Jean Monnet Network PEACE, WAR AND THE WORLD IN EUROPEAN SECURITY CHALLENGES POWERS International Conference "Europe and the migration of the Christian communities from the Middle East" Brenkhausen, Goettingen
On the 27-29th of September 2021 the Georg-August University of Goettingen carried out an International Conference targeted on the broad variety of reasons for migration movements with a special focus on Christian minorities and their experiences of religious fragmentation and suffering in their home- and refuge countries.
Due to the Corona-pandemic the conference took place in a hybrid format. This made possible to include many different international researchers even if they weren’t allowed to travel to Germany. The conference brought together project-researchers from the Georg-August University of Goettingen as the host institution, from the Dokuz Eylul University Izmir, Turkey, the Kore University Enna, Italy and the Voronezh State University and Perm University, both Russia. Additionally PhD-students from the ERC-funded research project "Rewriting Global Orthodoxy: Oriental Christians in Europe, 19700–2020" from the University Nijmegen, Netherlands, speakers from the Ruhr-University Bochum and Philipps-University Marburg, both Germany, the University of Mekelle, Aethiopia and the Wake Forest University of Winston-Salem, USA were invited. The former foreign minister of the GDR Markus Meckel and Anba Damian, Bishop of the Coptic Church in Germany enriched the discussion as well.
During the conference, the discussion on migration was mainly conducted based on specific examples from different countries, e. g. Syria, Greece, Russia, Germany and a special focus on the orthodox communities in the Netherlands.
The conference started on the 27th of September in the Aula of the University of Goettingen with the opening ceremony. It also was the official farewell for Prof. Tamcke. He openend the conference and gave some insights about the research in the field of the christian orient, how it changed over the past century from a theological-historical focus on the churches from the east to a more dialogically approach in exchange with the churches. This was also emphasized by Prof. Peter Gemeinhardt, Dean of the Protestant Faculty from Goettingen. Prof. Hermanus Teule and Markus Meckel gave some more insights on Christian minorities and acknowledged the work of Prof. Tamcke in this research field. Bishop of the Coptic monastery Brenkhausen and host of the second part of the Conference, Anba Damian and Bishop Serovpé Isakhanyan, Bishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church from Cologne, enriched the ceremony with more anecdotes from the time they spent together with Prof. Tamcke. Finally Dr. Alla Akulshina from Voronezh summed up the achievements of Prof. Tamcke and his work for the POWERS-network.
After a short break, the participants took a bus from Goettingen to Brenkhausen, the second place of the conference. They were warmly welcomed by Bishop
Damian and his employees with a traditional soup and and different specialties and fruits from Egypt.
The conference continued with the first plenary session about the Christian migration experiences from the Middle East to Europe. It was chaired by Prof. Heleen Murre van-den Berg from the University o Nijmegen.
In this session, Dr. Kai Merten from the University of Marburg started with some insights about the memories of the arrival of the first Syrian orthodox Christians in Germany. He gave a brief historical overview about the migration of Syrians to Germany. He continued with an analysis of factors of integration of which he recognized six (the declared goal of successful integration, the language, the church, the cultural associations, the social structure, the relationship with German neighbors).
Second speaker was PhD Sevgi Cilingir from the Dokuz Eylul University of Izmir. She participated online and talked about the challenges of religious conversions in an asylum setting. She put a special focus on the conversions to Christianity during the European migration crisis. She therefore analyzed media reports, academic research and personal experiences of migrants. She also demonstrated the asylum context in Europe in terms of its legal, political and cultural obstacles.
Third speaker was also online from the University of Izmir Sinem Abka. She talked about a special topic: the integration trajectory of orthodox Greek refugees from Anatolia and their experiences after they settled in Mainland Greece. She therefore answered the following questions: “Is the religion enough to understand the fragmentation and discrimination in the host society?”, “To what extent the immigrant are flexible in adapting the new systems of values and ethics in the host society?”, “What can be done to integrate them with the host society?” and “What kind of benefits, contributions as well as the burdens the migration might cause for the host society?” She also gave examples from secondary resources and stories shared by first generation immigrants and their descendants.
