Iraqi Christians' long history
Christians have inhabited what is modern day Iraq for about 2,000 years, tracing their ancestry to ancient Mesopotamia and surrounding lands.Theirs is a long and complex history.
Before the Gulf War in 1991, they numbered about one million. By the time of the US-led invasion in 2003 that figure fell to about 800,000.Since then the numbers are thought to have fallen dramatically.
Under Saddam Hussein, in overwhelmingly Muslim Iraq, some Christians rose to the top, notably Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, and the Baathist regime kept a lid on anti-Christian violence.But this started to change after the removal of Saddam Hussein and the US-led occupation of Iraq.
A spate of attacks on Christian targets in Mosul, Baghdad and elsewhere in 2004 and 2005 accompanied a more general breakdown in security in Iraq. It is thought that proportionally more Christians - who were sometimes accused by extremists of collaborating with the "crusading" US forces - left.
Clerics and members of their congregations who have stayed have continued to face the threat of kidnapping by some extremist Muslim groups as well as targeted attacks.In March 2010, hundreds of Iraqi Christians demonstrated in a town near Mosul and in Baghdad, calling for government action after a spate of killings.
The killings of eight Christians also prompted an appeal by Pope Benedict for Iraqi authorities to protect vulnerable religious minorities.Two years earlier, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and murdered.
In the wake of the 1991 Gulf War and the imposition of sanctions, many Iraqi Christians, who had lived in relative harmony with their Muslim neighbours for decades, left to join family in the West.
The secular government of Saddam Hussein did not persecute Christians in the way it did the Kurds and some Shia areas, but it did subject some Christian communities to its "relocation programmes".For Christians, this was particularly marked in the oil-rich areas, where the authorities tried to create Sunni Arab majorities near the strategic oilfields.
Christians live in the capital, Baghdad, and are also concentrated in the northern cities of Kirkuk, Irbil and Mosul - once a major Mesopotamian trading hub known as Nineveh in the Bible.Most Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics who are autonomous from Rome but who recognise the Pope's authority.Chaldeans are an ancient people, some of whom still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
The other significant community are Assyrians, the descendants of the ancient empires of Assyria and Babylonia.After their empires collapsed in the 6th and 7th Centuries BC, the Assyrians scattered across the Middle East.
They embraced Christianity in the 1st Century AD, with their Ancient Church of the East believed to be the oldest in Iraq.Assyrians also belong to the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Chaldean Church, and various Protestant denominations.
When Iraq became independent in 1932, the Iraqi military carried out large-scale massacres of Assyrians in retaliation for their collaboration with Britain, the former colonial power.Villages were destroyed, and churches and monasteries torn down.In recent years, however, some places of worship were rebuilt.
Other ancient Churches include Syrian Catholics, Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholic Christians, who fled from massacres in Turkey in the early 20th Century.There are also small Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities, as well as Anglicans and Evangelicals.
ATTACKS ON IRAQI CHRISTIANS SINCE 2003
Aug 2004 - series of bombings targets five churches, killing 11
October 2006 - Orthodox priest, Boulos Iskander, snatched in Mosul by group demanding ransom. Despite payment of the ransom, priest found beheaded, his arms and legs also cut off.
June 2007 - Ragheed Ganni - a priest and secretary to Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahh, killed in 2008 - shot dead in his church along with three companions
January 2008 - Bombs go off outside three Chaldean and Assyrian churches in Mosul, two churches in Kirkuk and four in Baghdad
February 2008 - Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahh kidnapped; body found in shallow grave two weeks later
April 2008 - Fr Adel Youssef, an Assyrian Orthodox priest, shot dead by unknown assailants
February 2010 - At least eight Christians die in a two-week spate of attacks in northern city of Mosul
By the BBC
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Iraqi Christians Are Already Home
On Sunday October 31 a group of militants seized a church in Baghdad, killing and wounding scores of Iraqi Christians and signalling yet another episode of unimaginable horror in the country since the US invasion of March 2003. Every group of Iraqis has faced terrible devastation as a result of this war, the magnitude of which is only now beginning to be discovered.
Having visited the country in 1999 I can testify that the situation in Iraq was difficult prior to the war. But the hardship suffered by many Iraqis, especially political dissidents, was in some way typicall of authoritarian and dictatorial regimes.Iraq could at that time be easily contrasted with other countries living under similar hardships, but what has happened since the war can barely be compared to any other country or any other wars since World War II.
