An Assyrian/Armenian Christian who had fled religious persecution in Iran shared his impressions of Israel with The Jerusalem Post.
Atour Eyvazian, an Assyrian/Armenian Christian who fled religious persecution in Iran in the 1980s, visited Israel this week with his family. He shared his insights and impressions with The Jerusalem Post.
His children had just completed their university studies and had a lot of questions about the country.
“I wanted this trip to be educational for them, to break the stereotypes we all have,” Eyvazian told Post reporter Ilanit Chernick.
‘A Soft Heart for the Jews’
Eyvazian, who has lived in the United States since 1984 following an arduous escape from the Islamic Republic, first connected to Israel through a late-night TV infomercial by the late Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ).
Eckstein was promoting one of his organization’s projects, bringing elderly Russian Jews to Israel. This resonated with Eyvazian’s own journey escaping persecution. In fact, his father and grandfather had been through hardships in Russia before going to Iran.
Impressed with the IFCJ mission that unites Jews and Christians, Eyvazian, now the owner of over 100 Jack-in-the-Box restaurants in Texas, began donating to the organization.
“The more I read books about what happened to Jews, their persecution and their history, the more I felt that Israel is their home,” he said. “I’ve always had a soft heart for the Jews and Jewish culture, they have been wronged so many times and I want to do everything I can to right that wrong.”
Visiting ‘Settlements’ an Eye-opener
Eyvazian said that visiting the “settlements” in Judea and Samaria, the ancient Jewish homeland, had “totally shattered” any negative stereotypes.
“I thought when they spoke about settlements, that it was like an invasion – it meant people were being moved from their land and Jews were coming in,” he said. “That’s not the case. Israel is a small country with a few million people and millions around them that don’t want it to exist.”
Eyvazian was surprised by the diversity of the country, in contrast with Iran.
“Before the Iranian Revolution in 1979 people were getting along… that’s what Iran was like, you could walk around freely, no one paid attention to who was Christian, or Jewish or Muslim. Life was good.,” he said, noting that Israel made him feel like he was back home in his country of birth, when things were good.
‘The True Meaning of Freedom’
According to Eyvazian, Muslims in Israel have more rights than they would in their own countries.
He appreciates the freedom that everyone in Israel shares as well as the friendliness of the people. “You see Orthodox Jews, and women in bikinis, men smoking – all at the same time, and everyone is the same,” he said. “This is the true meaning of freedom.”
Visiting Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda open market, Eyvazian enjoyed the familiar smells and atmosphere of the “shuk.”
He reminisced about life in Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, after which, if you were not Muslim, “you were seen as impure and spiritually dirty, an infidel. And if you went to the market and touched fruit, vegetables or items there, you were told you have to buy it because it was contaminated.”
Non-Muslims “were seen as half human,” he told the Post.
Good vs. Evil
Concerning the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that claims Israel is an apartheid state, Eyvazian said, “People who say that don’t know the truth. In this land, I have more freedom here than the place I was born.”
Calling on Christians to defend Israel, Eyvazian said, “The fight for Israel is about good and evil. My message to Christian friends is that they need to step it up. The Christians need to support the Jews.”