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Inherent to Iran’s theocratic social code is the unfair treatment of all religious minorities, regardless of their recognition in the Constitution. Armenians, Jews and Zoroastrians are considered half citizens. This means that if a member of any one of these minorities wants to testify in court, his testimony is equivalent to half that of a Muslim man. When speaking about minority women, their worth is 1/4 that of a Muslim man. If a Christian or any other religious minority is wet and a Muslim man touches him, he has to go wash as he is now considered najess (impure).
Historically, the Armenian and Assyrian Christian communities flourished for centuries in Iran, but from the onset of the Islamic Revolution, religious persecution and social marginalization set off a mass exodus in cultural and religious minority groups.
Under the Pahlavi dynasty, the Armenian community thrived, as a result of the modernization efforts of Reza Shah from 1924 to 1941 and Mohammad Reza Shah from 1941 to 1979. The Armenians advanced and established themselves in the arts, sciences, economy and entrepreneurship. They settled in Tehran, Tabriz and Isfahan and had a growing population of about 3,000,000.
They were politically independent with their own senator and member of parliament. They had churches, schools, cultural centers and libraries that catered to their community.
Armenian books, newspapers and other literature was published and freely circulated throughout Iran.
The history of religion within Iran, clearly parallels their political timeline. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iranians connected again with Islam. This was particularly the trend a couple of years later when Iran entered a bloody religious war of Shiite versus Sunni with neighboring Iraq. Naturally, Iranians became increasingly patriotic, rallying around the flag of their new Islamic country.
The Islamic Revolution and the years following brought a sudden end to a thriving era for the Armenians. Facing religious pressure, increased religious propaganda surrounding the Iran-Iraq War and subsequent economic struggles induced a sudden emigration of more than 1,000,000 Armenians from Iran who settled in Europe, North America and Australia.
The plight of Christian converts, very few in number at the time, became even more precarious. The Iranian government expelled all Western missionaries and in the backdrop of a fiercely fundamentalist Islamic influence that was quickly spreading throughout the country, those who wished to continue living as Christians, were forced to face the consequences.
Christian converts have faced brutal persecution for three decades, yet, as the crackdowns increase, the Iranian people are still drawn to Christianity as a way to communicate with God and routinely attend prayers and Bible readings.
Christian activists around the globe have cried out against the recent arrests, claiming that these Iranians are being persecuted merely for practicing a religion outside the dictated Islamic faith.
The Iranian crackdowns have coincided with a sweep of unrelated attacks against other Christian communities in the Middle East, including Egypt and Iraq, which also began around Christmas time.
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