Al-Hayat Newspaper, August 13, 2013
By: Basim Francis Hanna
To Australia, the final destination of those who survived of his brothers and relatives, the forty-year old Christian Rafael Aisho leaves this summer, taking with him his family and whatever he could collect after liquidating the assets and properties of the family in Baghdad and Kurdistan region. Rafael believes for sure that his ties with Iraq, the homeland of his ancestors has come to an end completely since he found last year the corpses of his parents, torn to pieces, with crosses being drawn by knives on their chests.
Four months before that, Rafael has found the body of his brother Admon thrown in a garbage dump in al-Doura district, South of Baghdad.
Unlike Rafael’s parents and brother, the young Christian Saad Tuma, managed to survive his kidnappers Winter 2008, and now he and his family are getting ready to pack their luggage so as to leave Iraq for good, joining about 70.000 Christian who immigrated from Iraq within the last ten years due to continuous and repeated attacks targeting the Christians, which includes kidnapping, torturing, shooting them with fire or beheading them, let alone blasting tens of Churches and monasteries, in addition to the despair which loomed large over them and over the entire country after a full decade of political conflict and violence which resulted the past three months only in killing 2600 Iraqis and wounding about 6000, most of them are youths who were killed in explosions which occurs in football fields, youths’ cafes, and popular bazars in all cities of Iraq.
Rafael and Tuma, so as thousands of Christian people have concerns that the cycle of violence once again to an extent which never excludes any area in the land of Iraq. This is especially becomes evident as the Qaida Organization, the typical enemy of Christians, has recently managed to execute a very significant operation in which it broke through two prisons in al-Taji and Abu-Ghuraib, using mortar shells, car bomb and nine suicidal men, and this resulted in releasing about 600 of the most ruthless field-leaders of al-Qaida who fought side by side with its ex-leader Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi.
Tuma still remember his story with a-Qaida members who kidnapped him in a fake checkpoint they made in North Baghdad, then they released him after a deal with his elder brother Edwar, through an influential tribal chief who delivered to the armed men $80.000 and kept $30.000 for himself, as a gift.
At that day, as Tuma recalls, “the time was winter, they made us in a line before a wall, kneeling on our knees, handcuffed, and eye-folded, we waited for death bullets for about two hours, but somebody violently pulled me out from among the hostages and threw me in the back of a small truck and took me far from the place. Then, I heard the sound of bullets and the throttled shrieks of those who remained there.”
The money which saved Tuma did not help his compatriot Fadi Sulayman who was also kidnapped in almost the same period; his mother paid $10.000 to his kidnappers to release him alive, then she paid $ 20.000 just to receive his body, then she buried the body which was delivered to her by some bluffers as being Fadi’s body in the family’s cemetery.
Fadi’s mother is planning to migrate, within few days to Sweden, along with her daughter Suzan, and her brother Rivan, and the daughters of her sister Gannet who was insistently chased by death since she survived the massacre of Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in the Fall of 2011, however, two months after the massacre, she was killed and her body was torn with knives by unknown armed men inside her house in middle of Baghdad.
Season of Immigration to the West:
The journey of Rafael, Tuma and Fadi’s mother, along with thousands of Christians who immigrated, or those who are in their way to the permanent immigration in the West, rings the bells of alarm that this country which was inhabited by Christians since the first century is about to lose them forever, after it proved unable to protect them from death and displacement at the hands of al-Qaida members and other armed groups during the years which followed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The wave of killing, which targeted the Christians of Iraq after 2003 and resulted in killing more than one thousand of them till the end of 2012, was the severest since the 1933 massacres executed by Iraqi forces and killed more than 600 Assyrian Christians, with the help of Arabic and Kurdish tribes which looted their villages then after. Let alone the massacre of Suria Village which was executed by the Baath Party forces in 1969 and killed 90 Chaldean Christians, tens of whom were burnt alive in a cave to which they resorted to escape the field executions.
In parallel with the repeated attacks, the number of Christians in Iraq decreases from about 1.4 million Christians before 2003 to less than 70.000 ones, according to the statistics of reliable international reports, Church Associations, Christian Parishes, and Civil Society Organizations. In fact, Ablihd Afram, Secretary General of the Chaldeans’ Democratic Union Party, believes that the number of Christians who remained in Iraq is no longer exceeding the 400.000 only.
