In a keynote address at a conference organized by KAICIID on “Supporting the Citizenship Rights of Christians in the Middle East”, His Holiness Aram I developed his reflections in the following four points:
- The importance of the inter-religious dialogue. Christianity and Islam are monotheistic religions but they are not monolithic, they are different in many respects. Dialogue is therefore important on issues that separate them. Dialogue is also an urgent necessity in a globalized world in which religions, cultures, ethnicities live together as neighbors. Dialogue should aim at accepting each other, trusting each other, and working together on issues of common concern. Furthermore, any meaningful dialogue should take place on the basis of the following guidelines: avoiding absolutizing divergences and affirming elements of convergence; respecting specificities and deepening commonalities; identifying common areas of joint engagement and action; transforming coexistence into a broader community of coherent diversities.
- Middle East has been the birthplace of Christianity. Christianity is deeply rooted in the history, cultures and civilizations of the Middle East. Christianity is therefore an integral part of the Middle East. Diversity has always been a salient feature of this region. Diversity implies coexistence. Centuries of coexistence in the region has been marked both by common peaceful life and tension, and even conflict. In spite of contradictory experiences Christianity and Islam have been able to build a culture of living together. This culture of living together is seriously threatened now. Christians are leaving the region. Economic, security and sociopolitical factors have created a kind of environment in which Christians find themselves before a choice: live in isolation or leave the region.
- The question of citizenship which is the major topic of this conference is an extremely important and sensitive matter which deserves a comprehensive and serious discussion. Diversity implies coexistence, and peaceful coexistence entails equality ensured by co-citizenship. Religion distinguishes and often separates, while citizenship unites. The distinction between religious and national identity should neither be opposed to each other nor blindly identified; they should be complimentary. Citizenship means equal obligations and rights as well as full participation in all spheres and all levels of society life. This perception of citizenship does not correspond to the actual reality in many countries of the Middle East. The denial of implications of citizenship for Christians has pushed them to the periphery of society. Ghetto situation generates fear, uncertainty and hopelessness. Majority must not aim to isolate the minority; it should rather aim at protecting and preserving minority. Muslims have an obligation to provide a broader space for Christians to play an active role in all aspects of society life. Without Christians the Middle East will lose its richness, identity and creativity.
- Christian-Muslim coexistence today faces enormous challenges. These two religions are before a common responsibility. Let me mention some of the major challenges:
- How can we develop a paradigm of shared values and a framework of common responsibilities as guiding principles of common life together? If we fail to achieve such a crucial task, Christian-Muslim coexistence will always remain shaky.
- How can we promote a model of society that respects human rights, protects diversities, and affirms equal obligations and equal rights of all citizens?