Christians have no political ambitions and they don’t have militias to defend themselves. They are peaceful people,” Thaier al-Sheikh, the pastor of the Sacred Heart church, said as he sipped tea in his rectory.
“Christians have been here longer than Muslims, 600 years longer. We are the roots of Iraq,” he said.
“We want to live in this country; we don’t want anything else. But we want to live peacefully … Unfortunately, today we have the impression that Christians have no future in Iraq,” he said, standing before he donned his gold-trimmed clerical robes.
Here’s why many Christians have that impression:
Suspicions that religious minorities had no future in Shi’ite Muslim-led Iraq were aggravated in November by parliament’s decision to give minorities just six out of 440 local government seats in provincial elections next month.
Christians were set aside three seats nationally, with only one in Baghdad — too few in the eyes of many Christians.
The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had sought a greater share of seats for minorities, but many Christians felt slighted when it approved the law with a smaller number anyway.
Then there are the recent attacks in Mosul, the northern city where many Christians had fled from the violence elsewhere because it used to be safer. Liz Sly writes in the Chicago Tribune from Lebanon, where Christians who can afford the airfare flee because its population is 40 percent Christian, unlike Syria and Jordan where Christians are not really welcome at all. She gives some useful figures about Iraqi Christians:
…as many as 500,000 to 700,000 of the 1.4 million Christians in Iraq are believed to have fled in the past five years, according to a report last week by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body appointed by Congress.
“Five years from now there won’t be any Christians left in Iraq. It’s happening quietly but also very quickly,” said retired Gen. Michel Kasdano, a researcher and spokesman at the Chaldean Archbishopric.
I don’t necessarily believe that last statement. Projections based on current trends are usually wrong.
In 2006 and 2007, most of the new arrivals were from Baghdad, he said. But since the attacks in late October against Christians in Mosul, which forced an estimated 2,000 Christian families to flee to nearby villages, Christians have been arriving from the north, which was previously considered relatively safe.
Then some more numbers:
Christians still represent a small minority of refugees, aid agencies point out. About 60 percent of all the Iraqis who fled are Sunni Muslims, even though they account for only 20 percent of Iraq’s population, said Sybella Wilkes of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Damascus, Syria.
But Christians, who accounted for 4 percent of Iraq’s population on the eve of the war, are also disproportionately represented, comprising 16 percent of the 1.1 million refugees in Syria and 25 percent of the 50,000 refugees in Lebanon, the UN says.
They also account for a disproportionate number of those being granted asylum overseas.
Of the 16,874 Iraqis resettled in the U.S. since 2006, 48 percent are Christians, according to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Others claim asylum in Western countries such as Sweden and Australia, though not all will be admitted, leaving their future uncertain.
I don’t think we’ve seen that 48 percent number before. Ann can tell me — she’s better at remembering things than I am. I know we were once told that the State Department doesn’t keep statistics on the religion of Iraqi refugees. Is that idiotic or what?
Okay, back to the original subject: The long history of Christians in Iraq. Here’s a very brief BBC piece that gives some facts:
Christians have inhabited what is modern day Iraq for about 2,000 years, tracing their ancestry to ancient Mesopotamia and surrounding lands.
….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.
….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.
Muhammed, the founder of Islam, was born in 570 A.D. The Christian lands of the Middle East were conquered by force of arms, and Christianity was suppressed. Contrary to politically correct reports that Islam was tolerant and all religions lived in peace with each other, non-Muslims became dhimmis, second-class-citizens, and were subjected to special high taxes and other oppressive measures, so for many it was easier to convert to Islam than to continue as Christians.
There’s the history in brief, and that’s the reason for this quote at the end of the Reuters article:
Peter Maqdusi insisted that Christians’ millenarian history here means they have no choice but to await a more stable, peaceful Iraq.
“We have made sacrifices and our ancestors have made sacrifices. This is our land,” he said.
And that’s why the U.S. should be making heroic efforts to make sure Christians are treated properly in Iraq and are not forced to flee. Instead, we approved a constitution that enshrines Sharia law as the law of the land.