Christianity is Threatened to Rate Third in Iraq
Priest Ameel Ishu, son of Priest Butrus, believes that the followers of Christianity will be contracted soon to fall from the second to the third largest population in the sequence of religions in Iraq, if they did not actually already did that.
Priest Butrus confidently thinks that the first half of Christians who left the country in the previous years will surly pull out the other half of them who live under burdens of despair and fear of the unknown future.
His compatriot Priest Youhanna al-Bazi, Father of a Catholic Church in Baghdad which was targeted by a car bomb in 2008 , agrees with him and he is quite confident that Iraq will be empty of its Christian citizens within the ten years to come in case the status of things remained the same: violence, disputes and racial and sectarian conflicts which stamped the entire previous decade.
Bashar Matti Warda, Archbishop of Erbil Parish, and the Patriarchal representative of Zaxo and Nohdar Parish, expects that the Christians will be, in the ideal case, a very tiny component unable to have any influence in the events of the country, not able even to protect itself.
About 84% of Christian people whose opinions was polled by the writer of this article agree with the above-mentioned views of Priest Ishu, Priest al-Bazi and Archbishop Warda, in a poll published in Ainkawa Christian Website. They think that Iraq’s emptiness of its Christians will be inevitable, within ten years only.
This opinion does not largely differ from what tens of Christians interviewed by the same writer in Baghdad and in the cities of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, with them, there are civil activists, social researchers, Christian religious and political leaders. They largely think that an ominous triangle is surrounding the life of Christians lives and pushes them to immigrate outside Iraq, the first side is the continuity of sectarian and racial conflicts in Iraq, whereas the second side represents the extreme religious tendency which is increasing in pace in Iraq as well as in the Arabic and Islamic worlds in the few past years.
Christian activist Muhannad Jirjees, along with Christian priests and politicians, among them the ex-Minister Baskal Warda, adds the element of “despair” as being the third aspect of the ominous triangle we spoke of. This element pushes the Christians to continue their immigration from Kurdistan which was known, until recently, as being the last harbor the Christians can resort to, in order to stay inside the territories of the country.
In Kurdistan, Jirjees said, it becomes more and more difficult to overlook the difficulty of living amid a conservative society which makes you accountable for any motion, in addition to the language barrier which prevents you from assimilating with it, and the rising severity of the religious discourse which is directed against you to the extent that they consider the Christmas celebrations as being haram (i.e., signs of infidelity) and those who celebrate it should be punished.
Jarjees mentions that the recruitment of extreme Kurd youths to fight in Syria with Al-Nusrah Front, which has become a serious problem looming large in Kurdistan Region, gives the indication that the religious extremism, which is now under the control of Kurdistan Region Government, might explode in the face of Christians at any moment.
Killing According to the ID
The policy of killing on the basis of the identity, which was practiced against Iraqis, and which Iraqis have practiced against each other sometimes, was not limited to the Christians alone, the explosions which killed Iraqis did not stop since al-Qaida Organization declared what they described as Jihadi war in Iraq, and the casualties of this war was hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, most of them were killed in the years of violence which extended from 2006 till 2008.
The special case which is given to legitimatizing the killing of Christians, according to Priest Tuma Slaywa, represented the diligence of al-Qaida to realize two objectives: the first is to exploit the issue of targeting the Christians to invoke some international attention to the massacre committed by al-Qaida in Iraq, in order to give the impression that it is winning the war in Iraq. Killing one Christian, or targeting a church creates a bigger international effect than an explosion in which one hundred Shiiate or Sunni Iraqis are killed in a mosque or a street.
The second objective is a religious one in the view of al-Qaida Organization, according to Priest Sulaywa. Killing the Christians is an undisputable religious duty according to the clerics of al-Qaida Organization who declared that each and every Christian is a legitimate target. This means that just because you carry the tribute of being “Christian” in your National ID card, or you are a frequenter of a Church or a Christian social forum or club, you are a target to al-Qaida, and armed groups at any time and in any place.