The evening key-note speech was given by Prof. Heleen Murre-van den Berg about “Rewriting Global orthodoxy: oriental Christians in Europe between 1970 and 2020”. She showed how intertwined textual and visual practices can be used as a primary source to understand how Oriental Christians inscribe themselves in European societies and so contribute not only to the transformation of their own transnational churches but also to that of Orthodoxy worldwide. She shared how diachronic and synchronic comparison among Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches showed that this rewriting includes the actualization of their religious heritage vis-à-vis ethnic and national self-definitions, vis-à-vis European society, and vis-à-vis other churches, particularly Orthodox ones.
Tuesday, 28th of September, started with the first plenary session about modern orthodoxy in Europe. The session was chaired by Prof. Paolo Bargiacchi from the University of Enna and member of the POWERS-Network. In this and the next session, PhD students from the University of Nijmegen, part of the project by Heleen Murre-van den Berg about Global orthodoxy, gave their speeches about special insights on this topic.
Jan Gehm started with his presentation about the Syriac Orthodox Church in Herne. He gave a historical overview about their history and migration from Turkey and their establishment in Herne from 1960–2020. He focused on the first Syriac Orthodox foreign workers in the Ruhr area around 1960, the establishment of associations and the use of premises (1970s and 80s) and the purchase of St. Peter and Paul church in Herne (1990s).
Gaétan du Roy as the second speaker, presented the digitization of coptic traditions in francophone Europe. He showed the importance of studying religious texts both as carrying a rich content but also as actants in people’s social life. . He contributed to a better understanding of those dynamics and to the rich field of (e-)diaspora studies. He claimed that religious texts are also a good site to investigate what digitalization does to writing and reading in religious contexts and how these evolutions affect the building of communal ties in a diasporic context. Through this ethnography of texts, he was able to observe the way in which Coptic groups take shape and perpetuate a sense of belonging in European contexts.
Last speaker of the session was Matija Milicic. He gave a presentation about the Coptic Orthodox Church in the Netherlands and sheded light on an often overlooked European Coptic Diaspora. The largest Coptic communities outside of Egypt are those in the USA, Canada and Australia. By contrast, he recognizes a large lacuna in the current scholarship when it comes to research on the Coptic Orthodox communities in Europe. Studying the Dutch Coptic community revealed strategies and dynamics of recent waves of emigration from Egypt and demonstrated conditions of establishing and organizing new communities in the contemporary times. His closer look at the activities and practices of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the Netherlands helped to better understand how immigrant churches preserves their tradition and heritage outside of Egypt while adapting to local needs and environments.
The third plenary session was chaired by PhD Stanislau Paulau from the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz. The session was also dedicated to modern global Orthodoxy and the research project by Heleen Murre-van den Berg.
The first speaker, Dr. Chris Sheklian, PhD-student at the University of Nijmegen gave his presentation about Armenian Hagiographic Emplacement in Europe. He put a special focus on the Armenians of Maastricht and argued, that they emplace themselves into the city through both metaphorical and literal inscription into the hagiography of the patron saint of the city.
Habtom Yohannes, also from the University of Nijmegen continued and presented his topic "Tending the flock through ’Tewahdo_WhatsApp’: between adaptation & preservation". He analyzed a religious WhatsApp-Group as a medium for maintaining the communication between a Tewahdo Spiritual Father, Abe-Nefsi, and ’his flock’ of about 150 Tewahdo between August 6, 2017 and August 6, 2021.
Nathalia Zhurbina joined online for the University of Voronezh and presented her insights on the intragtion policy of Russia towards the migrants’ children by using examples from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Armenia. She put a special focus on different actants (state, regional level, migrations, researchers) and concluded, that more research has to be done in order to help these actants interact with and help migrants’ children to integrate into their refuge country.
Prof. Pieternella van Doorn-Harder from the Wake Forest University and the Vrije University Amsterdam gave a presentation about the Anba Samuel and the opposite assessment in the West and Egypt. She retraced Anba Samuel and concluded that there is a need to reassess Anba Samuels Legacy. This includes to place his legacy within the religious renewal of the Coptic orthodox Church during the 20th century and to connect his actions with his theology & spiritual teachings. Furthermore research has to retrace and recognize how his charisma was routinized and translated into Coptic life outside Egypt.
Plenary Session IV with the topic "Migration, Flight and Integration" was chaired by Dr. Dagmar Heller from the Institute for Ecumenical Studies and Research, Bensheim in Germany.