Even putting aside the devastating death toll, the sheer scale of internal displacement and forced emigration is terrifying.This is a nation that had more or less maintained a consistent level of demographic cohesion for many generations and it was this cohesion that made Iraq what it was.
Christian Iraqi communities had co-existed alongside their Muslim neighbours for hundreds of years - the churches of the two main Christian groups, the Assyrians and Chaldeans, are dated back to the years AD 33 and 34 respectively.A recent editorial in an Arab newspaper was entitled "Arab Christians should feel at home." As moving as the article was, the fact remains that Arab Christians should not have to feel at home - they already are at home.
I recall a group of Iraqi children from a Chaldeans school performing the morning nashids, songs, before going to class. I dread to imagine how many of these innocent children were killed, wounded or forcefully displaced with their families, like millions of other Iraqis from all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
The 1987 census listed 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq. Now the figure is closer to half of that and it is rapidly dwindling. The plight of Iraqi Christians seems very similar to that of Palestinian Christians whose numbers plummeted and continue to fall following the 1967 Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Christian diaspora was a direct outcome of the Israeli occupation of historic Palestine in 1948 and the Israeli government sees no difference between a Palestinian Christian and a Muslim.
But none of these points are deemed worthy of discussion in much of the Western media, perhaps because it risks hurting the sensibility of the Israeli occupier. The troubling news coming from Iraq can now be manipulated by presenting the suffering of Christians as an offshoot of a larger conflict between Islamic militants and Christians communities in Iraq.
Iraqi society has long been known for its tolerance and acceptance of minorities. There were days when no-one used labels such as Shia, Sunni and Christians - there was one Iraq and one Iraqi people.This has changed completely because part of the strategy following the invasion was to emphasise and manipulate the ethnic and religious demarcation of the country to create insurmountable divides.
Without a centralised power to guide and channel the collective responses of the Iraqi people all hell broke loose. Masked men with convenient militant names but no identities disappeared as quickly as they popped up to wreak havoc in the country.Any communal trust that had held together the fabric of society dissolved.
There is no question regarding the brutality and sheer wickedness of those who murdered 52 Iraqi Christians, including a priest, in Baghdad's main Roman Catholic church. But to represent the issue as one of Muslim and Christian hostility - as one report misleadingly put it, "Iraq's Christians caught between majority Shi'ite and minority Sunni Muslims" - is a both a major injustice and a dangerous act of provocation.
When such notions become acceptable, foreign powers are enabled to justify their continued presence in Iraq on the premise that they are there to protect those caught in the middle. For hundreds of years every colonial power in the Middle East has used such logic to rationalise their violence and exploitation.
This arrogant, self-serving mentality compelled Republican strategist Jack Burkman to describe the people of the Middle East as "a bunch of barbarians in the desert" in an English Al-Jazeera programme.Such hubris is further strengthened by killings like the Roman Catholic church massacre. A US solider in Iraq, quoted on a recent Democracy Now programme, referred to Iraqi culture as a "culture of violence," boasting that his country was trying to do something about this.
What will it take to see the "bunch of barbarians" as human beings who are trying to survive, fend for their families and maintain an element of normality and dignity in their lives?As for "Iraq's Christians" I must disagree with that depiction which is used widely in the media. They are not Iraq's Christians but Iraqi Christians.No matter how far their numbers may dwindle they will remain Iraqis.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist and editor of www.PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book My Father Was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story is available now on Pluto Press. This article was first published by the Morning Star.
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Iraqi Christians worship again
Iraqi Christians on Sunday reaffirmed their faith in the face of Al-Qaeda, as 200 people celebrated mass in a bloodstained Baghdad cathedral where militants massacred 46 worshippers a week ago.
"The church is built on the love, the peace and the blood of the martyrs, not on the sword," Father Mukhlas Habash told parishioners gathered around a cross of burning candles, traced out on the floor of an otherwise bare nave.
The candles illuminated pieces of paper with the names of the 44 worshippers and two priests who were killed last Sunday after Al-Qaeda gunmen stormed the Syriac Christian cathedral in the heart of Baghdad and seized hostages.
