Press conference in Saskatoon about the grim reality facing Iraqi Christians

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(Saskatoon) On behalf of the local community of Iraqi Catholics, and the extended global “diaspora” of Iraqis, Rev. Noel Hermiz and Helen Smith-McIntyre held a press conference to express the grim reality facing Iraqi Christians in light of the recent abduction and assassination of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Mar Paulos Faraj Rahho.

“Fighting terrorism cannot be countered by kidnapping a whole country, as is the case with the occupation of Iraq,” noted Rev. Hermiz, who is a Chaldean Catholic priest serving the local parish as well as other communities in western Canada.

Hermiz spoke of Archbishop Rahho as a martyr, explaining that it is likely a branch of “al-Qaeda” who carried out the assassination – he was kidnapped while leaving the cathedral February 29th, after leading the Stations of the Cross. His three companions were murdered instantly, but his body was discovered almost 2 weeks later in a shallow grave.

“There was no intention of a ransom – this was a political murder, a murder to silence a voice and send a message to the Christian community, and to those who hope for peace and diversity,” explained Hermiz, who is also fluent in French and Aramaic and writes for journals and periodicals on many of the issues facing the Iraqi people. “They wanted him to disappear.”

Speaking of the shock and loss at this unnatural death and discovery of the body, Hermiz noted that the Archbishop had many Muslim friends and leaders, and was a spokesperson for peaceful coexistence. One of Rahho’s parishioners said,”For us he was the last hope…despite threats and dangers, his standing by us gave us the courage to continue.”

Hermiz also noted that there is continual persecution of all minorities in Iraq which has escalated during the U.S. occupation, including Arabs who are neutral or working towards peaceful solutions, Kurdish citizens, clergy of any religion trying to maintain neutrality and peace, and ethnic religions who are identified as second-class citizens, or worse.

“I was asked, how does this event affect people in Saskatoon,” noted Smith-McIntyre, who works as a volunteer with organizations such as Amnesty International. “And my answer was, besides standing with our local Iraqi community with a history of more than 25 years, we have a responsibility to our global community.”

Smith-McIntyre spoke of the continuing persecution and atrocious living conditions of the Iraqi citizens. Recent reports released by Amnesty International and International Red Cross recognize the severity of the situation; the humanitarian situation in Iraq is considered to be one of the most critical in the world.

Five years after the U.S. invasion, millions of Iraqis have insufficient access to clean water, sanitation, and health care. Hundreds of innocent civilians are killed, every month. 4.5 million people have been uprooted, 2.5 million within the country itself, and another 2 million in neighbouring countries, where their living conditions are appalling, the drastic influx unsustainable.

Smith-McIntyre would like to see the Canadian government increase sponsorship – currently it has allocated further spots for Iraqi refugees, but only by taking these from other countries in the same area, thus creating no new sponsorship space – and increase humanitarian aid and longterm, peaceful solutions.

Hermiz has hope that Canadian and international communities will help Iraqi Christians, and other minorities not by simply emptying them from their native territories but by addressing the larger issue: one of embracing peace by finding Muslim partners, rather than combating terrorism by mass invasion and war tactics which serve only to proliferate it.

YOU ARE INVITED TO ATTEND A

NEWS CONFERENCE

HOSTED BY

SACRED HEART CHALDEAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

MARCH 24, 2008 AT 4:30 P.M.

IN THE CHURCH HALL, 202 JESSOP AVENUE

PLEASE SEE THE FOLLOWING NEWS RELEASE

For More Information,
Please contact Helen Smith-McIntyre, 306-717-5110

For Interviews in French,
Please contact Father Noel F. Hermiz, 306-881-5859

NEWS RELEASE

March 22, 2008 For Immediate Release

LOCAL IRAQI CHRISTIANS IN MOURNING YET AGAIN

During the Lenten season, Iraqi Christians have walked the way of the cross many times. For them, the passion of Christ has been very real. Even with the coming of Easter, the resurrection message of hope feels elusive.

The abduction and death of the much-loved Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Mar Paulos Faraj Rahho, has been a sad and poignant reminder of the inescapable violence which has engulfed the country of Iraq and of the ongoing persecution of minorities, including Christians.
Archbishop Faraj Rahho was abducted at 5:30 p.m. on February 29th, 2008, just as he was leaving Mosul’s Holy Spirit Cathedral. He had just finished leading the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross). The three people who were with him were killed. Other church leaders began immediately to negotiate the terms of his release but to no avail. On Thursday, March 13th, at 2:00 p.m., his body was found in a shallow grave near Mosul.