The Fair Distribution of “Murder”
At the beginning, targeting included kidnapping the Christians and killing them or beheading them, according to Wathiq Butrus, a priest from Mosul. However, with the summer of 2004 which witnessed the highest rate of Christian casualties (about 210 victims), this changed to become a large-scale attacks such as exploding Churches and monasteries by car bombs and IEDs, armed assaults on houses, killing entire families so as to terrify the Christians and oblige them to leave.
In Mosul City, the second biggest city in the number of population of Christian Iraqis who live in it, the armed members of al-Qaida were very innovative in processes of hideous killings which targeted all classes of Christians; physicians, university professors, retired people, merchants, priests, even grocers and taxi drivers.
Hikmat Sadoon, a grocer, was killed at the outset of the avenue, then followed him his colleague Sadallah Jirjees, whom al-Qaida killed in the Cultural Group, the student Rawand Zakir Hido was killed, and his body thrown in a valley that separates between two monasteries, after cutting his hands and distorting his body. Later, the armed members of al-Qaida slew with their daggers the aged couple Hikmat Nayomi and his wife Sameera Sabri Intwan. Then they beheaded Farouq and Firas Muwafuck, Bassam Sabri, Laith Hikmat and others.
Hermits and priests did not survive the “justice” of the extremist groups in their distribution of killing on the Christian people fairly and equally. Some armed men broke in the house of Priest Mazin Ishoua Matooka, and killed his father and two brothers when they did not find him. Then they came back to kill the parson Rageed Aziz along with three beadles as they went out of the Mass service in one Church.
Then, the series of murdering the clerics continued, but the most horrible and hideous one was the incident of murder of the Father of the Church of Mar Afram for orthodox Syrians, Priest Paulus Sargon Bahnam. In the Fall of 2006 al-Qaida members cut Priest Bahnam’s head, then they put his body which they cut into four equal divisions in a large pot at the gate of the Church. Then in March 2008 the same thing was repeated as they kidnapped the Archbishop of Mosul Parish, Paulus Faraj Rahhu, the grandest Catholic clergyman in Nineveh, along with three of his assistants, and later, their bodies were found with traces of torture on them.
Before and during the killings of Christian clergymen, the Churches and monasteries of Christian people were a main target for al-Qaida Organization, aiming through them to force the Christians leave the cities where they live, being “an unwelcomed religion” amid the Muslims, as activist Jirjees said.
In the years 2003-2011, the Churches and Christian organizations reported and documented more than 60 Churches and monasteries that witnessed explosion or armed assault in Iraq, most of them were targeted by large-scale explosions adopted by al-Qaida Organization and used car bomb and IEDs which killed tens of Christians.
Early in August 2004, seven churches in Baghdad and Mosul cities were attacked by car bombs and IEDs which resulted in killing 18 Christian people, and wounding tens of them as they were doing the Sunday Mass, and since then it was known as “The Bloody Sunday.”
About two months and a half later, the second campaign was launched and adopted by al-Qaida, as they did with the first one, but this included exploding seven churches and monasteries in Baghdad and Mosul, then seven churches in Baghdad and Mosul in January 2008. Then, three days later, three car bombs targeted three churches in Kirkuk, then three churches in Baghdad in the summer of 2009, and two more churches in late October of the same year in Mosul, then two churches in Mosul again in mid-December 2009, then targeting three other churches in Kirkuk in August 2, 2010.
The family of Yousif Binamin’s family, along with 1380 Christian families, departed from al-Mosul city towards Kurdistan region in Winter 2008. At that time, as Binamin remembers, the new assault of al-Qaida Organization has already started, aiming at coercing as many Christian as they could to immigrate.
In this campaign, 12 Christian people were killed, three churches were destroyed as well as some houses. Then the campaign concluded with a public statement aired by the loudspeakers of some mosques giving the Christians 48 hours to leave the city.
Before the time was over, the 1380 Christian families departed from the city, some of them left in their pyjamas only, as Binamin recalls.
