Christian Exodus from Iraq
Persecution, fear and the difficulties of finding work have reduced the population of Christian believers in Iraq by more than a half of the pre-war total. A recent report has stated: "The consequence of this flight may be the end of Christianity in Iraq."
by Jack Healy
Iraq’s dwindling Christians, driven from their homes by attacks and intimidation, are beginning to abandon the havens they had found in the country’s north, discouraged by unemployment and a creeping fear that the violence they had fled was catching up to them.
Their quiet exodus to Turkey, Jordan, Europe and the United States is the latest chapter of a seemingly inexorable decline that many religious leaders say tolls the twilight of Christianity in a land where city skylines have long been marked by both minarets and church steeples. Recent assessments say that Iraq’s Christian population has now fallen by more than half since the 2003 American invasion, and with the military’s departure, some Christians say they lost a protector of last resort.
Their flight is felt in places like the wind-scoured village of Tenna, which has sheltered dozens of Christian migrants over the past nine years. The families fleeing Baghdad’s death squads and bombings found safety here beneath the hulking mountains, but little else besides poverty, boredom and cold. Villagers estimate that half of the 50 or so Christian homes are now empty, their families abroad.
Many of the people now struggling in Iraq’s Kurdish north came in the wake of a suicide attack in Baghdad at Our Lady of Salvation Church in October 2010. It was the single worst assault on Iraq’s Christians since the war began, one that left 50 worshipers and 2 priests dead and that turned the church into a charnel house of scorched pews and shattered stained glass.
Christian families in Baghdad grabbed clothing, cash and a few other provisions and headed north for the Christian communities along the Nineveh plain and Kurdistan’s three provinces. They joined tens of thousands of other Christians from the capital, Mosul and other cities who traced similar arcs after earlier attacks and assassination campaigns.
“They traded everything for security,” said the Rev. Gabriel Tooma, who leads the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in the Christian town of Qosh, which took in dozens of families.
The Christians in northern Iraq make up a tiny fraction of Iraq’s legions of displaced people. In all, there are 1.3 million of them across the country, according to the most recent United Nations estimates. Many live in garbage dumps, shanty towns and squalor far worse than anything facing the Christian families in Kurdistan.
Still, Christians and other minorities were singled out in the years of sectarian cleansing that bifurcated a once-diverse Baghdad into pockets of Sunnis and Shiites. Estimates by the United States and international organizations say that Iraq’s prewar Christian population of 800,000 to 1.4 million now stands at less than 500,000.
Read full report in The New York Times...