Iraq and the genocide of Assyrian Christians
It is perhaps one of the great ironies of the whole Iraq debacle that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair - two of the most avowedly Christian leaders of recent times – should have created a situation which has not only destabilised the entire region, but imperils the very existence of Assyrian Christians. In the liberation of the majority Shi’ia from their Sunni oppressors, the Christians, who once lived and worshipped freely under the regime of Saddam Hussain, now face genocide in their own country at the hands of determined Islamist fanatics. The Rev Canon Andrew White, vicar of the 1300-strong St George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, recently spoke in Washington, and said: “The situation is more than desperate. The Coalition has failed the Christians. We have done nothing to support the Christian community or the increased Christian suffering.”
Cranmer is indebted to his correspondent Latimer for the information that follows:
Christians are being cleansed from their ancient neighbourhoods and villages by roving bands of terrorists and criminals. Muslim families swiftly move into the abandoned homes. According to Major General Benjamin Mixon, commander of US forces in northern Iraq, ‘this is an act of ethnic cleansing…almost genocide’. While Sunni and Shi’ia may be blowing each other up, they are united in targeting the Christians, and seek to cleanse them from Iraq in accordance with their respective interpretations of political Islam.
The irony of their situation is that Assyrian Christians are perceived by the ignorant Sunni and Shi’ia as being agents of the West; collaborators with the occupying forces. In fact, their presence in the region predates Islam by some 700 years. Assyrians are Semitic cousins of the Jews: ‘Parthians’ were present on the day of Pentecost and became the first nation to adopt Christianity as their state religion in AD 179, more than a century before Armenia. They claim to have been the first to build churches and to translate the New Testament from Greek into their vernacular Aramaic, the language of Christ. Learned Assyrian Christians kept Greek science and technology alive while Europe lurched through the Dark Ages. For over a thousand years since the Muslim conquest of their homeland, Assyrians have lived in relative peace in the region. They have been second-class citizens of various caliphates, and there have been interludes of active persecution. But for the past 150 years, martyrdom has been their fate. In 1915, the Turkish junta viciously murdered some 750,000 Assyrian Christians and 1.5 million Armenians. Turkey has still not acknowledged this atrocity; indeed, it is a criminal offence to do so. Prior to 1915, Christians were 20% of Iraq’s population; today they are barely 2%.
Most Assyrians are members of the Chaldean rite aligned with Rome, but there are also Syrian Orthodox and Nestorians, the first Christians to reach China. Services at St George’s in Baghdad are attended by many who now have no other church in which they may worship, since so many have been bombed and their clergy and congregants abducted for ransom or ritualistically murdered. Canon White noted that his church members are not only Anglicans, but Christians from many different denominations. Within just the last month, 36 of his own congregants have been kidnapped, and only one has been freed after payment of the ransom.
The Chaldean Patriarch, Emmanuel III Delly, has estimated that as many as half of Iraq's 750,000 Christians have fled the country since the US-led invasion of March 2003. The majority of the remaining Christians live in Dora, a neighbourhood of southwest Baghdad, where they are increasingly terrorised by Sunnis. If they want to live, they must convert. If they refuse, they must pay the jizya – the ‘dhimmi tax’ – or be killed. The sum fixed by al-Qaeda operatives has set this tax at $1,600 per person.
Iraq's outnumbered Christians and other religious minority groups are targets of an unremitting terror campaign, and face daily murders and rapes. Archbishop Emmanuel III Delly has said of the situation that it is ‘Open persecution, as in the early centuries of the Church’. Priests are being beheaded, boys are being crucified, girls are being raped…
And where in the media is this being reported, and what is the West doing about it?
Nowhere, and nothing.
They should read Hebrews 13:3, and consider 1Corinthians 12:26. And then ask why they pour billions of dollars into liberating the oppressed Muslims of Bosnia or the oppressed Muslims of Iraq, yet lift not a finger for the oppressed Christians of Assyria.