The accident of displacement of the Chirstians from Mosul city has incited some major consequences in which the triangle of power of Iraq, i.e., the Shiiate, Sunnis and Kurds, were the heroes. Those three parties exchanged the accusations among themselves, the current Speaker of the Council of Representatives, Osama al-Nijayfi ( a Sunni), who was then a representative of Mosul City, accused the Kurdish Asayish Forces of organizing a displacement process for political purposes, announcing that Prime Minister Nouri al-Almaliki ( a Shiiate) showed him some documents which prove the involvement of Kurds in this displacement. The Prime Minister Office completely negated and denied this story, whereas the Kurds objected for being accused of targeting the Christians, and accused al-Nijayfi of practicing Chauvinism against them.
The crisis among the three parties was related to accusations directed towards the Kurds of trying to forcing the Christians to leave Mosul City and move to Kurdistan region and Nineveh plains where the majority of population is Christian, in order to gain more international support for Kurdistan Region, as a prelude to annex Nineveh plain lands which are inhabited by Christians, Yazidis and Shabaks to the territories of Kurdistan region.
In both cases, Christians, being the weakest party in this equation, had no choice but to wait for the outcomes of the investigations in the violations which inflicted them, about which they know nothing till the moment.
The main reason which was pushing the Christians to withdraw from the local conflict is that they are not a party in the struggle for power in Iraq, according to activist Jirjees. If a Shiiate, or a Sunni or a Kurd is ready to die for the sake of the power he has gained, or to gain it back from the other sect, the Christian has no right at all to think taking power as he represents part of a minority which does not exceed 3% in the best circumstances.
In Baghdad, al-Qaida organization innovated a very spectacular way to force the Christians to leave Baghdad. In October 30, 2010, suicidal men from this organization broke into Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, detained more than 100 Christians who were attending the Sunday Mass, demanding to release what they said to be “Egyptian Muslim women who were kidnapped and forced to convert into Christianity by the Coptic Church in Egypt.”
Roaln Hanna, who survived that event whose little brother and her fiancé, remembers that has never heard of “Egyptian women forced to convert into Christianity”, and she could not figure out what relation she and her followers have with that issue. But her fate made her witness and watch the armed men as they kill the hostages one by one, then detonate the explosive belts they put on their bodies and put on the hostages, including children, to conclude the massacre with 58 victims and dozens of wounded persons.
In the aftermath of this massacre which gained large coverage in the international and Arabic media, more than 1500 Christian families left Baghdad towards Nineveh plains and Kurdistan region, in addition to the families which left outside Iraq which are about 30 families per day.
That massacre was a very clear message from al-Qaida Organization to force the Christians to leave the Capital City, and after it seemed to this organization that some of the Christian people have mis-read the message, as Istifan Aishu, a Baghdadi Priest, says, they came back to do another round using mortars and IEDs, just ten days after the massacre of Our Lady of Salvation Church, targeting 10 Christian houses in different places in Baghdad, in which 6 Christians were killed and 33 wounded. In Mosul city, such attacks on Christian houses resulted in the death of 6 people and wounding several of them.
Sabri Aodishu, a Christian who runs a tourism office and arranges airline tickets for dozens of Christian families every month, that the rates of immigration are deeply connected with the major violent events committed by al-Qaida Organization and extremist groups. Aodishu recalls that the largest two movements of immigration he witnessed are: after the displacement campaign of Christians out of Mosul in 2008, and the massacre of Our Lady of Salvation Church in 2010. At that time, Aodishu received so many urgent calls from so many Christians from Baghdad, Kurdistan and Mousl, asking about the fastest way to flee from Iraq.
Danial Ziya, who was preparing his family documents to travel in Aodishu’s Office, is quite assured that the extremist Islamic trends in Iraq, which have been killing each other for years, “will never stop that at all”. Therefore, he thinks that “each and every Iraqi Christian is quite sure that he will one day be a victim of one of the conflicting parties.”
The major suffering encountered by Christian people, before and in the wave of violence which inflicted them after 2003, is that the Muslim community started to isolate them gradually, according to the Christian activist Binamin Izhak. At the beginning, Izhak observes, the Chirstians of Basra city, the Southern Iraqi city of Shiia majority, encountered so many harassments and vexations by the powerful armed militias of that city. At that time, it was obligatory for a Christian woman to wear an Islamic garment to be able to walk in the streets. In the first two years after the US invasion of Iraq, the areas where the Christians are concentrated such as al-Abassiya, al-Ashaar, al-Andalus District, Junaina, al-Pasha, al-Hakimiyya, Twaysa, and al-Jazair were about to be empty of its Christian residents who left their places towards Baghdad, Nineveh plains and Kurdistan cities.
