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 Video: Muted Christmas in Iraq

استعرض الموضوع السابق استعرض الموضوع التالي اذهب الى الأسفل 
كاتب الموضوعرسالة
Dr.Hannani Maya
المشرف العام
المشرف العام

الدولة : العراق
الجنس : ذكر
عدد المساهمات : 37365
مزاجي : أحب المنتدى
تاريخ التسجيل : 21/09/2009
الابراج : الجوزاء
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مُساهمةموضوع: Video: Muted Christmas in Iraq    الأحد 26 ديسمبر 2010, 3:49 am

Video: Muted Christmas in Iraq

Despite threats of violence against their community, Iraqi Christians have gathered at a church where less than two months ago dozens of parishioners were killed by armed gunmen.Religious leaders have advised worshippers to celebrate Christmas only with prayer out of fear for their safety.Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh reports from Baghdad.

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Labels: Al-Jazeera, Christmas, Iraqi Christians

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Iraqis defy threats to pack church

Hundreds of Christians packed Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation church for Christmas on Saturday, defying threats of attacks less than two months after militants massacred worshippers and priests there.

Security was extremely tight, with forces armed with pistols and assault rifles guarding the area and a 10-foot high (three-metre) concrete wall topped with gleaming razor wire surrounding the church.All cars entering the area were searched, and worshippers were patted down twice before being allowed into the church.

The mood was sombre after an October 31 attack claimed by Al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq in which gunmen stormed the church, leaving two priests, 44 worshippers and seven security personnel dead.

The church, which was filled with more than 300 worshippers, still bears signs of the attack, its walls pockmarked from bullets and the destroyed wooden pews replaced with plastic and metal chairs.

The attack has left many reeling.

"Last year, we were all gathering" for Christmas, said Uday Saadallah Abdal. But "this year, I went to the house, and I saw it was empty... I was crying all night, because no one was here any more."

The 28-year-old said two of his brothers were killed in the attack -- one of the priests, Father Thair, and another brother Raed. His mother was also shot three times, and is hospitalised in France.

"I feel that their souls are still there in the church; that is why I came. They encourage me to come here despite all the danger and threats," Abdal said of his brothers.

"We are afraid, but despite that, we are coming" for mass, Rana Nikhail said. "We have to be here, because it is the birthday of the Messiah."But "we cannot feel happy because tears are in our eyes, and people we love are not with us any more," the 35-year-old added.

Ten days after the deadly siege, a string of attacks targeted the homes of Christians in Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 33 others.Threats have also been made against Iraqi Christians.

Chaldean Catholic archbishop Monsignor Louis Sarko in Kirkuk said on Tuesday that he "and 10 other Christian personages received threats from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq."

Syrian Catholic Archbishop Matti Motaka called for people to maintain hope despite all the hardships."Our message is for people not to give up and to have hope in this life," Motaka said after the mass.

"We have hope, because Jesus is with us all the time, during all the difficulties that we face," but because of the attack, "there is a great wound in the heart of the church."Some worshippers asserted that despite the attacks and threats, they were not afraid, or at least not enough to stay away from Christmas mass.

"We have no fear at all. We are insisting on coming to the church for prayer and mass," said 40-year-old Tomas Rafo."We are here to support each other, to support the families of the victims, and to challenge terrorism," he said, adding: "Sadness is still in our hearts because of the attack, because of losing people that we love."

Fikrat Pack, 52, said: "There is sadness, but not fear. If we were afraid, the church would be empty. People are sad but not afraid, that is why they are here."We cannot give up our religion and our church because of an attack."

Speaker of parliament Osama al-Nujaifi urged Iraqi Christians, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled abroad amid unrest since the 2003 US-led invasion, to stay."Iraqis don't want the sound of the (church) bells to stop," Nujaifi said at the opening of the Saturday session of parliament.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also expressed solidarity with Christians on Saturday, and called on them to remain in Iraq."The attempts at eliminating the Christians from their country and land is a huge crime against national unity," he said in a statement.

