Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Press reports: Baghdad nearly empty of Christians.

The new year has brought little joy for Iraqi Christians, who continue to be menaced by terrorist threats as well as the ever-worsening climate of civil unrest in their country. AsiaNews reported earlier this month on the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate's decision to transfer the Church's two leading institutions of priestly and religious formation, Babel College and St. Peter's Seminary, from strife-torn Baghdad to apparently safer quarters in Kurdistan. Last week, the Chaldean theological faculty and major seminary officially reopened in the Kurdish city of Erbil. Having remained in the capital long after many other Christian institutions had moved north or closed altogether, Babel College and St. Peter's Seminary had served as powerful symbols of Chaldean Catholics' determination to stay where they had always been. In the end, this determination broke down in the face of endless bombings, kidnappings, murders and threats. AsiaNews reports that Baghdad's historically Christian Dora neighborhood is now controlled by Sunni militias and is empty of all but the poorest Christians, who would likely join the exodus north if only they had the resources to make the trip.

Further information on the current situation of Christians in Iraq (as well as those in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria) may be found in an excellent article published last week in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel, available in English on the magazine's website. The article in Der Spiegel offers a lucid summary of the major factors accounting for the diminution of the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, both demographic (Christians often have smaller families and tend to be better-educated than their Muslim neighbors, making it easier for them to emigrate) and political (Islamic fundamentalism is gaining strength throughout the region, threatening secular nationalist movements that long provided a political home for Arab Christians). The Der Spiegel piece also suggests that the exodus of Iraqi Christians and their institutions from Baghdad to Kurdish territory in the north may help build support for a proposal to establish a "Christian autonomous zone" in Nineveh. As I noted last month, this plan has won the endorsement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops but has been criticized by prominent Chaldean Catholic bishops in Iraq, who fear that efforts to carve out a Christian safe zone would encourage further attacks on their community and isolate Christians politically. If Der Spiegel interprets the situation correctly, I wonder if Iraqi Christians will feel compelled to embrace the safe zone proposal out of sheer desperation. As their security is more and more threatened, many Christians may have come to believe that the establishment of a small Christian enclave is the only way to save their community from total annihilation. I wonder just how safe a safe zone for Iraqi Christians would really be, particularly in light of recent reports from the northern city of Mosul, where Christians face constant harassment and harassment but are still ostensibly "safer" than they would be in Baghdad. The one thing that remains certain is that the present war's greatest losers have been Iraqi Christians. Keep praying for them, and help them however you can. AMDG.


At 1/17/2007 2:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best bet for Iraqi Christians is to move to the Kurdistan Region and work with the authorities there to carve out their own autonomous region within the Kurdistan Region. The main reason this would work is that the Nineveh Plains are just north of Mosul on the border with Duhok, and Duhok has been the safest region in Iraq since the fall of Saddam (no terrorist attacks, no security forces killed). If an autonomous Assyrian region is established within Kurdistan, the Kurdish security forces will be able to provide security for the Christian communities. It is also important to remember that there were small numbers of Assyrian "peshmerga"-like forces that fought with the Kurdish peshmerga.

At 1/17/2007 2:10 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


I see the Assyrian autonomous region proposal not as a "best bet" but as an essentially undesirable outcome that Iraqi Christians may be forced into because of a lack of viable alternatives. The proposal might allow Iraqi Christians to retain a marginal presence in their country, but that's just the problem - as I see it, the existence of an Assyrian autonomous zone would enshrine the marginal status of Iraqi Christians by consigning them to a remote corner of the country and foreclosing a possible return to larger centers, especially the capital. I'm also concerned about what might happen if the relationship between the Kurds and the various Christian communities goes sour - if the Kurdish regional government is to be the protector of Iraqi Christians, what would happen if the Kurds withdrew their support? Then the Christians would be completely bereft. In short, I have grave misgivings about the autonomous region proposal but fear that it might be adopted because there aren't any more viable ideas on the table.


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