Commentary: Exodus of Christians from Iraq Begins!

By Ken Joseph Jr.

Baghdad, Iraq - The long predicted exodus of Christians from Iraq has begun.


Facing a June 30th deadline for transfer of power, a `Temporary Constitution` that reads in Article 7 , `Islam is the Official Religion of the State` and the most recent humiliation for the community - the failure to receive even one position on the Executive Council and only one Ministry Post - the Ministry of Emigration , the Christians of Iraq are voting with their feet.


` On a recent night the Church had to spend more time on filling out the Baptismal forms needed for leaving the country than they did on the service. ` says Amir, a deacon at a local Church who does not want his name published.


`We have been flooded with parishioners desperate to leave the country and as they cannot get an exit permit without a Baptismal Certificate from the Church we have been swamped with requests.`  


`In recent days nearly 400 families as far as we can tell have filled out Baptismal Forms to leave the country - our community is being decimated.` he continues.


Most of the Christians in Iraq are Assyrians - the original people of Iraq. The Assyrians were the people of Nineveh - present day Mosul - where Jonah in the Bible came.


As the original people of Iraq and due to the fact that they are not Arabs, are Christians in a sea of moslems and by the simple fact that they are Christians always seen as allies of the West they have been subject to long persecution.


The Assyrian Church - known officially as the Assyrian Church of the East,  is the oldest continually existing Church in the world,  and the people are the only in the world who still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.


During the Assyrian Genocide,  early in the 20th Century it is estimated that nearly 2/3 of the Assyrian people were slaughtered in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.


According to figures from the previous regieme there were 2.5 million Assyrian Christians in the country with an estimated 3.5 million outside the country for a worldwide total of as many as 6 million, many of which would return to Iraq if they had a future.


`We thought the Americans were going to bring us Freedom and Democracy `says 31 year old Robert. `Instead, they are promoting Islam. We do not understand it`!


`We love the Americans! We are so grateful for them removing Sadaam and giving us back our freedom. We do not want their effort to be a failure if the disctatorship of Sadaam is replaced by the dictatorshio of islam.`


`The American funded TV Station, Al Iraqia broadcasts moslem programs four times every day and for two hours each Friday but nothing for the other religions. The recent inauguration of the new government was opened by a moslem mullah giving a long message from the koran and and prayer, but none of our Priests were invited at all. Why do they do this? Why do the Americans promote moslems? They need to promote equality and democracy and freedom, not moslem dictatorship!`


`Iraq is becoming a moslem country!  What happened to the American promise to help it become a democracy that would be a place for all to live? This is our homeland! We are the original people of Iraq! We should not have to leave!` he continues.


The community is working on two projects - one to establish a 24 hour nationwide hotline to provide security for the daily acts of intimidation that is much of the cause for the panic and a nationwide network of `safe houses` to take care of the community, when as they believe following the handover Iraq descends into chaos and civil war.


`We are having to take care of daily cases of harrasment of the Assyrians by the moslems` says Father I. `I just got back form helping one of our parishoner who was falsely accused by a neighebor and about to be arrested. I had to go and sort it all out.


Our women are accosted on the street and intimidated to start dressing like moslems, our business are being burned and the constant harassment is because of the attitude of appeasment towatrs the moslems.` he continues.


In addition a proposal for an `Assyrian Regional Government` based on Article 54 of the Transitional Administrative Law is being circulated in Iraq and in Washinton in a last ditch effort to persuade the community to stay.


`We want to stay! This is our homeland! But if we do not have a place where we can go, if we will be daily persecuted by the moslems again we cannot stay. We are appealing to the world to help us - to guarantee us an area where we can be protected, where we can live in peace and where we can worship in freedom.`


Will the world listen?


Rev. Ken Joseph Jr. is an Assyrian and directs and is writing a book on his experience in Iraq entitled `I Was Wrong`.

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