By Ken Joseph, Jr.
Iraq taking center stage on the world scene, lost amidst the fog
of war are a small, once proud and once very influential people.
For some reason almost completely ignored in the current discussions
are 2.5 million Assyrian Christians. Scattered throughout Iraq,
but primarily near the city of Nineveh currently known as Mosul
these remnants of the great Assyrian Empire are frozen in time.
It is their history that is little known. It was to them that Jonah
came to bring the message of repentance and they repented. It was
to them that the Apostle Thomas came and their King Addai repented
for his people and Assyria in the first century became the first
The Assyrian Empire ended in 612BC and the Assyrian Monarchy was
abolished in 300 AD.
It is them that according to Kenneth Scott Lautorette became `The
largest Missionary Force in History,` carrying the gospel as far
as China and Japan, with recent discoveries confirming a presence
as early as 86AD in China.
It is the Assyrians that still speak Aramaic, the language that
But the Assyrians, because of their Christian Faith, have suffered
greatly in an area that is almost completely Muslim. Oppressed by
the Persians, Mongols, Turks, and Arabs in World War II, nearly
2/3 of the Assyrian population died.
Currently, the majority of the Assyrian Christians are in Iraq with
approximately 100,000 in the Northern No Fly Zone, approximately
1 million in central Iraq, and another 100,000 scattered in the
south, along with a population of approximately 4 million Kurds
and 800,000 Turkomans - all Muslim.
Another approximately 1.8 million Assyrians are outside of Iraq
primarly in Iran, Syria and in the US, Australia and Europe.
According to Wilfred Alkhas, who edits a Magazine for the Assyrian
Diaspora, `One of the little known facts concerning the Middle East
is the role of the Christians. Previous to the rise of Khomeni in
Iran, Islam was generally a tolerant religion. Large groups of Christians,
Jews, Zorasterians and others lived peacefully in majority Muslim
populations for generations.
Following the radicalization of Islam, though, nearly 90% of the
Christians in the Middle East have left finding it impossible to
live under the opression of radicalized Islamic states.
The reality of the current situation in the Middle East is in many
ways more economic than political, as the economic system has basically
collapsed, giving rise to young men with no hope for a job and a
future, willing to give their lives for radical ideas that in normal
economic times would be unheard of.
The reason being is that it was the Christians that ran most of
the small businesses in the Middle East, which kept the local economies
growing. Their departure was, in many ways, what triggered the present
Running small grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, the Christians
exerted leadership in an area that, with its prohibition of even
the charging of interest, has not been able to be taken over by
the Muslim majority.
Currently the Assyrian Christians are in a extremely precarious
situation. Sandwiched between the Kurds who are Muslims and supported
throug the United Nations weapons for peace program, the Turkomans,
also Muslims supported by Turkey, they are a minority of Christians
in a region that is, with the exception of Israel, exclusively Muslim.
Grudingly allowed to participate in the local Kurdish Parliement,
the Assyrian Christians have five seats out of 105 they are extremely
fearful of any post-Sadaam government.
Currently, the State Department is attempting to put together a
coalition of Iraqi Nationalist Groups to decide on a future Government,
but the Assyrian Christians as the only non-Islamic group in the
mix are at a decided advantage.
Iraq, for all its fault, is a secular nation governed by a secular
Baathist Party. The Vice President, Mr. Tarig Aziz, is a Christian
and the Church is allowed the most freedom of any country in the
Middle East, with the exception of Egypt.
The Assyrian Archibishop for Iraq, Mar. Gewargis pleads for help
for his people and Church. `We understand the concern and support
of the Christians in the West for Israel, but find it hard to understand
why the Church does not have the same concern and support. For all
its faults, the Iraqi government has built Churches for the Christians`.
In response to the current situation, The Keikyo Institute, an organization
assisting Assyrians particularly in Asia, is asking Christians throughout
the world to first pray for the Christians in Iraq, then to contact
their legislators to request that the Christians be represented
in the post-Sadaam Iraqi government.
According to Wilfred Alkhas, who represents the younger generation
of the Assyrian Disaspora, `It has been our prayer for generations
that we will be able to regain our country - Assyria- which was
promised to the Assyrian people under the treaty of Lasuanne in
1923, and at the very least to have an autonomous zone in the area
previously promised to the Assyrians.`
At the very least, the Assyrian Church is calling to the Church
at large to support their status in the land that is historically
theirs as the first Christian nation in the world.
The next few months are extremely critical as the plans for a post-Sadaam
Iraq are put together and the government and divisions of authority
are being decided. Anything other than, at the very least, autonomy
for the Assyrian Christians in their traditional homeland in Northern
Iraq, centered around the city of Nineveh, present day Mosul, could
very well result in another bloodbath that could see the last of
the only major Christian presence in the Middle East gone forever.
About Ken Joseph Jr.