Issued by the Catholic Center for Studies and Media - Jordan. Editor-in-chief Fr. Rif'at Bader - موقع أبونا

Published on Saturday, 6 July 2024
A decade on from widespread attacks, Christians in Iraq are beginning to heal

Rachel Hudson/ :

It has been ten years since ISIS' devastating 2014 wave of attacks against religious minorities.


The terrorist group captured several cities, including Mosul, Sinjar, Bashiqa, and towns and villages across the Nineveh Plain. Ethnic groups, including Yazidis, Kakais, Shabaks, and Christians, were all targeted.


Some 120,000 Christians were forced to flee overnight. They were given a stark choice: Convert to Islam, or pay a religious tax, and face death. Thousands of girls were sexually enslaved by the militants.


Trauma from the 2014 attacks remains an issue in the country, though family and communal bonds among Iraqi Christians are said to have helped heal wounds.


Archbishop Sam'an and Archbishop Warda, two Eastern Catholic archbishops, recalled the events with Archbishop Nizar Sam'an of the Syriac Catholic Eparchy of Hadiab-Erbil and spoke hopefully of the future.


"We are like an olive tree; no matter what happens to us, they can cut everything, but in the end, we are here, we stay here… and as a Church, we do everything to give a sign of hope, to help the (Iraqi Christian) people stay here in this land," said Archbishop Nizar Sam'an of the Syriac Catholic Eparchy of Hadiab-Erbil.


The Syriac Catholic and Chaldean Catholic Churches are two of the 23 sui iuris ("of its own rite") Eastern Catholic churches that, along with the Roman Catholic Church, comprise the universal Catholic Church.


Some 98 per cent of the country's population is Muslim, but Christian communities have lived in the land for 2,000 years. Historically, St. Thomas the Apostle is thought to have evangelized to his disciples here.


Archbishop Sam'an and Archbishop Warda spoke at an event hosted by Aid to the Church in Need International which has been supporting persecuted Christians since it was founded in 1947. Under the guidance of the Pope, they have worked on 5,600 projects in 138 countries each year.


Iraq declared victory over ISIS in 2017, while the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic Churches are still helping restore the church as a whole in Iraq.


Historically there has been a big decline in Christian numbers in the country from an estimated 1.4 million in 2003 to about 250,000 today.


But despite relative stability in the country for now, there is concern that conflict from the Israel-Hamas war will spill over into Iraq.


Archbishop Warda said: "Christians would be targeted or there would be collateral damage."


Archbishop Sam'an added that while Iraq has "a bit of stability now… ISIS is not just about [an] army, it's about ideology...which rejects religious diversity."


Archbishop Warda said that while "there is no doubt" about a shared desire for "common living" between Christians and "the majority of Muslims," the lack of any apology from Muslim leaders and scholars to ISIS victims for atrocities committed "in the name of Allah" was troubling.


In 2021, a visit by Pope Francis' to Iraq helped raise the domestic visibility of the nation's Christians.