News of Mar Faraj Rahho’s death came as a major shock to Christians in Iraq and to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians in exile who are scattered across many continents (the ‘diaspora’). He was well known and much loved. He stood as a strong symbol of hope and consolation to Chaldean Christians during their many dark days. Now the terrorists have tried to silence him.

This is evident, in the words of one of his parishioners, “For us he was the last hope. The fact is that, despite threats and dangers, his standing by us gave us the courage to continue. I don’t know what’s in store for us. I don’t know where we’ll find the strength.”
The archbishop consistently called on people to continue to work for peace. He had many friends among Muslim leaders and was directly involved in promoting peaceful co-existence.
It is believed that he was abducted by members of “al-Qaeda” for mainly political rather than religious reasons.
The abduction and death of Mar Faraj Rahho, happened only a few days before the 5th Anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by US troops.
In recognition of the anniversary, the International Red Cross and Amnesty International have both released reports.
The International Red Cross prefaces its report with the following statement:
Five years after the outbreak of the war in Iraq, the humanitarian situation in most of the country remains among the most critical in the world. Because of the conflict, millions of Iraqis have insufficient access to clean water, sanitation and health care. The current crisis is exacerbated by the lasting effects of previous armed conflicts and years of economic sanctions.

A new Amnesty International report, Carnage and Despair: Iraq five years on, says that,
despite the heavy presence of US and Iraqi security forces, Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with hundreds of Iraqi civilians killed every month.
Five years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the country is still in disarray, the human rights situation is disastrous, a climate of impunity has prevailed, the economy is in tatters and the refugee crisis continues to escalate.
  Iraqi men crying after Iraqi-US raid, Sadr City, Baghdad, 8 October 2007

© APGraphicsBank

Aftermath of suicide bomb blast, Baghdad, Iraq, 10 March 2008
© APGraphicsBank

Iraqi police search people at checkpoint, Iskandariya, Iraq
© APGraphicsBank

Fr. Noel Hermiz:

Our message to the international opinion

The abduction and the assassination of our Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Mar Paulos Faraj Rahho, has been a
new reminder that we have something else, something new to give to the public opinion, about the tragic situation in Iraq and of the continual persecution of minorities, and here we would point out what minorities we have in mind:

Minorities among the actual Iraq are those who
are not in the power in the sectarian government under occupation or have a weak representation in the so called Iraqi Perelman, such as Arabs either they Shiits or Sunnit those who are liberal or getting lay orientation, and standing firmly against any political activities, based on sectarian or doctrinal or religious background.
Minorities are those in the Kurdish population who are not tolerating any involvement with religious politic parties, as it is the case between certain Kurdish with the sectarian government.
Minorities are those technocrats who are away for having their commitment in building the country
Minorities are those persons of clergy, from any religion who are standing against the interference of the religion in politic affair.
Minorities are those ethnic religions such as Yezidis, mandean and Christian, who as far as they are within their own religion are not considered properly as real and first class religion.
The message of our martyr St Paulos Faraj Raho, was not only to say that Christian are under persecution, but that Iraqi people are not able, within these conditions to cohabitate peacefully, if other believers are persecuting them because of their religion.
In her word our friend and colleague Helen, gave a summary about our holy martyr,
In this word I would like to attract the attention toward the unacceptable fact imposed by the armed forces occupying Iraq to consider and deal with our country and even with Lebanon and other countries, in Middle East as a battlefield against terrorism.
Yes in deed our martyr had many friends among Muslim leaders and was directly involved in promoting peaceful co-existence.
In this 5th Anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by US troops, the international community is invited to think again about the strategies which led to this situation.
Fighting terrorism in not by kidnapping a whole country because of this purpose, as it is the case between the armed occupying forces and the terrorists in Iraq.
Enough of this strategy which had it’s bad consequences to let minorities to be the principle victim of this struggle.
Fighting Terrorism is not to be mixed and understood as confrontation with Islam as religion.
Fighting terrorism is not the responsibility of Iraqi Christian and other minorities, it s a responsibility to the international opinion.
There is a need to look for the real Muslim partners in this struggle, otherwise, there would be no end to this confrontment as far as Muslim are wrongly mixed with thieves and any categories of commercialized crime or terrorism base on radicalism.
If we are kindly asking the Canadian authorities and other countries, to help our Christian in Diaspora, in Syria Greece Turkey Lebanon and Jordan, this doesn’t mean our wish is not to empty Iraq from Christian who are not the only but the principal persecuted minorities, and thus because their situation is a non return fact toward Iraq in these condition.
But at the same time, the whole problem is to be solved
Unless we the fight again terrorism is not finding the real efficient partners, among the Muslim international community, the threat of terrorism will be inside all many other western countries.
Thank you