By Ethan Cole
According to reports, authorities had threatened the Rev. Sourik, the bishop and overseer of the Assemblies of God Churches in Iran, to completely shut down the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran unless it stopped holding Friday services by the deadline, Oct. 31.
Sourik, who had resisted the demands of authorities, finally relented and announced at the end of a Friday afternoon worship on Oct. 30 that there would no longer be Friday gatherings but only Sunday services.
“The announcement of the termination of the Friday services was received with shock and utter surprise and resulted in many openly weeping in the church service,” reported the Farsi Christian News Network.
According to reports, Sourik had complied with the demand in order to protect the security and well-being of the members and visitors attending the church services. Sourik, who has heart problems, had been under pressure from officials of the Ministry of Information to close down the church on Fridays, which is the official weekly holiday in Iran.
More recently, the pastor also received threats from the Pasdaran Militia (The Revolutionary Guards), which gave the ultimatum that if Friday services did not end by Oct. 31 then the militia would forcibly close the church down for good.
Some hearing the news of the Friday service ban say they fear that the crackdown is the beginning of a new campaign against public Christian worship gatherings. Most of the Christians in Iran worship in underground churches, but the Assemblies of God Church of Tehran is one of the few that holds public services.
“I believe the main reason they closed those services is to send a strong signal to all Christians inside and outside Iran that they will not tolerate Christianity in Iran,” commented one informant to International Christian Concern. “Its purpose is mostly to intimidate.”
Thus far, government officials have failed to provide an explanation for the closing of Friday services at the Central Assemblies of God Church.
Regardless, persecution watchdog groups say they oppose Iran’s resolution to bar Christians from freely having fellowship on Fridays, or any other day of the week.
“We urge Iran to respect the rights of its Christians to practice their faith freely without government interference, or authoritarian rule,” said Aidan Clay, ICC regional manager for the Middle East.
The Assemblies of God Church of Tehran is an independent church that was founded by several pastors and Christian lay leaders years before the Islamic revolution. The church continued its ministry after the revolution and several pastors were martyred by extremists, including some reportedly with ties to the regime.
By Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat
A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots. A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver.
The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.
The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad’s birthplace, and the name derives from “weaver of the Sabour”, the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran‘s Ministry of the Interior.
Experts last night suggested Mr Ahmadinejad’s track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past.
Ali Nourizadeh, of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, said: “This aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad’s background explains a lot about him.
“Every family that converts into a different religion takes a new identity by condemning their old faith.
“By making anti-Israeli statements he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections. He feels vulnerable in a radical Shia society.”
A London-based expert on Iranian Jewry said that “jian” ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews.
“He has changed his name for religious reasons, or at least his parents had,” said the Iranian-born Jew living in London. “Sabourjian is well known Jewish name in Iran.”
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said it would not be drawn on Mr Ahmadinejad’s background. “It’s not something we’d talk about,” said Ron Gidor, a spokesman.
The Iranian leader has not denied his name was changed when his family moved to Tehran in the 1950s. But he has never revealed what it was change from or directly addressed the reason for the switch.
Relatives have previously said a mixture of religious reasons and economic pressures forced his blacksmith father Ahmad to change when Mr Ahmadinejad was aged four.
The Iranian president grew up to be a qualified engineer with a doctorate in traffic management. He served in the Revolutionary Guards militia before going on to make his name in hardline politics in the capital.
During this year’s presidential debate on television he was goaded to admit that his name had changed but he ignored the jibe.
However Mehdi Khazali, an internet blogger, who called for an investigation of Mr Ahmadinejad’s roots was arrested this summer.
Mr Ahmadinejad has regularly levelled bitter criticism at Israel, questioned its right to exist and denied the Holocaust. British diplomats walked out of a UN meeting last month after the Iranian president denounced Israel’s ‘genocide, barbarism and racism.’
Benjamin Netanyahu made an impassioned denunciation of the Iranian leader at the same UN summit. “Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium,” he said. “A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies the murder of six million Jews while promising to wipe out the State of Israel, the State of the Jews. What a disgrace. What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations.”
Mr Ahmadinejad has been consistently outspoken about the Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jewish race. “They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets,” he declared at a conference on the holocaust staged in Tehran in 2006.
Forces being prepared, attitude hardened
Editor’s Note: The following report is excerpted from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium online newsletter published by the founder of WND. Subscriptions are $99 a year or, for monthly trials, just $9.95 per month for credit card users, and provide instant access for the complete reports.
There are ominous signs suggesting Iran may be preparing for sanctions from the United Nations and possibly even an attack from Isreal over its developing nuclear program, according to a report fromJoseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Just as the U.N. General Assembly is due to meet later this month to consider what to do about Iran’s insistence on enriching uranium as part of its nuclear development program, Tehran has announced that it is open to further discussions on the issue, but it will not be pressured to meet any September deadline.
“The Iranian nation favors interaction and dialogue but will not surrender to pressure,” according to Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi.
No one in authority in the West believes Iran is open to dialogue, since Iranian officials have continuously made such pronouncements in the past when backed into a corner, with the effect of causing some kind of delay in the UN sanctions process.
Keep in touch with the most important breaking news stories about critical developments around the globe with Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium, online intelligence news source edited and published by the founder of WND.
That may be about to change and Tehran knows it. It appears to be preparing not only for increased sanctions but the prospect that Israel may wait a few months, declare that the diplomatic course isn’t working and carry out what it has been threatening for months – attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The Israelis, however, realize that it probably could not undertake such an attack without U.S. help to gain access across other countries to carry out such a strike. It does have the option – through its recently dispatched submarines – of launching ballistic missiles which could obviate the need for country clearances for aircraft bombing runs.
While the Obama administration has requested no surprises from the Israelis, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden in July gave what amounted to tacit approval to such an attack.
He said that the U.S. would not stand in the way of Israel’s efforts to defend itself.
Seeing these prospects, Iran may be gearing up to any Israeli attack.
Tehran has just appointed a known terrorist as its next defense minister. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi is a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, and has been in charge of defense procurement and Iran’s missile program. He also is very much involved in Iran’s nuclear bomb project that western intelligence services say Iran is pursuing.