But the same thing was repeated to them in Baghdad. The organizations affiliated with al-Qaida imposed on them some measures like wearing head-scarfs and, in later stages, Christians who live in the areas where al-Qaida has dominance, had to choose between two options: either to convert to Islam or to pay jizya (a tax to be paid by non-Muslims).
Like this, activist Binamin Izhak says, thousands of Christians left al-Doura district of Sunni majority towards areas of mixed populations such as New Baghdad, al-Ghadeer, Bataween, Sara Camp, and Palestine Street, in preparation to their immigration northward to Kurdistan region.
In Mosul city, the same story repeated. During the years 2004 upward, most Christians had to observe the Islamic regulations of dress, and pay a monthly jizya tax to the Islamic State of Iraq. Quite often, Christian people have found some writings on the fences of their houses describing them as “filthy crusaders” before the waves of violence started to include priests, hermits and ordinary Christian people, in addition to churches and monasteries, and ended with expatriating them from the entire city in Winter 2008.
Clash of Civilizations:
Priest Qariakus Haana Matooka, Father of Virgin Mary Church in Birtilla, thinks that religious extremism is one of the main reasons behind the immigration of Christian people from Iraq, and William Warda, the ex-director of Humarbi Organization for Human Rights, agrees with Matooka in this regard, thinking that the growing extremism of religions as a contemporary international issue resulted in the growth of violence waves against Christian people in Iraq. Extremism, according to Warda, leads to a clash between the religions themselves, with the pass of time.”
Warda blames the Western big countries for a large proportion of what Christian people encounter in Iraq, because soon the offensive movie about Prophet Mohammed and the offensive caricatures before that, dozens of Christians faced physical and verbal violations, in addition to the rise of hatred discourse against them.
Priest Immanuel Matti says that the West always claims that it is keen on protecting the lives of Christian people in the East in general, and in Iraq in particular, it never bothers to exert more efforts to prevent the extreme Christians in the west ” at least to preserve the lives of the Christians of the East who are living like captives in these countries.”
Priest Matti believes that “any offensive practices against Muslims will be paid for by Christians here” and asserts that the West has the right to protect and glorify the freedom of expression for itself, but “it has no right to allow the extremists to offend Islam or other religions, and leave the Christians of the East exposed to attacks because of them.”
Priest al-Bazi wonders about the profits gained by the ones who made the offensive caricatures of Prophet Mohammed in comparison with the big losses inflicted on the Christians of Iraq and the East. “Practically, [Muslim] extremists could rarely reach the West to target them, but they could reach us, and reach our churches at any moment for revenge.”
The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq and the World, Mar Louis Rofael I Sako, addressed the Muslims of Iraq in their celebration of the anniversary of Prophet Mohammed’s Hijra last year, saying: “let your heart be large and open in case the West committed some foolish things, do not mix us with them.” Archbishop Saco has told the writer of this report that the future of Christians in Iraq has become “vague and very terrifying” since a long time, the burning situation in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt confuses the situation of the Christians, with the growth of extremism among a large percentage of the Islamic countries’ populations, and this fact in particular, according to Saco, “is what concerns the Christians and make them think of immigration to the West.”
Archbishop Saco explains his idea saying that the status of Christian people has drastically changed with the change of the religious discourse in the East in general. Religions which were “until recently standing at the same distance” but the relationship has become a perplexed one charged with mistrust due to the increase of the tone of hatred discourse and the rise of extremists trends.
Displacement: A Lucrative but Filthy Trade
Ziaa Butrus, Director of Human Rights Commission in Kurdistan Region, believes that the attacks on Christian people have taken different shapes during the last years, some of them were based on pure financial reasons, because the real estates owned and inhabited by Christian people in the rich districts of Baghdad like Karrada, Zayoona, al-Mansour and other places, was a main reason for their displacement which was accompanied by direct threats of killing, so as to force them to leave and sell their houses at low prices.
