An Iraqi Christian woman prays at the Chaldean church in the southern city of Basra on January 1, 2016.
HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty
by Thomas D. Williams,
The Christian population in Iraq has been decimated in a little over a decade, dropping from 1.4 million in 2003 to just 275,000 today, according to a report released this month.
The recent joint report, compiled by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians (IDC), tells a horrific story of a religious and ethnic purge in the Middle East that has produced the systematic eradication of Christians from the territory.
Christianity’s roots in Iraq date back as far as the first century and yet now has fallen prey to Islamist militant groups committed to the extermination of Christians.
The Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, has testified that for many long centuries the Christians of Iraq have experienced hardships and persecutions “but what we have now experienced are the worst acts of genocide in our homeland. We are facing the extinction of Christianity as a religion in Iraq.”
The tactics employed by the Islamic State to drive away Christians are by now well known. The report states that Christians have been subject to “repeated threats of death in the form of a gun to the head or a sword to the throat.” They were also subjected to “beatings, choking, threats of rape, and mock executions. They had their electricity and water cut off, and were deprived of basic sanitation.”
The study also described how Christians “were rounded up into busses and driven out to a remote place to fend for themselves. Sometimes this was next to a river they had to cross, sometimes it was in the middle of the desert.” In these terror exercises, the Christians “were given no food or water, regardless of their age or health condition, and often had to walk to safety eight or ten hours in desert temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees.”
Through these and similar tactics ISIS “kept their Christian victims in a state of constant fear and mental anguish, of physical squalor, and where they did not simply kill them, ISIS generally operated with extreme indifference or hostility to the survival and well-being of its Christian victims.”
Breitbart News recently reported that the Christian population in Syria has precipitated from 1.5 million to 500,000 in just five years, since the beginning of the armed conflict there. This two-thirds decrease has been the result of targeted Christian persecution, which has meant the death or expulsion of a million Christians from the land where Saint Paul was converted to Christianity in the first century.
The Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo reported that the situation in Aleppo is even worse than in the rest of Syria, with only a quarter of the Christian population remaining since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Ravaged by the fighting and persecuted by Islamic extremists, the number of Christians in Aleppo has fallen from 160,000 to just 40,000.
Last week, Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako I, president of the Iraqi Bishops’ Conference, published an Easter message in which he implored the remaining Christians not to leave Iraq, despite the hardships.
Christians must “stay united in this land of ours, in which we were born, where we have lived for 1400 years,” he said.
He also exhorted Iraqi Christians not to “fall into confusion” and to not let others “take advantage of our anxieties and disperse our families to the four corners of the earth.”
“Christ died and rose is a sign of hope, an encouragement to remain united in this land of ours, in which Christians must continue to be pattern of light and hope, faithful to the Iraqi family,” he said.