Joseph T. Kassab, President
Founder and President, ICAE Institute
The Christian community in the land of Mesopotamia- presently known Iraq is almost as old as Christianity itself. The Iraqi Christian community is comprised of Armenians and Chaldo-Assyrians belonging mainly to the Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox churches and the Assyrian Church of the East. Nearly two-thirds of Iraqi Christians belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church, and close to one-third belong to the Assyrian Church of the East. They have been at the heart of Iraqi intellectual and cultural life for centuries, and have contributed tremendously to Iraq’s stability and prosperity. Yet today many of the country’s church leaders are predicting that the Christian minority may be completely eradicated within the next decade. Iraq’s Christian population has more than halved in the past ten years due to the internal turmoil that followed the US-led invasion in 2003. Thousands have emigrated and hundreds have died at the hands of Radical Islamist militants. With the recent spike in sectarian violence it seems that the very existence of Christianity in Iraq is under threat.
Since 2003 Iraqi Christians have been living in the midst of a radically changing environment now largely characterized by terrorist attacks on the dwindling community. Violence against the minority initially saw the targeted killings and abductions of Christians by Islamist militants but came to encompass indiscriminate mass bombings of churches, monasteries, homes and neighborhoods. A series of attacks on clergymen followed in 2006 and 2008 with the abduction, killing and mutilation of several priests at the hands of Al-Qaeda and other radicals including one Archbishop and several priests..
In the minds of Iraqis, one event exemplifies the uncertain existence of Christians in Iraq: the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church on October 31, 2010. On that day, six gunmen seized the house of worship during Sunday Mass and killed 58 people, including two priests and many children. Not only did this event mark the beginning of yet another campaign of violence against Christians, it also prompted many in the community to flee elsewhere. Incidents such as these have convinced the majority of Iraq’s Christians that in order to survive, they have no option but to flee not unless help is rapidly rendered to them. The situation has not improved since the US withdrawal, if anything it is getting worse. The end of 2012 witnessed the most violent attacks on Christians in Iraq for eight decades. The current situation in Iraq is bad, as usual; this is not only for the Christians, but rather for all Iraqis. Seventy per cent of Christians have fled Iraq after 2003.” Before 2003, Iraq’s Christians made up 2.5 percent of its total population—numbering approximately 1.2 million people—but are now estimated to number less than 400,000. By now, it is widely known that the Arab Spring is becoming a Fierce Christian Winter for the ancient and biblical people of Iraq and the Middle East as they have been forced to flee their homeland creating the second largest mass exodus in the history of Iraq following the forced push out of persecuted Iraqi Jewish community in the 1940′s in a period called “Farhood” i.e. everything is free and up for grab referring to the belongings and the wealth of the victims. As the Muslim Radicals always chanted; Yesterday was Saturday and today is Sunday refereeing the Sabbath days of Jews and Christians.
The current situation of the Christians now is much worse than before. They have no recognition by any groups in Iraq; therefore, they are not under the protection of the government or any organizations. They are soon to be extinct complicating the situation for Christians in Iraq is that they are not part of the tribal structure; neither do they have militias like the Sunnis and Shi’ites. They remain an exposed group—and thus an easy target. While the Iraqi government has voiced its support for the Christian minority, it has failed to offer any real protection. The frightening reality for many internally displaced Iraqi Christians is the belief that they can no longer return to their hometowns, and see no other option than to permanently settle elsewhere. Some had found resettlement in the northern region of Kurdistan to be the safest option for their families. This Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority remain at risk for targeted violence, political disenfranchisement, and social and economic marginalization. Those who live in the disputed area of Nineveh and Kirkuk remain at particular risk because religious and ethnic identity in these area have become increasingly politicized. The Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq proved to be one of the last safe havens for Christians inside Iraq’s borders. Since the end of the First Gulf War the Kurdish semi-autonomous region has enjoyed relative calm and prosperity. During the Second Gulf War the region remained largely unaffected by the sectarian violence blighting the rest of the country. Following the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, a 2010 report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) identified an increase in the number of Christians leaving Baghdad and Mosul, most of who were heading towards the Kurdish region and then flee the country. Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako , who recently moved to Baghdad from Kirkuk after his election as head of the Chaldean Church in 2013, told Vatican Radio that he is worried about “the future for the Christians. There is no real stability; therefore, they are worried. Not only Christians, but others too.” Due to political unrest and years of dictatorship and war, the future is uncertain for this precious minority.
