In Iraq, Christians say they are dwindling

Avak V. Asadourian, archbishop of the Armenian Church of Iraq, told Ecumenical News International that Christians are fleeing Iraq. Christians make up less than 3 percent of the country of 27.5 million.

Young people “are faced each day with death and destruction,” Asadourian said. “They are faced each day with being kidnapped or facing the agony of having a loved one who is kidnapped.” In Mosul, he said, a Syrian Orthodox priest was decapitated, apparently for refusing to “adopt another religion,” and a Chaldean priest and his three assistants were shot dead.

Iraqi faith “is strong enough to face martyrdom,” Asadourian said. But, he added, unless something is done, “I am afraid that Christianity will face a slow demise not only in Iraq but in the entire region where Jesus Christ lived and worked.”

Asadourian asked for churches in the West to intercede with their governments about the plight of Iraqis. He said the four years since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq were “the most difficult by far” of his 28-year ministry in Iraq.

Similarly, Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest in Baghdad, told a CBS-TV crew for 60 Minutes that “things [in Iraq] are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians, probably ever in history.”

White told reporter Scott Pelley that after being targeted by Islamic extremists, the majority of Iraqi Christians have fled or been killed. Many bodies have never been found, White said, calling the killings an example of “religion gone wrong.”

Baghdad neighborhoods that were once Christian strongholds are now virtually empty of Christians, according to the CBS report.

White said all of his parish leadership were “taken and killed. … I regularly do funerals here, but it’s not easy to get the bodies.”

According to the Middle East Council of Churches, an ELCA partner, such experiences aren’t unusual. The MECC General Assembly said on Nov. 30, 2007, that its members report that Iraqi Christians “are forced to emigrate, their churches are assaulted and their clergy are killed.”

To help, the World Council of Churches (the Lutheran World Federation is a member) launched “Accompanying Churches in Situations of Conflict,” an initiative of intervention through local congregations, Christian and interreligious dialogues, regional cooperation and interreligious advocacy. According to a September 2007 statement from the WCC Executive Committee, “more than half of Iraqis live in abject poverty,” and one in six “is internally uprooted or among the 2 million people who have fled the country.” Forty percent of refugees are Christian, said the WCC statement, “a sign of the failure of policies that were purported to bring stability and peace to Iraq and even the region.”