The Christian population in Iraq is in dire straights. At nearly 1.4 million in the early 1990s, it is down to less than 400,000, according to Most Reverend Bashar Warda, archbishop of Erbil in the northern part of the country.
The archbishop was in England and Northern Ireland recently on a visit organized by Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charitable organization. ACN has been helping Bishop Warda with a major construction project, building a hospital and a university in the Erbil area. The hope is that establishing these will provide jobs and security for the Christians in the area, discouraging them from fleeing; and also help the non-Christian residents of the area who have also been affected the violence.
Erbil, being capital of the Kurdish north, has seen less violence than the rest of the country, making it a safe(r) haven for Christians than the more violent areas of Baghdad and the south. Thus, though hundreds of thousands of native Christians have fled Iraq altogether, thousands of other Iraqi Christians have fled to the region from elsewhere.
The native people of the region, the Assyrians, are an ancient people of the fertile crescent, the first to form a civilization, therefore the most truly “indigenous people” if that designation has any meaning at all. They are fleeing their ancient homeland under persecution—enduring kidnappings, torture, sometimes murder.
From the above-linked article about the archbishop’s remarks at a conference in Ireland:
Between 2006 and 2010, 17 Iraqi priests and two bishops were kidnapped and beaten or tortured. One bishop, four priests and three subdeacons were killed.
“In most cases, those responsible for the crimes stated they wanted Christians out of Iraq,” the archbishop said.
Referring to the “systematic bombing campaign of Iraqi churches,” he said 66 churches had been attacked or bombed; in addition, two convents, one monastery and a church orphanage also were bombed.
“The past is terrifying, the present is not promising, so everything is telling us that there is no future for Christians,” Archbishop Warda later told Catholic News Service.
Describing the current situation in the Middle East as “boiling,” he said Christians in the region “expect another war” due to the instability in so many countries and the ongoing tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
He told those at the news conference that persecution of Christians was not restricted to Iraq, but it was apparent in places such as the Holy Land and Lebanon.
Referring to the findings in the Aid to the Church in Need report, the archbishop said, “In many countries, the situation for Christians seems to be worsening, sometimes to the point that we wonder if we will survive.” He added that the place of Christians as one of the original inhabitants of the Middle East had been “wiped from collective memory.”
Their disappearance from the Middle East whether by flight or, more especially, by slaughter, would be a tragedy of historical proportions.
If you can, help Archbishop Warda through a donation to Aid to the Church in Need, specified for his efforts in Iraq.