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By Todd Daniels and Sandra Eliott
International Christian Concern
"There is horrible and uncontrolled violence and chaos [that is] leaving non-Muslim minorities like the Christians [in] fear for their lives..."
Joseph Kassab, President of Iraqi Christians Advocacy And Empowerment Institute (ICAE), explains that only two options remain for Christian in the region: either submit to the violence or flee to Kurdistan and neighboring countries.
The current generation has grown up in a world where Iraqi land is bloodstained and war-torn. Nevertheless, Iraq was once the home to some of the most tolerant and ethno-religiously diverse cultures in the world. The fabric of coexistence stitched together both monotheists and polytheists in an ancient land held dear by all living upon it. Yazidi shrines neighbored Christian sites and Mosques shared a land marked with tombs of Jewish prophets.
Sadly, we now face a new reality of sectarian hatred and radical jihadists that are intent on erasing all cultures other than their own.
Many forget that the Middle East was the birthplace of Christianity and, until recently, a large number still lived there. In 1947 Iraq was home to approximately 4.5 million Christians; in 2003 the figure stood close to 1.5 million. Today, however, the number of Christians in Iraq has tragically fallen to less than 200,000, with perhaps another 150,000 in the Kurdistan region.
Still more tragic are the conditions in which these 200,000 live. The majority of remaining Christians live in Baghdad, where recently, four Christian men were kidnapped by Islamic extremists.
Dr. Bashar Ghanem Al Akrawi, Saad Galyana Shaba, Qais Abd Shaya and Saher Hanna Sony were all kidnapped within two weeks of each other in early July. The former two were rescued and are well, while the latter two were both killed by their captors, despite their families having paid ransoms for their lives.
These types of abductions among other forms of criminality are sectarian based and carried out by powerful and armed militias. Christians have likewise had their homes and household goods stolen from them by means of falsified documents and government corruption.
These people face a dim lit future.
A Chaldean Patriarch in Iraq recently told Asia News that Christians are "fully fledged citizens of the state, and for hundreds and hundreds of years they have contributed to its civilization and its culture." He appealed to the government authorities to protect the lives and property of these citizens in Baghdad.
Joseph Kassab contrastingly explained to ICC that this is not a problem that the Iraqi government will be able to easily resolve as the government itself is fragile and corrupt.
"There is no hope in this country"
Iraqi Christians, among other minorities, are suffering under dire circumstances with little to no help. Soon enough, their ancient presence in Iraq will no longer be. Bernan Petros, a Christian originally from Bartella, Iraq, told Rudaw News, "There is no hope in this country. We have no hope here. We are so tired of this situation, and now we are thinking of leaving--all Christians together--to seek another place in Europe."
This is exactly what will happen unless the Western church acknowledges the reality of what is happening in the Middle East and acts to change it. There is an urgent need for security and aid, but even more important are the tools to restart life. If families are to choose to stay in Iraq they will require sources of income and opportunities for their children. These will be the building blocks for a new future.
We must realize that this is a war being waged against religious freedom, not just Iraqis. It is a war to drive out those who don't adhere to the radical beliefs of ISIS or other extremists.
How many more fathers, sons, husbands and brothers need to be kidnapped and murdered before we stop turning a fearful blind eye to atrocity?
For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org
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