This phenomenon represents “one of the filthiest trades of wars” according to activist Jirjees. This trade accumulated great profits to the local militias’ leaders, and some real estate brokers who exploited the vulnerable situation of the Christians for their own interest. Most these gangs used to ask some armed men to leave letters of threat which give the Christian 48 hours to leave, or to be killed. Sometimes, such phrases of threat were written on the fences of Christian houses as “Wanted for blood: Not to be sold and bought” this phrase alone is enough to make the Christians sell and leave as soon as possible.
Vian Khalil sold her house in New Baghdad for $125.000 after she found a phrase of “wanted for blood.” The real price of her house amounts to $250.000. but at that time, as Vian says, money did not worth anything before the life of the family members.
Some Iraqi priests and churches adopted the process of insuring and facilitating the process of immigration of the Christians who are entangled in the neighboring countries, and sometimes for those who are in Iraq itself, especially after so many European countries extended their facilities to make it easy for Christians to immigrate particularly after the massacre of Our Lady of Salvation Church, including France, Germany and Italy.
Reevan Tuma, who fled with his wife and two kids to Kurdistan region, got some help from a Christian priest in Erbil who has some large relations with some immigration offices in foreign countries, to get the chance of asylum after five months he spent in Turkey before he goes to Greece.
Beadle Yousif remembers that the method some churches adopt to facilitate the immigration of Christians occurs in a very limited manner as it requires providing some forms from churches in Western countries in which all the details of the immigrant family, in which they present some guarantees from sponsors, and some financial securities to be paid soon the concerned family arrives the hosting country.
In addition the partial immigration which is supported by some churches, the trade of trafficking the Christians to Greece, Italy, Sweden and some other European countries prospered as well. Fareed Binamin, who worked in the profession of trafficking the immigrants from Turkey to Greece, says that Christians have a bigger chance to get asylum than the others, especially after the procedures of most of these countries have been simplified. Thus, Bimanin says, we “combine the humanitarian work, by saving Christian families from death in Iraq, and the big profits we make from this since most Christians could get aids from well-to-do Christian individuals, or because they have mostly sold their houses and all properties to get outside Iraq.”
Kurdistan Loses its Status as the Last Harbor for Iraq’s Christian People
So many people, including Christian leaders, activists and priests, and even Arab and Kurd leaders, thought with full confidence that Kurdistan region of Iraq could be a temporal harbor for Christians which may provide them with safety till the political and security status gets stable, then they will be back to their original places. The reliable Christian reports estimate the number of families which migrated to Kurdistan region cities and Nineveh plains about 65.000.
Every was right in what they thought, including the civil activist Saadi Quriakus, for Kurdistan was actually a temporal host, but as being “the last station before the final immigration outside Iraq.”
A Christian residing in Kurdistan would not encounter the risks of kidnapping or murder, not even a casual exposure to car bombs or IEDs. The maximum risk that may encounter him are the car accidents, according to Quriakus. Still, the immigration journeys never stopped from Kurdistan to outside, with various paces which might rise or fall, get up and down, but it never stops.”
This practically means, as Priest Butrus Hajji thinks, violence has never been a reason for the immigration of Christians from Kurdistan to outside Iraq.
Priest Hajji, in an attempt to explain the process of the continuous immigration of Christians from Kurdistan, points out that the feeling of Christians who came from open and relatively mixed societies, like those of Baghdad and Nineveh, that they have to live in a tribal conservative society in which the sense of extremism and rigidity in favor of the nationality to which they belong.
This issue, according to Hajji has given the Christians a “feeling of estrangement”, and a difficulty in mixing with a community that they do not understand even its language, and this extends, as he says, to other problems which cannot be understood other than by the Christian who has lived in Kurdistan. The first problem is that of the employment system which depends mainly on giving the jobs to Kurds rather than to others who belong to minorities. Also, there is the difficulty of economic competition in an environment which is governed by personal and political ties; and the problems related to the language of teaching, and the pattern of life which is totally different from the life of Kurds.
This matter extends, according to the Christian researcher Fabian Na’aum, to other problems which rose in the recent years, the most prominent of which is the violent incidents which targeted the Christians in Zaxo and Dohuk in 2011. Na’aum believes that Zaxo events were natural results for the growing extremism in the Kurdish society, which is originally known for being a religious society which produced the first extremist organization in Iraq; Islam Supporters’ Organization (Ansar al-Islam), which preceded al-Qaida Organization in its violent work in Iraq.
