March 2, 2014

Efforts Underway To Help Iraqi Christians Remain In Country

The government of Iraq is concerned about Christians leaving the country. Efforts to help the Iraqi Christians are being made at all levels of government in the country.

Barnabas-Aid reports after the U.S. led invasion of the country in 2003, hundreds of thousands of Christians fled the country because of targeted violence against their communities.

The governor of Basra in southern Iraq says he is working to find land for Christians to cultivate as well as job opportunities.

The governor recently met with senior Christian leaders urging them to “persuade families to stay and encourage those who fled to return.”

The government of Iraq is considering the possibility of an autonomous province for Christians in the Nineveh Plain. Officials of the Iraqi cabinet say a study on the Nineveh plain has been approved, and two other possible provinces, Fallujah and Tuz Khurmatu are also under consideration.

The largest population of Iraqi Christians currently lives in the Nineveh Plain. The estimated 40 percent of the population is Christian and they live in Iraqi territory that Kurdistan claims for its autonomous region.

Most Christians in Iraq are reacting with caution to the proposal.

“I do not believe it will really happen,” says Salim Kako, a former Christian member of the Parliament of Kurdistan told the Middle Eastern publication He is concerned the announcement is part of the election campaign for the upcoming elections to the Iraqi parliament. He says because of this, the new province may not materialize.

Some Iraqi Christians living overseas are optimistic. Some say if the province is formed they may be able to return to their country.

“If implemented, this could change the reality on the ground for Assyrians, and put them in a position to have a say on their future in Iraq, hopefully reversing the emigration to the West.”
said Afram Barryakoub, the president of the Assyrian Federation of Sweden to the AINA.

Iraqi officials say any area approved would have its own police force and army.

Barnabas Aid reports that a draft law is being reviewed on minority rights to improve the status of all religious minority groups in the country, including Christians. The aim of the legislation would be to help the Christians regain participation in public life.

Al Monitor reports the Christian population in Iraq has decreased by more than 75 percent since 2003. Before that year there were around 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, and according to the latest reports from Christian leaders in the country, around 300,000 remain.

The proposed draft laws would include, among other things efforts to protect the language and cultural education and establish efforts to get religious minorities media representation nationally. Under this legislation minority languages would also be taught in the schools.

Al-Monitor reports violence and instability are continuing throughout Iraq, and more than 1,000 deaths were reported in January, the deadliest month in six years.

Christians are continuing to leave the country, and one denomination reports six families are leaving every day.

Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and head of the Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church is calling for prayers and fasting during Lent that “Iraqi Christians will remain in our country and not emigrate.”

Agenzia Fides quotes the Patriarch as saying “Our Christian identity has been part of Iraq’s history and geography for over two thousand years.  Our deepest roots and are clearest sources are here in this our country, if we leave, we would be uprooted, cut off from our origins.” The Patriarch stressed the necessity “to persevere and to keep hope alive, and not to listen “to those who fill you with fear or those who with any means urge or press Iraqi Christians to abandon their homeland.”

Christian Aid supports Shinar Mission, a local Christian ministry started in the Kurdish area of Iraq. Shinar Mission is engaged in Christian education and providing aid.

Christian Aid says there are small local churches in this area to work with the Mission to help refugees. Church members are also helping in refugee camps

Church leaders in Baghdad tell Open Doors violence is increasing. The Christian leaders say they are attacks on Christians every two or three days.

Open Doors says December 2011 may have been a turning point for Christians in Iraq after a number of attacks on Christian-owned shops.

Open Doors says ever since 2011 violence against Christians in the north has increased, and some Christians have been kidnapped and killed in areas that were once considered fairly safe.

Open Doors says Iraq is forth on its World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which Christians are most under pressure for their faith.

“Christians in Iraq are on the verge of extinction. Large numbers of persecuted Christians have fled aboard or to the (until recently) safer Kurdish region, where they may face unemployment and inadequate schooling, medical care and housing. The church faces many challenges- members being killed or abducted, and a lack of capable leaders,” reports the World Watch List.




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