"We strongly call on (Christians) to stay in their country, to commit to their country and participate in building and reconstructing it."Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta said no incidents were reported on Saturday.

"Our leadership took a series of security measures to protect the churches, through deploying forces around all churches," he said."We are on alert for the mass, but we have no fear that the attacks on Our Lady of Salvation may be repeated," said Atta.

Copyright © 2010 AFP

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Last Christmas in Baghdad?

Rimon Metti's family will go to Christian services on Christmas Day, but his relatives will be praying for their own survival and wondering whether this is their last holiday season in Baghdad. If they had any grounds for optimism about the future of their faith in Iraq, it vanished this year amid repeated attacks on fellow believers.

Metti's tree stands in the corner of his home, decorated with ornaments and tinsel. Pennants of a smiling Santa hang from a beam. But the decorations bring little Christmas cheer.

His world changed Oct. 31, when Islamic militants took parishioners hostage at a Baghdad church. At least 58 people were killed in the siege. A week later, bombs went off in Christian neighborhoods in the capital.

A group linked to Al Qaeda took responsibility for those attacks and threatened more violence against Christians. It repeated those threats Tuesday. The next day, a council representing the country's Christian denominations advised followers to call off Christmas festivities, and many church leaders in major cities said they would not put out decorations or hold evening services.

Metti said Friday that he would attend only the service on Christmas morning and avoid the Christmas Eve Mass. His goal is simple: survival. Priests and Christian politicians are calling for this Christmas to be one of mourning for the faithful killed in October.Metti no longer recognizes his Iraq. Once the Christian community had more than 1 million adherents, but Metti has watched its numbers shrink over his 26 years.

There have been bad times since 2003 when the Americans arrived: church bombings and the chaos of 2007, when Al Qaeda in Iraq members tried to force conversions on Christians in Baghdad; panicked exoduses from Mosul to Kurdish-protected areas after a rash of killings. But somehow Metti thought life had improved in Baghdad, and recently there was a veneer of normality. The October siege did away with that illusion.

Since then, according to the United Nations, about 1,000 Christian families have left Baghdad and Mosul for the relative safety of the Kurdish northeast. On Tuesday, the state-sponsored Christian Endowment Fund called for the creation of a secure region in Iraq where Christians could live.

Metti ran through a list of everything that is gone from his holiday. "Before, we were able to travel anywhere you wanted inside Iraq: to the north, from my neighborhood to another, to Zawra Park, or the amusement park on the canal highway. Now it is not possible."

After Christmas Day services, he will go to his aunt's home, as he does frequently on Sundays after church. But he sees little to celebrate."Even the government can't protect us," Metti said. "They can't protect themselves, how can they protect us!"

Baghdad has become hostile to him, he said, contending that Islamic fundamentalists are taking over Iraqi society."They have closed even the social clubs and bars.… The licenses are only given to either Christians or Yazidis. By closing these shops, it means they are telling us indirectly to leave!"

He used to love to go to church to see his family and friends. "Yes, the celebrations on this occasion became part of our traditions and our life," he said, "but we had to leave it behind reluctantly."He wants to leave Iraq now, though his father rejects the idea."Our livelihoods are also in danger, how we can live?" Metti said. "So we should find another place to live."

Salman is a
LA Times staff writer. Times staff writer Ned Parker contributed to this report.Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

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A Christmas of mourning in Iraq

Christmas will take place here on an altar of grief. The faces of the dead, 53 in all, stare out from photographs into the cold congregation hall, its stone floors dimpled from explosions, its ceilings still splattered with blood.

Nearly two months after a shocking assault by Islamist militants, Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church will commemorate Christmas quietly, with daytime mass and prayers for the dead, under security fit more for a prison than a house of worship. It is the same at Christian churches across Baghdad and northern Iraq, where what's left of one of the world's oldest Christian communities prepares to mark perhaps the most somber Christmas since the start of the Iraq war.

