Threats to Iraq’s Communities of Antiquity : The persecution of Christians and other non-Muslim minorities in Iraq has reached a

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critical mass and finally, Washington is taking notice. On July 25, the U.S. Commission
on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) conducted a hearing to gather
information regarding the volatile situation facing the ancient communities of
Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians, Sabaean Mandaeans and Yazidis.
Five panelists delivered emotional accounts of struggles to survive in Iraq, including
three Assyrian Chaldean, the Rev. Canon Andrew White of St George’s Anglican
Church in Baghdad, and a Sabaean Mandaean physician.
Pascale Warda, an Assyrian Chaldean and the former Iraqi minister of Migration and
Displacement, testified to several acts of violence against minorities, including one
event in which “a 1-year old baby was roasted and delivered to his mother’s doorstep on
a bed of rice.” Christians have one of three options, she said: “convert to Islam, pay
the protection tax imposed on non-Muslims, or leave [their homes] with no personal
possessions.”
Kidnappings, rapes and massacres are commonplace in so many cities that Christians
are being forced back to their indigenous land to the north, the Nineveh Plain, which has
been home to Christians, Iraq’s indigenous people for more than 6,500 years.. “…
We’ve come down from these towns and villages into the major cities of Iraq, Baghdad,
Mosul, Kirkuk, and Basrah, and it is just natural when we feel in danger, we would go
back to our original area,” explained Dr. Donny George, an Assyrian archaeologist and
the former director of the Iraqi National Museum.
Although not completely void of violence, the Nineveh region is more stable. However,
the panelists said, the area cannot accommodate the influx of thousands of Christian
families that are fleeing Baghdad. Thus, a universal message prevailed among all the
panelists: if relief is not given to Iraq’s “communities of antiquity,” the people who have
occupied this land between two rivers for millennia may become extinct.
Two members of Congress, Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Representative
Christopher Shays (R-CT), also testified. Eshoo, a first-generation American of Assyrian
and Armenian descent, noted that while Christians represent only 3 percent of the
country’s population, they account for 40 percent of refugees due to ongoing
persecution by Islamic fanatics and the perception that Christians are viewed as
American allies.
A relief plan containing two major components was proposed. Michael Youash of the
Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project (ISDP) advocated for the Nineveh Plain plan, which
under the provisions of Article 125 of the current Iraqi constitution can provide for an
Autonomous Administrative Area for Christians and other minorities. Speakers also
recommended that the U.S. government put forth a specific and urgent policy to build
the infrastructure in the Nineveh Plain so that basic needs such as security, housing,
food, water, education and jobs can be obtained for the tens of thousands of Internally
Displaced Persons.
Secondly, panelists advocated for assistance in the effort to resettle the most vulnerable
Christian and non-Muslim refugees outside Iraq. The ethnically and religiously
persecuted non-Muslim minorities of Iraq have flooded neighboring countries in
disproportionate rates in search of peace only to become victims once again. Many are
denied legitimate status in countries in which they presently reside and, as a result, are
unable to obtain employment, access health services or send their children to school.
In June, the House of Representatives passed a provision requiring that $10 million be
allocated to aid religious minorities internally displaced in the Nineveh Plain. This
provision has yet to pass in the Senate.
Jacklin Bejan of the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America (CASCA), an
organization dedicated to matters of public policy and political purpose of the
Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people, who served as a translator for one of the panelists,
called the “stunning” testimonies a resounding success that evoked emotional
responses from many in the audience. Commission Chair Michael Cromartie, vice
president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., was one of those
moved by the personal accounts of struggle, saying, “This is unbelievable. We must
help these people.”
The USCIRF has scheduled a second hearing to take place sometime in September.
CASCA helped to identify and coordinate three of the five panelists at the first hearing
and will do so once again in an effort to bring to light the plight of Assyrian Chaldean
Syriac Christians of Iraq. The organization has asked Nuri Kino, the Swedish awardwinning
investigative reporter who recently traveled to Amman, Jordan, and Joseph
Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, to testify at the
second hearing. Kassab said he hopes that “the U.S. administration and the American
people understand what the plight of Iraqi Christians is all about and how religious
freedom in Iraq at this time is scrutinized.”
For more information on the July 25 hearing, please visit http://www.uscirf.gov/