Now you see them, now you don’t!

“Le fin des Chrétiens d’Orient” is available in its original French, in Spanish as “El fin de los cristianos de Oriente”, in German as “Christen in der arabischen Welt” and in English as “The end of Christians in the Middle East”

ARTE is a public Franco-German TV network, a European channel that promotes programming in the areas of culture and the arts renowned for the quality of its documentaries. Late in 2015 it also started subtitling select programmes in English and Spanish. A few weeks ago it broadcast a documentary which I am sure readers will find fascinating. 

As a person involved in languages, I was first of all struck by the translations offered by the network’s various linguistic versions of the French original “Le fin des Chrétiens d’Orient”.  Spanish was closest with “El fin de los cristianos de Oriente”; in German it was a less ominous “Christen in der arabischen Welt”; while in English it was “The end of Christians in the Middle East” which I felt was more accurate than the original French, or the Spanish or German translations because the programme in fact centred on the Christian disappearing act in the Middle East.

The basic statistic is quite stark. At the beginning of the twentieth century one in four people in the Middle East was a Christian. At present, on the other hand, they are 11 million in a sea of 320 million Muslims. An accompanying dossier available on line at gives additional information, showing that over the period 2001-2015 the number of Christians has dropped most dramatically in Iraq by 59% to 270,000; in Syria by 37% to 1,060,000; and in Egypt by 28% to 4,290,000.

Tiny Lebanon, on the other hand, has seen its number of Christians increase by 101% to 1,620,000 as a result of an influx of refugees.

Turkey has also received many Syrian refugees and among them there are a number of Christians, but it is unclear from the graphic how many Christians there are there at present, although Turkey’s own Christian communities only amounted to 0.2% of a total population of over 80 million prior to the crisis in Syria.   

The documentary is a timely reminder that the Middle East is where Christianity was born and it shows a fascinating mosaic: Copts, Chalcedonian Antiochian Orthodox, Melkite, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Maronite, Chaldean Catholic, Latin Catholic, Armenian Apostolic Church, Syriac Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Chalaeans, and many others whose ancient pedigree pre-dates anything the West can offer but all have one thing in common: they are all under threat.

The documentary is a heart-wrenching testimony of how a God-less West has simply looked away while Christianity is wrenched from its roots. The documentary is available here until 29 August 2016.

Prof. Carmel Vassallo