USA: September 9, 2006. A member of an Assyrian Christian organization that advocates for Christians in the Middle East says former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is enjoying in the United States now what Christians in his own country cannot have
The comments come from Sabri Atman, a member of the Assyrian Christians, and were triggered by Khatami`s appearance before a Muslim group in Chicago.
Yesterday, Khatami was at the University of Virginia, where he told an audience American military forces should not leave Iraq immediately because a vacuum created by the U.S. departure would allow violence to erupt.
Khatami, a moderate Islamic cleric, was president from 1997 to 2005, but couldn`t seek another term and was succeeded by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an Islamic fundamentalist who is seeking nuclear weapons in defiance of the United Nations.
Khatami already has spoken in New York and Chicago, and that was where the Assyrian Christians held a protest nearby.
"It is an insult to our people and all freedom loving people around the world," said Atman, who himself is on a world speaking tour right now.
He`s working with the Assyrian Christian organization directed by Rev. Ken Joseph, Jr. It`s headquartered in Japan but works worldwide to advance the cause of Christians across the Middle East.
"Our people are scattered across the world because of radical Moslems like Khatami and their slaughter of our people," Atman said. "We protest strongly the visit of Khatami to Chicago while we are meeting across town."
Atman told WorldNetDaily that he`s concerned by the focus he sees.
"I am a Christian Assyrian, and I have a very limited chance to talk about my people," he said. "I feel very strange that Khatami comes to the United States and is free to speak."
"How about my people? Why does nobody talk about my people," Atman said.
Christians have been in the Middle East from the time of Christ. But they have faced a number of purges by the rulers over time, including the present attacks on Christians by powerful Islamic factions across Iran, Iraq and neighboring nations, Atman said.
He said the Assyrian Christians are "the original people" in the region but they no longer have the same rights in their country that Khatami does in the United States.
"While he enjoys the freedom to say whatever he wants against America, the Assyrian Christians in his own country suffer even as we speak. He does not afford to others the freedom he enjoys in America," Atman said.
Atman noted just one or two generations back, Christians made up about 20 percent of the Middle East population.
"In Turkey where I was born the Christian population was originally 33 percent. Today it is under 2 percent. The greatest reason was the Assyrian Genocide of 1915 in which nearly three million Christians were slaughtered throughout the Middle East," he said.
"It is an insult to every one of our martyrs who were slaughtered at the hands of those like Khatami who think nothing of abusing Christians while they take advantage of the freedom of America and other freedom-loving countries," Atman said.
Officials with the Assyrian organization said their protest drew hundreds of people, and was held a few miles from the location where Khatami was telling a conference of U.S. Muslims that the U.S. war on terrorism is to blame for increasing violence as well as Muslim hatred for the West.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., has described Khatami as "one of the chief propagandists of the Islamic fascist regime."
His appearance in Chicago apparently was the first time in 30 years a high-ranking Iranian official has spoken publicly on U.S. soil. He visited the U.S. while president, but never left the confines of New York.