Their livelihood depends on access to political protection, economic opportunity and finally religious acceptance. The history of Iraq tells us that the country once accepted the diversity of its citizens. Unfortunately, this concept seems to no longer exist, placing the survival of Iraq’s Christians in serious doubt. The Iraqi Constitution of 2005, which is the “preeminent and supreme law in Iraq,” offers robust protection against discrimination and guarantees equal treatment of all Iraqis irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, origin, color, religion, creed, belief or opinion, or economic or social status It sets out strong equality rights and sets a solid basis for the rest of Iraq’s body of legal texts. However, several key provisions of the Constitution are yet to be implemented, leaving minorities and other vulnerable groups without protection from harm in some instances
Changes to the constitution either in the form of constitutional amendments or the implementation of certain provisions are necessary. While several key amendments are suggested, the most prominent amongst them is Article 2(1)(A), which disallows any law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam. This Article renders void many legal provisions that strive to include and provide legal protections to minorities. An amendment that broadens the provision to include all heavenly religions rather than just Islam, could effectively validate many existing legal guarantees as well as encourage draft legislation that purports to improve the legal status of minorities..Several key Constitutional provisions, which facially offer protections to minorities, need to be implemented in order to have meaningful impact. For instance, Article 125 calls for enhancing local administration, where the administrative, political, cultural, and educational rights of various nationalities are guaranteed. The current Personal Status laws in Iraq are largely applicable only to Muslim communities. However, the Code contains a key provision, which permits communities not governed by Shari’a, to enact their own separate laws. While such separate laws have not yet been enacted, from a minority rights perspective, the permissive provision makes legal reform possible. Iraq’s population today remains exceptionally religiously and ethnically diverse. However, numbers of ethno-religious minorities remaining in the country continue to decrease through emigration and flight as the government tolerates systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom and human rights.
One piece of good news is; Governmental Organizations Number 12 (NGO Law), was passed on January 2010 by the Iraqi Council of Representatives. This new law is a significant development for Iraq’s minority components because NGOs are an important advocacy device for underrepresented groups. While no provisions of this law prove specifically problematic for Iraq’s minorities, observers have noted that, to date, the registration process is difficult and, due to some contradictory instructions, prevents the proper registration of many NGOs.
Source: Iraqi Minorities Council, http://www.minoritiescouncil.
Save Christians of Iraq Because They Are:
1. Decedents of the great Babylonian and Assyrian Empires and Civilizations,
2. Ancient, indigenous, and Biblical Christians with rich history, culture, heritage and speak ancient language; language spoken by Jesus Christ,