"There is sorrow in our hearts," Syrian Catholic Archbishop Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka of Baghdad said Friday in his office next to the church, which was guarded by concrete blast walls and a phalanx of police. "It is only natural that we show that we are mourning for the victims that we lost."

What does one tell a congregation at a time like this? Matoka had written out his Christmas sermon by hand, in neat blue Arabic script that filled one side of a page and two-thirds of another. The message, he said, was about holding fast to faith in angels.

Yet the forces besieging Iraqi Christians seem to be more powerful. In a pile of papers on Matoka's desk, along with the sermon, was a letter he and other church leaders received by e-mail last week from the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida-linked militant organization that claimed responsibility for the church attack.

"Be prepared," the letter warned, "for a long, serious war that you cannot win."

Iraqi Christians trace their history to the first century after Jesus Christ, but their numbers have more than halved since the Saddam Hussein era, when there was upward of 1 million. The Oct. 31 assault on the church - in which five suicide bombers stormed Sunday mass, held parishioners hostage for four hours and finally detonated themselves in a gun-battle with Iraqi commandos - was the deadliest against Christians in memory, shocking a nation that had seen violence drop to its lowest levels since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Among the dead were two young priests, a 3-month-old child and a young woman who had been married barely one month. A picture of the woman in her wedding dress, smiling, is on the altar among the photographs of the deceased. While she was at mass, church members said, her husband was at her doctor's getting test results; she died before learning that she was pregnant.

In the following weeks, Christians were targeted and killed in their homes in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, a trading hub in ancient Mesopotamia known in the Bible as Nineveh. Last week, Amnesty International called on the Iraqi government to do more to protect Christians and other religious minorities.

The attacks have led to a new exodus of Christians to neighboring Jordan, Syria and Iraq's relatively safe northern Kurdistan region. The United Nations refugee agency said that more than 1,000 Christian families have arrived in Kurdistan since November, many after receiving direct threats.

In Mosul, Athraa Salam Slewa, 45, said that her family had rented a house in Kurdistan and would be moving there soon."There is no one that will protect us here. Even the government couldn't protect us," she said. "My only consolation is I have good Muslim neighbors who stood beside us in these difficult circumstances."

For Christians who've remained in their homes, the sight of their heavily fortified churches provides little comfort. Maher Mikha - who lives close enough to Our Lady of Salvation church that on the night of the siege his house shook and shrapnel landed at his doorstep - said that he would attend Christmas mass with mixed emotions.

"A house of God should be an open place," said Mikha, 46, sitting with his wife and three children in a small living room under a portrait of Jesus. "But now with all these walls and the military presence, if I enter there I feel like I'm entering a prison camp."

"And anyway," his wife Hannah interjected, "even with all those walls, we have seen that when evil men want to attack anywhere, it doesn't stop them."

Yet they refuse to leave Baghdad, even after their 13-year-old son snapped a picture of one of the suicide bomber's decapitated head with his cell phone (she made him delete it), and even after Hannah's brother and his family packed up for Kurdistan last month.

"This is our country; this is our land," she said. "Our grandfather's grandfather was born here. We cannot go anywhere else."

This is what Archbishop Matoka tells his flock: that Christianity has existed in Iraq since the first generation of its existence and that leaving one's home behind isn't easy. Yet most people don't ask the church's advice these days; they come with their minds made up, their bags packed, asking only for official documents and school reports to take with them.

His message on Christmas morning will be one of hope, but it wasn't clear how much of that even he had left after one of the most difficult periods of his five decades in the church. Asked if he believed that Christians would always have a place in Iraq, he uttered that most ubiquitous phrase in Iraq, used by Muslims and Christians alike: "Inshallah," which means, "God willing."

McClatchy Newspapers
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Video: Muted Christmas in Iraq
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