By the time the drama ended after Iraqi forces raided the building, dozens of people had died, including Taher and Wassim, two priests who heroically tried to plead with the gunmen to spare the lives of their flock.
"Today we will pray for those who attacked us, attacked our church and killed fathers Taher and Wassim," Habash said in a homily given at about the same time the Sayidat al-Nejat cathedral was attacked seven days previously.Images of the dead were to be seen everywhere on Sunday, on posters on bloodstained and bullet-pocked walls, by the candles and on laminated photos passed out among the faithful.
Along the length and on both sides of the candle-lit cross stood worshippers, among them wounded survivors, holding candles as a passing priest blessed them with incense.The marks of the carnage were everywhere, on bullet-holed walls, chipped and broken woodwork, and cracked marble of some of the pillars. From the cupola, a disfigured fresco of the Virgin Mary looked down.
Following the attack the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an Al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility in a statement that also said Christians everywhere were henceforth "legitimate targets."But on Sunday Father Habash sought to reassure his flock."Jesus said do not have fear," he told the congregation.
In the chancel, portraits of the victims lay amid a mountain of bouquets at the foot of a large wooden cross.Some of the faithful said they would not have missed this first mass since the deadly events of a week ago for all the world. The service was celebrated under tight security.
"It is a question of honour. We come here with the strength of our faith. The great message of Jesus Christ is not to hate our enemies," said Salem Ablahad, 47, a woodworker who was related to Taher, one of the dead priests.
Outside the cathedral gate Ikhlas Yussef said with a smile that she was happy to be there, and that the attacks would not scare Christians out of Iraq."To celebrate mass here today was important because we want to prove to the terrorists that no one will leave," said Yussef, 47, dressed entirely in black."Yes, I am very happy. This is like a shot in the hearts of the terrorists."
After the attack, one of worst targeting Iraqi Christians, many faithful said they would flee the country, like the two-thirds of the 450,000 Christians who lived in the capital before the 2003 US-led invasion."If people had said they wanted to leave, it was because they were in panic. But they will not do it," said Tony Boulas, a 45-year-old tradesman.
"We will not leave because we were the first here," he said in a reference to pre-Islamic Iraq.In Britain on Sunday, however, an Iraqi Christian leader said Christians should leave Iraq or face being killed by Al-Qaeda.
"If they stay they will be finished, one by one," London-based Archbishop Athanasios Dawood told the BBC in an interview."Which is better for us? To stay and be killed or emigrate to another place and to live in peace?"
Copyright © 2010 AFP.
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Vigil for UK action to Iraqi Christians
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside parliament in Westminster today to call for concerted UK government action to protect Christians in Iraq.The 350-strong vigil follows the attack on 31 October 2010 on Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral in Baghdad, seat of the Syriac Bishop in the Iraqi capital.
A total of 50 people were killed and 75 wounded at the Sayidat al-Nejat church, including women, children and two priests.An attempt to storm the building, where hundreds of people had been held captive by militants, backfired badly.
Similar rallies to the one at Westminster, which was peaceful and good natured, have been held in around 20 cities across the world.A spokesperson explained: "We are concerned that there has recently been a call for a mass exodus of Christians from Iraq which if it takes place, could mean a huge impact on the European Community and on the United Kingdom in particular.
"We appreciate how compassionate and caring the British public is, however we are asking the government to do more to protect those that wish to stay in their own country but at the same time welcome some of those that wish to leave and accept them into this country.
"So far the British government has been silent and the British media almost indifferent. We urge those with a voice to shout loud enough so the government can take notice."Even the French government offered to treat the wounded in France, and in fact 38 of the injured, including the heroic Fr Qutaimi, were taken to France yesterday by special medical plane for treatment. We wish the British government had made a similar gesture," he said.
Last week, British-based Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Athanasios Dawood criticised the Iraqi government for not doing enough to protect the rights of minorities. He said Christians were being forced to quit the country.
"I say clearly and now: the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing. This is better than having them killed one by one," said Dawood, according to CNN.Speaking at a service in London, he also asked the British government, and the authorities in other European countries, to grant asylum to Christians living in Iraq.
But Fr Saad Sirop Hanna of Saint Joseph's Catholic Church in Baghdad said that Christians in Iraq were "afraid, but not desperate", and backed a continuing presence and witness in the troubled land.Well over half the one million Christians who were present in Iraq before the US-led invasion in 2003 have now emigrated.