3. Integral part of Iraq’s (Mesopotamia) Society for over two millennium,
4. Majority are intellectuals, educators, business entrepreneurs, and scholars,
5. Voice of moderation and conflict reconciliatory,
6. Builders of bridges of understanding , reach out, and interfaith promoting,
7. Advocates of unity, peace, harmony, coexistence, tolerance, and acceptance of the other.
Solutions to ensure the continuance of Iraqi Christians survival and how to help those who seek to build a stronger role for minorities in their homeland:
1. Create Independent High Commission on Minorities which must be recognized and endorsed by the International Community and Regional and Central Government of that country,
2. Advocate for both the U.S. and EU to appoint a Special Envoy for the religious minorities in the Middle East a clear indication for establishing a serious indication of establishing foreign policy directed to these minorities,
3. Implement effective global advocacy and public relation strategies to prevent targeted discrimination and persecution against minorities,
4. Empower minority groups to sustain their presence in their homeland and to ensure their participation in the political process where its representation at all levels of government needs to be instituted in a meaningful way,
5. Focus on helping vulnerable minority groups to organize themselves so they can advocate for their rights and interest,
6. Increase the number of seats for the Christian quota in the Iraqi Parliament and in the representatives in the Governorates Municipal Councils where Christians live in large numbers,
7. Ensure the constitution of the land to offer robust recognition and protection of the rights and existence of minorities by amending the land laws to reflect the historical an d continuing participation and contribution of the countries’ minority components to their culture and political heritage and to the development of its democratic system, and economic development ,
8. Encourage responsible investments by the Diasporans in infrastructure and development within Christian areas, particularly in Nineveh Plain and other disputed territories, this will facilitate the peace-building mechanisms,
9. Cease discriminatory recourses and services allocations where there is a significant Christian presence, halting efforts to manipulate them or enlist them to a particular side in political disputes. Seek for increase political representation for Christians,
10. Push the central government to give priority to consistently applying international law; international legal principles and, especially those contained in the treaties to which the country is a signatory which must be incorporated into the domestic legal framework,
11. Stop forced displacement; once people leave their home and communities and become displaced a difficult dynamics sets in which makes it difficult to easily go back to normal life.
12. Stop migration and create resourceful pull factor and empowerment strategies for the refugee and the displaced to return home and to build sustainable community,
13. Stop any intentional or forced minority demographic changes and address the return of the illegally confiscated properties. Fair and efficient mechanisms for resolving property claims are needed and enforcement of decisions should be carried out by impartial and legitimate bodies,
14. Although the idea of creating safe haven for the threatened minorities like the Christians in Iraq may appear like a compassionate solution it is believed that our proposal “Special Administrative and Cultural Autonomy (SACA)” might be at the present time the safest solution which will allow the minorities to enjoy the following:
A- Full freedom of religious association, worship, and belief, subject to the requirements of a free and democratic society.
B- To be able to send their children to schools of their choice, when they are available, providing either religious or linguistic instruction according to their parents’ preferences.
C- To have the full protection of a personal status law on marriage, enabling people to marry and pass on property according to Christian customs.
D- Ensure that anyone who converts to Christianity, whether through marriage or though a change of beliefs, should have the full support of the law, and that declarations of apostasy should have no legal consequences.
E- Persons belonging to minorities have the right to legal recognition of their own names and to display signs and to use traditional local place names, in their own language.
F- Non-Muslim communities have the right to establish religious legal bodies according to the law and that shall have the right to consider all personal law matters of citizens belonging to those communities.
“Special Administrative and Cultural Autonomy” for Iraqi Christians in Nineveh Plain and Kurdistan: is a solution to ensure the survival and prosperity of Christians in the area through the following:
- An elected Assembly of the Christians of the area, with executive and legislative powers over the defined units of the Special Autonomous Community will be elected by the locals,
- The first elected Assembly shall draft a constitution to be compliant with the Constitution of the Kurdistan Region and the Constitution of Iraq,
- The Assembly of the Christians of the Kurdistan Region shall exercise such powers as may be delegated by the Kurdistan Region’s Parliament, and they may choose to share the exercise of those powers with the institutions of the Kurdistan Region,
- The units comprising the Special Autonomous Community shall comprise municipalities, villages, districts and sub-districts with majorities of Christian citizens, which choose to join the creation of a Special Administrative Community. For these purposes local referendums shall be held
- Resources : the Special Autonomous Community shall receive a share of the oil and gas revenues of the Kurdistan Regional Government, in proportion to the numbers of persons it governs, after making due deductions for the region-wide services supplied by the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Time has come for the siege against Christians in Iraq to be lifted, this can only happen with effective advocacy and conscientious empowerment provided by the Diaspora community and with help of United States and the international community, this will avoid making them a collateral damage in Islam wars in the region. We united together can help them.