Iraqi Christians put their case for fair treatment by the UK government on Hrant Dink Day(19th January) in the House of Commons this week. Together with Turks, Armenians and Kurds, they remembered the sacrifice of Hrant Dink who was gunned down in Istanbul three yeards ago. Lord Wallace of Saltire and Lord Hylton were present
Â Tributes to Hrant, with meditations on Genocide, were led by Ragip Zarakolu, the publisher from Istanbul, Professor Khatchatur Pilikian , the writer Desmond Fernandes and Ruth Barnett of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Kasim Akpac (Kurdish Federation), Haci Ozdemir (International Committee Against Disappearances, British Section) . Saad Tokatly put the Iraqi Christian case
Eilian Williams made the point that Christians are now suffering in Iraq as a direct consequence of past policies of UK governments. He continued… “Following the genocide of 1915, Assyrians were promised a homeland if they would help the allied war effort in 1917-18. Their sacrifices counted for nothing in the Paris Peace Conference after the war, when they were prevented by the British from attending to put their case. The British mandate which created modern Iraq ensured that Iraqi Christians were dispersed and vulnerable, leading to the terrible Simel masssacre of 1934. Ever since, Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriacs have never been completely safe in their ancestral homeland.The 2003 war instigated by the US and the UK ensured that the country is more dangerous than ever , with over 2000 Christians killed , mainly by Islamic extremists,since the war,. Britain now seems happy to wash her hands of her wrongdoings and to allow the Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriacs to reap the bloody consequences. She opposes any plan for a safe haven for Christians, but is unwilling to present any alternative plan. The door is firmly closed to Christian refugees, even though the government agreed to take 500 Iraqi refugees a year ago.There is no sign that this committment has been honoured. In fact,since our meetings in parliament of a year ago, nothing at all has been done to help”
Isaac Asia proposed that we write to the Turkish and Iraqi governments. It was agreed , to express to them the seriousness of the current problems, and to ask why so little is done. Following the meeting,this suggestion for a motion in parliament was sent to MPs :
Â “That this House, conscious of past failures of successive British governments to honour promises to the Assyrians and other Christians of Iraq, and conscious of our government’s actions in making Iraq an unsafe place for its minorities, calls on the Home Office for compassion towards the Christians and Mandaeans refugees from Iraq ,by allowing the reletavely small number in this country to have the right to work and study up to university level; further we find it inhuman to allow the cases of some of them to dragg on longer than five years”
Before and after the meeting Iraqi Christians explained to Adrian Saunders MP and to Edward Davey MP’s assistant that their cases drag on for over 10 years without any outcome. They are left in a limbo without the right to work. Others have their families divided in several countries.Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman, is writuing to the Foreign Office to express his concern
Saad Tokatly , Iraqi Christian Representative, gave his appraisal of the current situation.
Â The current Situation
Beleaguered Christians in Iraq were recently targeted in a wave of co-coordinated bombings. At least ten churches and convents were blasted, tens killed and several hundred wounded.
According to the Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako, the situation for Christians became worse after the fall of Saddamâ€™s regime: bombings, kidnappings, killings, threats and displacement. The targeting of Christians, displacement, migration and the increasing threats to their existence and their history is the greatest challenge.Women have been forced to wear hijab scarves by extremist Muslims and some have been made to leave their jobs because they refused the hijab.
The Iraqi Christians are afraid that the Muslim extremists will do to the Christians exactly what they did to the Jews in 1948. This meant complete cleansing of the people from the country
The Iraqi Constitution
Article 2, A of the Iraqi Constitution says that itâ€™s not permissible to make any new piece of legislation, which is not favorable to Islamic Law.
Archbishop Sako blamed the Iraqi state, which will have to stabilize and ensure the right of minorities and support, and maintain the long history, and religious and cultural heritage, which is an integral part of the heritage of Iraq. Maybe there is an urgent need to create an Iraqi government institution, ministry or department in order to reassure the minorities that their rights will be protected and that their heritage can be disseminated without keeping it in the dark.
Pope Benedict On January 24th, 2009 Pope Benedict appealed to Iraqi authorities to defend the civil rights of Christians in Iraq, asking them to protect the Christian community there from relentless violence. On 09 May 2009 he urged the world to make efforts to protect Iraqâ€™s Christian minority. In a speech to Muslim leaders in Jordan, the pontiff called on the international community and local political and religious leaders to try to ensure Iraqi Christians had a â€œright to peaceful coexistenceâ€ with other Iraqis.
Â The International Organizations
On December 25th, 2008, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom cited several examples in a recent report of abuse toward Christians in Iraq.
A landmark new report on the situation of Iraqi uprooted minorities, was issued by the Minority Right Group on the 24th of September 2009, MRG says that many of the people who flee Iraq undertake very dangerous journeys to get to Europe often only to be met with restrictive asylum policies, discrimination and in some cases forcible return. Refugees from Iraqâ€™s minorities face insecurity and risk losing their religious and cultural identity as they try to seek refuge in neighboring countries and Western Europe.
Although Jordan and Syria have welcomed a large number of Iraqi refugees, many live in a state of limbo as they are unable to secure residency or work permits. Both countries have since 2007 begun to tighten their visa policies, making it increasingly harder for Iraqis to live there legally.
Solution and Proposals There must be reconciliation between all the parties to settle the security and safety of Iraq and the state must place its controls and its laws on a foundation of national equality, and not on a sectarian and factional basis.
Amendments to the Constitution, citizenship rights and equal eligibility to public office, are needed so as to promote a culture of responsibility and co-existence. This means accepting a change from individuality to unity, and respecting the right of others to be different.
There must be respect for religious freedom, which means the freedom of conscience that is the basis for all other freedoms and a measure for guaranteeing human rights. All that talk about “no compulsion in religion”, but the reality was different: the principle is one thing but the practice is something else. All forms of oppression, persecution and violence and terrorism in the name of religion, should be denounced.
It is necessary to remove the prejudices and the distinction in order to improve the coexistence and mutual trust. In this regard, perhaps it is time for our Muslim fellow citizens to avoid the nauseating accusation of Christians as being disbelievers and crusaders, and to stop the use of the phrase “people of wealth”.
The British Government must accept responsibility for their foreign Policy failures in Iraq show compassion by accepting Iraqi Christians to this country urgently
The Iraqi Christian Communities are looking forward to receiving more help towards this urgent matter. I extend my gratitude and appreciation to all of you who believe in peace, justice and love”.