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

Published on Tuesday, 11 June 2024
Iraq: Christians are gripped by anxiety on 10th anniversary of their displacement

Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako :

Painful events remain deeply embedded in minds.


What happened was unimaginable. On June 10, 2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) declared an Islamic caliphate in the city of Mosul and began enforcing Islamic law. On July 17th, Christians were forced to choose between leaving the city, paying a jizya tax, or facing execution and confiscation of their property.


On July 20th the remaining Christians fled the city of Mosul, on their doors were marked the letter “n” in Arabic, denoting Nazarenes (Christians). On the night of August 6-7 of the same year around 120,000 Christians fled the cities and villages of the Plain of Nineveh with just their clothes leaving their properties behind to be looted and plundered by ISIS members and even some of their neighbors.


Most of the displaced sought refuge in the safe cities of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where they were sheltered by Chaldean churches, which remain a source of strength for Christians, in Ankawa/Erbil, and the cities and villages of Dohuk, Zakho, and Sulaymaniyah. For three years, all churches supported by charities, provided them with housing, food, and education for their children.


Although their territories were liberated in 2017, and the efforts of churches and charities to rehabilitate their homes, schools, and churches, with their support, only 40 per cent have returned (according to Chorbishop Raed Kallo about 120 Persons out of 50.000 in Mosul and according to Father Shaher Noury, 52 poor Family’s out of 800 in Telkef).


Due to a lack of confidence in a stable and secure future in their original places. The rest have either left the country or settled permanently in the Kurdistan Region, which welcomed them, some churches (Non-Chaldeans) have even moved their headquarters and built dedicated churches in the Kurdistan Region.


This trauma remains firmly embedded in their minds. What made it even worse after their displacement was the violations that forced them to emigrate and threaten their presence in their homeland. For example: militia\paramilitary groups dominance in their areas, exclusion from jobs due to the quota system, irregular salaries for the employees of Kurdistan Regional Government, issues with legal status law, in case one of the parents converted to Islam, their child will automatically be registered as Muslim and the seizing of their resources and properties by mobbing political entities.


Some statistics

Between 2003 and 2023, approximately 1,275 Christians were killed in various violent incidents across Iraq.


Several clergymen were kidnapped and executed in Mosul and Baghdad, including Paulos Faraj Rahho the Chaldean Archbishop of Mousel, and Fathers Polis Ragheed Ganni, Youssef Iskandar, Youssef Adel Fathers Thair Abdallah and Wassim Sabeh during the massacre at the Church of Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral (2010).


Some 85 churches and monasteries in Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra were bombed by extremists and then ISIS.


Furthermore, 23,000 homes and properties of Christians and other minorities were occupied. This is documented in case the government takes action to rectify the situation.


Their numbers were reduced due to the emigration of over one million Christians.


Towards permanent solutions

It is crucial for Iraqis to recognize that if the situations remain as they are currently, without real solutions, and the exodus continues, Iraq will be emptied of Christians, who symbolize the authenticity and historical and cultural depth of Iraqi identity. Their history should be included in the curriculum of Iraqi public schools. Despite their wounds, Christians remain attached to their country and their church and their mission.


1- We expect from the political governors to admit the unique identity of the traumatized people of the Nineveh Plains towns and respect their heritage. They also expect the withdrawal of dominant militias from their areas and the handover of the security matter to the federal police and guards from their towns, all according to applicable legal and constitutional laws.


2- The exclusionary ideology does not benefit Islam. The ideology of ISIS and many similar fanatic groups needs to be dismantled, as it is an extremist ideology that eliminates everything that differs from them in life and religion. They use violence, murder, and the violation of human dignity. They don’t understand that the world has changed, and religious, sectarian, and cultural diversity and freedom of expression are now recognized global values. Those who incite hatred and violence must be criminalized and condemned. Similarly, hate speech and Sermon against religions, especially those seen on many social media platforms, must be addressed. Here, we emphasize the important role of respected religious leaders who have a great impact in spreading common human and national values and preparing an educated and enlightened generation.


3- For establishing Building of a true, democratic, civil state, what restores hope to citizens, regardless of their affiliations, is for the government and serious political parties to work on developing a roadmap to reform matters and build a true, democratic, civil, independent, and strong state that transcends sectarian tensions and embraces all citizens of all spectrums, religious and national components alike, based on a just constitutional foundation. It is based on giving priority to education, educating its citizens and raising them on absolute loyalty to the homeland, and rising to new horizons, in a way that achieves security, stability, and growth. There is a need to change the current educational curricula. According to this constitutional Law, the government muss deals with “minorities” on the principle of citizenship and equality, preserving their rights, and providing them with a decent living. This suitable environment will encourage competencies and elites to return to the country, attract investments and create job opportunities, contribute to the country’s reconstruction and prosperity, and place Iraq among the ranks of civilized countries.