DOHA: Christians have also been victims of blasphemous caricatures long before their Muslim brethren: A leading Iranian daily published caricatures insulting Jesus Christ and the 12 Apostles about a year and half before cartoons blaspheming Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) appeared in a Danish daily, Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian, Primate of the Armenian Prelacy of Tehran, said here yesterday.
In an interview with The Peninsula yesterday, Archbishop Sarkissian who heads the 150,000-strong Armenian Christian community of Iran, said, a Tehran-based Farsi-language daily, Hamshami, had published about a year-and-half before the Danish daily, a caricature of Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles. The caricature showed Jesus and the apostles at the Last Supper, feasting on pizzas and Pepsi. It showed Jesus Christ passing a hamburger sandwich to one of the apostles,” he said.
The Christian community in Iran, he said was deeply saddened by this blasphemous act but the reaction was peaceful. “We did not take it as seriously. I personally told the government that what was done by that daily was wrong. I pointed out, how can there be amity among Iranian citizens of different faith if their prophets were blasphemed by the media. I declined to participate in a dialogue of religions and refused an interview on the state-run TV to vent the feelings of the community,” he disclosed. “In so many Islamic countries, Jesus Christ has been blasphemed. Why Christians do not demonstrate? In the Christian world, there is no media censorship while there are a few Muslim countries that do not have press censorship,” he added. When told that Islam strictly forbids any form of imagery, Archbishop Sarkissian pointed out, Muslims also indulge in photography.
He said, there was an urgent need to educate the media against insulting holy icons of all faiths since they only tend to create animosity among the public while dealing serious setbacks to the dialogue of religions, which was crucial. The media should be made fully aware of the consequences that result from such blaspheming of any community's holy figures and prophets. Sarkissian, at the Doha 4th Conference for Religious Dialogue yesterday gave a presentation on the problems faced by religious leaders in approaching the media to respect prophets held sacred by believers of different religions.
The outcry and violent reaction in some countries caused by the publication of cartoons by a section of the Danish press, he said, were the fallout of exaggeration of the issue by the media in the Muslim world.
Despite such incidences, the archbishop said, the Armenian Christian community lives in amity with people of other faiths in Iran, a majority of whom are Muslims, about 20,000 Jew and another 20,000, followers of the Zoroastrian faith, among others. ” Before the Islamic revolution in Iran, there were no religious restrictions. After the revolution too, there are no restrictions and the right to religious freedom was added to the constitution,” he said.
Asked about Iran's nuclear controversy, the religious head, said, all Iranian citizens were worried about the propaganda that the programme was to build weapons, being churned by some segments of the Western press. ” We usually do not include political and other issues in our sermons at the mass but due to the seriousness of the issue, we did speak about it a couple of times,” he added. The negative propaganda, he noted, affects all Iranians, regardless of their faith.
Source: ?The Peninsnula? Qatari English language daily.
Interview conducted by Ashwin Honawar