By staff writers at the Ekklesia.co.uk
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From California to Australia, thousands from all walks of life gathered Monday to march in solidarity as a form of protest against the relentless persecution of the minority Christian population in Iraq. The march was in response to the recent massacre of 58 Iraqi Christians that occurred last Sunday at the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad, but it also echoes a larger cry against the many other attacks endured by the Christian minority.
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, extremist attacks against the Assyrian, Syriac, and Chaldean population have increased. These indigenous Iraqi Christians are in fear of their own livelihood and are being forced out of their homeland in order to seek asylum. Rally protesters are not only marching to spread awareness of the past and current persecutions but also as a call for action to help protect and save the Iraqi Christian natives from further bloodshed and even extinction.
According to the Metro Detroit, Andre Anton, one of the rally organizers, said that there will be another rally in Washington, DC in order to get the attention of U.S. lawmakers. For more information on how to help stop the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Christians in iraq, people can visit the following websites: Iraqi Christian Relief, Assyrian American National Coalition, and the Assyrian Aid Society of America.
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Sixteen nationwide human rights organization in Spain, grouped together as the Federation of Active Associations Defending Human Rights, have written a letter to the US Secretary of State, expressing worry about the Iraqi government’s persistent rights violations in Camp Ashraf.
Camp Ashraf, situated northeast of Baghdad, is home to about 3,400 members of the main Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
The rights organizations said US forces are duty-bound to establish a presence in Camp Ashraf in accordance with Article 45 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The standards of treatment towards the residents of Ashraf should be reverted back to what it was prior to the US handing over the protection of the camp to Iraqi forces in early 2009. The letter also underscored the need for a permanent presence by UNAMI in Ashraf.
“More than 400,000 shocking documents revealed by WikiLeaks with regards to the abuses of Iraqi security forces have focused international public opinion on human rights violations and crimes committed in Iraq.”
The world has been stunned by the magnitude of torture, assassinations and murder of opponents by death squads, and especially the Iranian regime’s role in these crimes, the letter said.“Neither the commission of these crimes nor ignoring them are acceptable or tolerable by international public opinion or human rights organizations.”
The letter added that in the context of these crimes, since early 2009, when the control of Camp Ashraf was transferred to the Iraqi government by US forces, “Iraqi forces began their inhumane treatment of the residents, attacking the camp on July 28 and 29, 2009, which led to the killing of 11 residents, the wounding and injuring of more than 1,000 and hostage taking of 36 for 72 days.”
The Spanish human rights federation said in its letter to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the WikiLeaks revelations, showcasing crimes committed by the Nouri al-Maliki government and attacks against Camp Ashraf, including the recent aggressions in July 2010, have proven that the current Iraqi government’s forces lack the competence to protect the residents of Ashraf.
The letter added, “We cannot close our eyes to the occurrences in Ashraf, and demand the following urgent measures to be taken:
• US forces must establish a presence in Ashraf in accordance with Article 45 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; The standards of treatment must revert back to what they were prior to 2009 when US forces were in charge of protecting the camp; And, a UNAMI team must monitor the situation in Ashraf by establishing a permanent presence in the camp.
• Ashraf residents continue to be protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention and must enjoy the fundamental rights and protections of this convention.
• The 22-month-long unjust siege of Camp Ashraf must be ended.
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The Chairman of Southern Arab Tribes Council in Iraq has said that the country’s southern tribes will stand with the residents of Camp Ashraf and will defend them against any harm because the residents are viewed as guests of Iraq.
Camp Ashraf, Iraq, is home to about 3,400 members of the main Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghanem told the Iraqi news agency that the recent revelations by WikiLeaks about crimes committed in Iraq expose the role of the outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iranian regime in atrocities perpetrated in Iraq.
“We have been aware of these crimes all along, and what has been posted by WikiLeaks is only part of the crimes committed in Iraq. They represent only a part of the actions of Maliki, the Iranian regime, the death squads, the sectarian militias and some of the things that occupation forces have done.”
Al-Ghanem added, “The residents of Ashraf have witnessed how Maliki violates laws and how the mullahs in Tehran benefit from such violations.”“The residents of Ashraf are the guests of the Iraqi people, and Maliki’s actions against them are proof of his loyalty to the mullahs.