Na’aum remembers that Christian families used to see in Kurdistan region a perfect place to live in, until Zaxo events came to disappoint them and perplex them as well. These events, which started as a local conflict between merchants and public officials in the Kurdish parties who are competing with each other over some commercial gains and ended up with operation to target the Christians and their economic interests by burning their stores and the hotels they run, caused a sense of panic fear which urged them to think more about immigration to the West.
The beginning, says Mr. Salim Kaku, Member of Kurdistan Parliament, was with the incident of distributing some printed materials in the markets of Erbil city including some penalties against those who participate in the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Then, some bulletins were distributed in Mosul accusing the Christian Assyrian Democratic Movement, in cooperation with Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), presided by Mas’ud Barzani, to establish a region for the Jews to the north-east of Mosul city which is adjacent to Kurdistan region.
An ex-Minister in the Central Government of Iraq, Baskal Warda, adds to religious extremism a long list of reasons which makes the Christians unable to assimilate with the Kurdish society, and urge them to look for an opportunity to immigrate, the foremost of which is the lack of attention to establish a hosting environment which may reduce the burdens of the Christian people due to what they encountered of violence and killing.
Many Christians, says Warda, did never think of leaving Iraq; they were satisfied with staying in Kurdistan, but giving the privileges on the basis of the Christian’s affiliation with this political party or that, and the absence of care for finding some means of living for the Christians of limited resources, and they are the majority, made them live at levels which are much below the levels they used to have in their native cities, where they used to have their own properties and public sector jobs.
Some of the Christians who were working in the governmental entities in Baghdad and other cities of Iraq managed to transfer their services to Kurdistan, but the problems related to this issue between Baghdad and Erbil Governments caused them fears and concerns due to the regulations which are issued every now and then.
Ziaa Butrus thinks that most of the Christians who resorted to Kurdistan were from the common and poor classes of workers and civil servants. As for Capital owners, and they are few, some of them witnessed improvement in their status, but the majority of Christians encountered deterioration in their economic situation as they have left all what they have in Baghdad or other provinces.
Those people, says Butrus, are “the ones we need to care for and be concerned about, because their will for immigration will increase with the difficulties they will face.”
A Christian who is a refugee in Kurdistan faces so many problems in matters of employment, especially the poor bread-earners, according to the journalist Namiq Rivan, the Asian workers compete with them in the field of working as assistants in stores, restaurants and supermarkets. As for the public sector job opportunity, it always goes to the Kurd, at the expense of the Christian. This means that the Christian who fled to Kurdistan with all his savings, or what remains of the price of his house which he sold before coming here, will have to spend them on living needs, and he will end up with nothing to secure the rental fees of a very humble house.
Fears from the Past:
The wish for immigration is not limited to the poor Christians and those of limited resources, rather it includes even those who own big capitals and big projects in Kurdistan. The forty-years old contractor Faris Hanna who lives in Kurdistan “like a king” is so concerned about the political situation in Kurdistan and the possibility of its deterioration later. Things in general “are not promising,” says Faris. Particularly after the increase in the tensions between the two governing parties and the opposition forces which pushed their advocators to go down the streets in Spring 2011, and till now, such tensions continue today in various conflicts which effected the construction of institutions and the commitment in conducting the elections in their due time.
Faris says that things in general indicate that the situation may get back one day to the pre-civil war period, the civil war which happened between the two major parties of Kurdistan between 1994-1998. Any internal political problem may lead to the return to the zero level.
Farncis Zya, a merchant, adds to the concerns of his fellow citizen Hanna, some cases of blackmailing which face some of the big Christian merchants at the hands of senior and powerful politicians. Circumstances imposed on Zya at different times to make partnerships with some of those officials, but this partnership is based on Zya’s money, whereas the official’s task is limited to providing security to Zya and to the project and protect them from other blackmailers.
Competition Between Baghdad & Erbil Governments
In the plains of Nineveh which contains some scattered towns in which Christians are extensively distributed, they suffer there from the fact that they do not know till now what is their destiny. While this area is under the power and control of the Kurdish Asayish Forces, it is administratively connected to Nineveh Governorate which is affiliated to the central government.
