Christianity In The Middle East
Christianity, which originated in the Middle East in the 1st century AD, was one of the major religions of the region until the Arab Muslim Conquests of the mid to late 7th century AD. Christianity in the middle east is characterized with its diverse beliefs and traditions compared to other parts of the old world. Christians now make up 5% of the population, down from 20% in the early 20th century.
The number of Middle Eastern Christians is dropping due to such factors as low birth rates compared with Muslims, extensive emigration and ethnic and religious persecution. In addition, political turmoil has been and continues to be a major contributor pressing Arab Christians towards seeking security and stability outside their homelands. Christian Palestinians face the same oppression as their Moslem compatriots. Recent spread of Jihadist and Salafist ideology, foreign to the tolerant values of the local communities in Greater Syria and Egypt has also played a role in unsettling Christians' decades-long peaceful existence. It is estimated that at the present rate, the Middle East's 12 million Christians will likely drop to 6 million by the year 2020.
The largest Christian group in the Middle East is the now Arabic-speaking Egyptian ethnoreligious community of Copts, who number 6–11 million people, although Coptic sources claim the figure is closer to 12–16 million. Copts reside in mainly Egypt, with tiny communities in Israel, Cyprus and Jordan.
Arabic-speaking Lebanese Maronites number some 1.1–1.2 million across the Middle East, and often eschew an Arabic identity in favour of a Phoenician-Canaanite heritage.
Syriac Christians of various Non-Arab ethnoreligious heritages, number roughly 2 to 3 million. The indigenous Eastern Aramaic speaking Assyrians of Iraq, south eastern Turkey, north western Iran and north eastern Syria have suffered both ethnic and religious persecution over the last few centuries, leading to many fleeing to the west or congregating in areas in the north of Iraq and Syria. In Iraq numbers of indigenous Assyrians has declined to somewhere between 500,000 to 800,000 (from 0.8–1.4 million before 2003 US invasion).
Currently, the largest community of Syriac Christians in the Middle East resides in Syria, numbering 877,000–1,139,000. These are a mix of Neo-Aramaic speaking Assyrians and largely Arabic speaking Christians who ethnically identify as Syriacs-Arameans, together with a large community of Armenians.
The ethnically Arab Christians, who are mostly adherents of the Greek Orthodox Church or Protestant converts, number around 400,000 and combined with Melkite Christians (who are usually related as Arab Christians as well) compose almost 1 million. Arab Christians largely reside in Israel, Palestinian Authority and Jordan, with smaller numbers in Syria, Lebanon and the Arabian Peninsula.
Armenian Christians number around half a million, with their largest community in Lebanon with 254,000 members. The number of Armenians in Turkey is disputed having a wide range of estimations. More Armenian communities reside in Syria, Jordan and to lesser degree in other Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, Iran and Israel. ern
The Greeks, who had once inhabited large parts of the western Middle East and Asia Minor, have declined since the Arab conquests and recently severely reduced in Turkey, as a result of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, which followed World War I. Today the biggest Middle Eastern Greek community resides in Cyprus numbering around 793,000 (2008). Cypriot Greeks constitute the only Christian majority state in the Middle East, although Lebanon was founded with a Christian majority in the first half of the 20th Century.
Smaller Christian groups include Georgians, Messianic Jews, Russians and others, such as Kurdish, Turcoman, Iranian, Shabak, Azeri and Arab converts exist in small numbers. There are currently several million Christian foreign workers in the Gulf area, mostly from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Middle Eastern Christians are relatively wealthy, well educated, and politically moderate, as they have today an active role in various social, economical, sporting and political aspects in the Middle East.
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