First speaker was Fr. Dr. Baby Varghese from India, who gave some information about the migration of the malankara Orthodox (Syrian) Christians to Europe and the United Kindgom. He discussed the positive and negative impacts of the migration and emigration in the life of the Christian communities in Kerala and other communities. Second was Dr. Harutyun Harutyunyan from the American University of Yerevan with a presentation about Migration and Integration of Armenian-Orthodox Christians in the old and new diaspora. He showed the development of the Armenian diaspora through different epochs and indicated the major challenges of current migration. Prof. Wolbert Smidt from the University of Mekelle spoke about the migration from Ethiopia as a reaction to unsolved conflicts and a thirst for future.
The last speaker in this session was Prof. Martin Tamcke, from the University of Goettingen. He spoke about Petros Makaris and his different attempts to explain his identities as minority, cosmopolitan, migration and stateless person.
The last plenary session of the conference focused on migration and the reaction in the destiny countries. It was chaired by Franco Burgio from the European Commission in Bruxelles.
First speaker was Dr. Lars Klein from the university of Goettingen. He reconstructed the german public discourse on migration from the Middle East. He explained the kind of atmosphere that Christian migrants from the Greater Middle East got into in the course of the ’summer of migration’ of 2015. He then sketched the efforts towards a better inclusion of migrants since then. Lastly, he unfolded approaches to a ’post-migrant’ society, which have been explicated since in German migration research.
Dr. Claudia Rammelt, from the University of Bochum, gave different perspectives on ’the Islam’ in interviews with Christians about flight and displacement in times of the so-called Islamic State. She showed that many Christians, like other religious minorities and Muslims who did not want to cooperate with the so-called IS, were affected by its violence and fled. She gave some insights on a group of researchers, which conducted interviews with Christians flighting from the violence. The lecture did not reconstruct the events of violence and flight, rather it emphasized the meaning of the events for the relationship between Christians and Muslims.
As a special participation, students from the University of Goettingen gave their presentations about Abdo Mirza and his personal report about flight, eviction and hostage of Assyrian Christians from the Valley Goran. Hannah Holthuis, Leonie Wingberg and Paul Seebaß. They claimed that the report of Abdo Mirza allows a very good personal insight into the culture of the Assyrians for all readers. It is not only a text, that serves the memory of following Assyrian generations, but also one that should cause acceptance and understanding by Non-Assyrians.
Prof. Liubov Fadeeva from the University of Perm talked about the Migration in the public agenda of the identitarian movement. She showed that the “Identity and Democracy successfully united the right-wing parties in Europe. They tried to move from a marginal group to a mainstream political force. They are reinterpreting their slogans and use contemporary IT. These poses the question, if liberal parties and movements can unite their efforts and forces in order to oppose the identitarian movement.
The evening key note was given by Prof. Dr. Hermanus Teule from the University of Louvain. He talked about the interaction between diaspora and homeland with a focus on Syriac churches as an example. He suggested that the relationship between diaspora and homeland is intrinsically characterized by tension. On the one hand, the Middle East cannot without the diaspora, and this is reflected by certain expectations on the side of the Middle Eastern Churches regarding their presence in the West. It is about juridical expectations for the Eastern Catholic Churches and more theological or missionary ones for the Orthodox Churches, with for me the tragic consequence that the ecumenical dialogue between the eastern churches as it exists in the East is not conducted in the west. On the diaspora side, it seems that at least large factions de facto turn their back to the region, sometimes overtly, at other times more subtly, by supporting movements which tend to marginalize the Christians of the Middle East.
On Wednesday, 29th of September the conference was concluded by a coordinating meeting of the Erasmus+ JM Network POWERS. Dr. Alla Akulshina, Coordinator of the Network and head of the international Office from the Voronezh State University and the other members from the POWERS-Network, who joined online or in presence discussed the further organization of the network and upcoming events.
The conference was – especially in the difficult times of Corona-pandemic and its restrictions – a full success. The hybrid format allowed to execute the conference non the less. The very diverse insights on the topic of the migration of christian communities from the East to Europe enriched the discussion and showed, that there’s still many things to discover and research.
The agenda structure can be seen in details — http://powers-network.vsu.ru/UserFiles/files/events/2021/UGOE/Final_agenda_conference_Goettingen_Sept21_1509.pdf