The conflict between the two parties eventually leads to one fact: these areas are living some terrible circumstances, because neither party wants to spend on them, or allocate some of its budget to them, so as to make them decent areas which are fit for dignified and peaceful living.
On the contrary, some Christian observing organizations, including Hamourabi for Human Rights, documented frequent violations related to the harsh treatment of the Kurdish Security forces to Christian citizens. The DG of al-Hamdaniyya Educational Directorate was detained in a WC in one of the headquarters of one of the major and powerful parties after having refused to provide that party with governmental data. Also, more than twenty members of Bishmarga (Kurdish semi-official forces) detained the DG of the Directorate of Nationality and ID Records in al-Hamdaniyya for his refusal to pass a motion or request submitted by somebody affiliated with this entity. In addition to harassment, surveillance and physical violation cases done against Christians at the hands of the powerful forces in the plains of Nineveh.
On the other hand, the inhabitants of these areas faced frequent attacks inside Mosul city where they study or work, and the most dangerous one of these was the targeting of buses which carry Christian students en route to their colleges and institutes in Mosul city, and a horrible attack by a car bomb and so many IEDs in May 2010 which resulted in the death of two students and wounding 181 others.
Also, the issue extends to include some violations related to the ownership of agricultural lands of Christian people from Dohuk City, such as the violations against Kuri Kavan village whose inhabitants reported that 88% of its land distance has been owned by the government, in addition to preventing the Christians who return to the villages from which they immigrated in previous decades from building houses in these villages, and sometimes they were prevented from growing corps in their lands.
The local government almost always sides with the Kurds who just seized these lands, according to civil activists.
Ablihd Afram blames the Iraqi political blocs for the marginalization of the Christian citizens and making him feel that he is a second degree citizen. Mostly, the Christian would not get a high position such as a DG or any other important positions, as such posts and positions are monopolized by the Iraq parties who dominate the government.
Other than one single minister in every government established since 2003, and one or two deputy ministers, Christians would not get any significant post in the country. In view of the existing principle of power sharing in Iraq, and the national and sectarian balance agreements, this means that Christian people would never get governmental jobs that are proportionate with their number or their capacities. The Shiiate official chooses his fellow shiiates in his ministry or directorate, and so does the Sunni and the Kurd officials, and nothing remains to the minorities but “the coincidence jobs” according to Quriakus, a researcher.
Christian politicians and clergymen interviewed by the writer of this article agree that a large part of convincing the Christians to stay in Iraq depends on the Iraqis themselves, and most of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of Baghdad and Erbil governments.
Without allocating a sufficient number of jobs to the Christians by both governments, regardless of their racial or religious affiliation; without stopping the violations they encounter in the provinces of Iraq and Kurdistan region; and without facilitating the task of internal resettlement and removing all the educational obstacles, and legislating some laws that may protect them from violations and takfir (infidelization), and allowing the Christians to transfer their public sector services from the dangerous areas to the safe areas; without all these, Christian politicians and activists believe, it would be very difficult for the Iraqi Christian to be convinced to stay in a country that treats him as a second degree citizen, or sheds his blood just because he does not want to be part of the endless conflict.
The Patriarch Mar Louis Rafael Sako made appealed to the Muslims of Iraq in his speech at the end of last year, asking them to be more merciful with their Christian brothers: ” We Christians are your fellows in humanity, and your partners in the country. . . We were here before Islam comes, and we remained with you sharing with you the sky and land. . . Preserve us for your own sake, our immigration from Iraq will harm you more than it harms us.”
The forty-year old Christian Rafael Aisho who was born in Baghdad, and lived in it all his forty years of life is aware that his culture and his belonging to Iraq and the East will vanish within few years he may spend in exile, but he will never forget his parents and his brother Edmon, neither could he forget the words written by a Christian poet who admonishes the palm-trees of Iraq, just because they did not feed his fellow citizens dates which are dunked in loyalty to an extent which makes them defend their Christian brothers, not to leave them exposed to the agonies of death and exile, from one place to another, from one country to another.
• This investigative report was conducted with the support of The Iraqi Investigative Press Network (NIRIJ), under the supervision of Mohammed al-Rubai’i