With New Violence, More Christians Are Fleeing Iraq
The flight — involving thousands of residents from
It threatens to reduce further what Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the
Those who fled the latest violence — many of them in a panicked rush, with only the possessions they could pack in cars — warned that the new violence presages the demise of the faith in
“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in
Iraq’s leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, have pledged to tighten security and appealed for tolerance for minority faiths in what is an overwhelmingly Muslim country.
“The Christian is an Iraqi,” he said after visiting those wounded in the siege of the church, Our Lady of Salvation, the worst single act of violence against Christians since 2003. “He is the son of
For those who fled, though, such pronouncements have been met with growing skepticism. The daily threats, the uncertainty and palpable terror many face have overwhelmed even the pleas of Christian leaders not to abandon their historic place in a diverse
“Their faith in God is strong,” said the Rev. Gabriele Tooma, who heads the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, part of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Qosh, which opened its monastic rooms to 25 families in recent weeks. “It is their faith in the government that has weakened.”
Christians, of course, are not the only victims of the bloodshed that has swept Iraq for more than seven and a half years; Sunni and Shiite Arabs have died on a far greater scale. Only two days after the attack on the church, a dozen bombs tore through Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 68 people and wounding hundreds.
The Christians and other smaller minority groups here, however, have been explicitly made targets and have emigrated in disproportionate numbers. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, these groups account for 20 percent of the Iraqis who have gone abroad, while they were only 3 percent of the country’s prewar population.
More than half of
The Islamic State of
What followed last month were dozens of shootings and bombings in
Three generations of the Gorgiz family — 15 in all — fled their homes there on the morning of Nov. 23 as the killings spread. Crowded into a single room at the monastery in Qosh, they described living in a state of virtual siege, afraid to wear crosses on the streets, afraid to work or even leave their houses in the end.
The night before they left, Diana Gorgiz, 35, said she heard voices and then screams; someone had set fire to the garden of a neighbor’s house. The Iraqi Army arrived and stayed until morning, only to tell them they were not safe there anymore. The Gorgizes took it as a warning — and an indication of complicity, tacit or otherwise, by
There is no exact accounting of those who have fled internally or abroad. The United Nations has registered more than 1,100 families. A steady flow of Christians to
The Kurdish Regional Government in northern
There have been previous exoduses, especially from
“I expect that a month from now not a single Christian will be left in Mosul,” Nelson P. Khoshaba, an engineer in the city’s waterworks, said in Erbil, where he joined a chaotic scrum of people trying to register with the local authorities there.
The displacement of Christians has continued despite the legal protections that
Christians have a quota of 5 seats in the new 325-member Parliament, though little political influence. Christmas was declared a national holiday in 2008, though celebrations are muted, and in Kirkuk, a tensely disputed city north of Baghdad, Christmas Mass was canceled last year.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, appointed by the president and Congress, said that the nominal protections for religious minorities in Iraq — including Christians, Yazidis and Sabean Mandeans, followers of St. John the Baptist — did little to stop violence or official discrimination in employment, housing and other matters. It noted that few of the attacks against minority groups were ever properly investigated or prosecuted, “creating a climate of impunity.”
“The violence, forced displacement, discrimination, marginalization and neglect suffered by members of these groups threaten these ancient communities’ very existence in
Archdeacon Emanuel said the government needed to do more to preserve a community that has been under siege in Iraq for decades — from the first massacre of Christians in Sumail in 1933 after the creation of the modern Iraqi nation to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to today’s nihilistic extremism that, in his words, has taken Islam hostage.
Invitations by European countries for Christians to emigrate following the attack, he said, would only hasten the departure of more, which “is not a solution.” Instead, the latest violence should give impetus to the creation of an autonomous Christian enclave in the part of
“What happened has been done repeatedly and systematically,” he said. “We have seen it in
Yasmine Mousa contributed reporting from Erbil, Iraq, and Sebnem Arsu from
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs