about turning captured women into sex slaves. There was complete agreement about Yazidi women, but à lively debate about the fate of Christian women.

Guest

Totally OT:
In the German elections the CDU/CSU and the SPD were the big losers – the Jobbik type AfD got around 13% – I’m waiting for a detailed analysis on who voted for them. The “deplorables” in former “Communist” Eastern Europe of course – at least those that didn’t vote for the old Communists aka the Left.
What a crazy world we live in!
For me the only positive result yet is that Seehofer’s CSU in Bavaria lost big probably against the AfD, maybe a result of him being to near to the AFD and trying to distance his party from Mrs Merkel.
So we’ll have intereting times in Germany too – maybe a new coalition in government …

Marty
Guest

27% of male voters in East-Germany voted for AfD.

What does that imply re Hungary?

In my view: you ignore the values and issues perceived as important by the white working class (aka white trash aka uneducated rural white Hungarians) at your peril especially if you are a leftist politician (and compare that to Corbyn or Sanders).

Guest

Yes, those “deplorables” who in the USA voted for Trump, luckily there aren’t as many of them in the West of Europe. What might help them to understand the “new world” – I’m at a loss for an answer, just like in Hungary the situation seems almost hopeless …

On the other hand experience from Germany shows that the right wing parties (we’ve had similar ones before: NPD; Republikaner) after having got some representatives in parliament very soon showed that they have nothing to offer – and practically disappeared again after a few years.
But of course the situation in Hungary is different – there are intelligent people I know who vote for Fidesz or even Jobbik, even people with international contacts and experience!
I don’t understand that at all.

Marty
Guest

The Hungarian left is unable to struck a chord with ordinary, working class people (which is everybody except for the top 1.5 million people – 2m max.).

They are seen way as too intellectual who look down on rural, ordinary people, who seem to be out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people. If the party has seemingly nothing to offer you and doesn’t like you why would you vote for it?

It’s the same thing in the US as in Hungary.

We lough at rural Hungarians’ penchant for pálinka but there are 22,000 legally registered Hungarians who produce pálinka (and countless others who are not registered) and their friends and family (and there are about 800,000 people who are alcoholics). We can’t just dismiss politically that kind of constituency as useless drunkards even if they are.

The urban “latte liberals” are not credible outside Budapest. Sanders or Corbyn are but they’ve been saying the same thing for decades and have been folksy and down to earth and never condescending.

East Germany is also a bit more “Prussian”, not as liberal as West Germany. But at least Germany and Austria are federal states.

Istvan
Guest

This article on Trump voters and their racism https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/the-first-white-president-ta-nehisi-coates/537909/ from a black nationalist merits reflecting on in the context of the AfD vote in Germany. I have reservations about it as an analysis, but it is a clear perspective. It is a lengthy essay be warned.

At least the Germans didn’t vote in Gauland by giving them a majority, we are living the Trump reality here every day.

Racism runs deep in the USA where I experienced it in Texas in a bar fight defending an African American officer who was assaulted after buying a white girl a drink. I also saw the same thing not too far from the US Army base in Heidelberg called Campbell Barracks, now closed, which was once the home of the 110-th Infantry Regiment of the Wehrmacht. In fact in my quarters I found some relics from those days. Racism and the fear of interracial sexual relations between white women and non-white males is a big psychological driver of this in my opinion. Funny isn’t it that its just fine for white men to have sexual relations with numerous non-white women for the racists, but not for the white women.

Ferenc
Guest

Heard that most likely coalition will be: JAMAICA Coalition (mainly because of the big loss, socialist SPD doesn’t want to govern again with CDU/CSU).
At first I didn’t have a clue where the name came from. Something to de with marijuana or so?
But not at all, the name comes from the colors of the coalition parties: black for the conservative CDU/CSU (ca.33%); yellow for the liberal FDP (ca.10%); and green for the Green Party (ca.9%).
PS: Wonder which color is chosen for the Jobbik-like AfD?

Guest

Often it’s blue – because the other colours are already used …

1956
Guest

I suspect Russian roots in the AfD?

The German AfD and the Hungarian LMP have similar names, and may have common roots.

Guest

I’d be extremely surprised – those extremely conservative racist homophobic xenophobic (you can continue with all kinds of phobias – fear of the unknown …) quasi fascists have existed in Germany for a long time under different names. And as we see from the situarion in other countries it’s a general phenomenon…

Btw at first the AfD sounded rather “harmless”, even some economists who wer against the EU integration (and against giving so much money to Hungary and the other Balkan states …) joined – but when fascism reared its ugly head some people left the party …

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