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Armenians in Iraq

Iraqi Armenians
     Armenia      Iraq
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Kirkuk, Dohuk, Avzrog
Armenian, Arabic, Kurdish
Christianity (mostly Armenian Apostolic, some Armenian Catholics)

The history of Armenians in Iraq is documented since late Babylonian times. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers both have their sources in the Armenian Highland,[2] hence, the land of Iraq and the land of Armenia have always been connected. Today it is estimated that there are around 10,000 Armenians living in Iraq, with communities in Baghdad, Mosul, Basrah, Kirkuk and Dohuk.[3]


  • History 1
  • Armenians and the political situation 2
    • 2003 invasion of Iraq 2.1
    • Deployment of Armenian troops 2.2
  • Religion 3
  • Contributions to Iraqi culture 4
  • In Iraqi Kurdistan 5
    • Armenians in Avzrog 5.1
  • See also 6
  • References 7


Armenian children in Baghdad, 1918

The history of Armenians in Iraq is documented since late Babylonian times. However, the general roots of the contemporary Armenian community in Iraq can be largely traced to Shah Abbas's forced relocation of the Armenians to Iran in 1604, some of whom subsequently moved on to settle in Iraq.[4] A further 25,000 Armenians arrived in Iraq during the early twentieth century as they fled the persecution of the Armenian Genocide.[4][5] They established schools, athletic and cultural clubs, and political and religious institutions in urban centers across the breadth of Iraq.[6]

During the 1980s, the Armenian community flourished as a result of President Saddam Hussein's modernization efforts, as it continued to rebuild its cultural institutions and even consecrated an imposing cathedral in Baghdad.[4] Saddam retained many Armenians among his personal entourage: his nanny was Iraqi-Armenian, along with one of his body guards, his jeweler, tailor, and housestaff.[7] One of his mistresses was Juliet N. Gurjian. The Armenians benefited under the secularist rule of the Baath party, which strongly suppressed the Islamist forces especially the Shiite Iraqi elements that would later rise against Saddam. The Armenians also did not support anyone in the opposition so the Hussein regime count on their loyalty and consequently grant them many rights. During Christmas, Saddam Hussein would order large amount of flowers to be taken to the Baghdad Armenian church.

Armenians and the political situation

After the launch of the second Iraqi campaign, more than 3,000 Armenians left the country, head of National Management of Armenians in Iraq Paruyr Hakopian stated. “Four years have passed since the launch of military campaign in Iraq by Coalition forces. And I confirm with certainty that the number of Armenians who have immigrated abroad does not exceed this mark,” he noted. Mr. Hakopian said four years ago there were 18,000 Armenians in Iraq and now only 15,000 of them live in the country. Generally during the past 4 years 1,500 Armenians immigrated to Syria, about 1,000 arrived in Armenia and about 500 departed for Jordan,” he stressed.[8]

Many Armenians served in the military during Iraq's eight-year war with Iran and the Persian Gulf War. More than 130 from Zakho (a town with an Armenian population 1,500-strong) were killed in the conflict with Iran while three others, also from Zakho, were killed in coalition air strikes in Kuwait, Basra, and Mosul. Civilian casualties in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, following the rebellion by the Kurds, included four Armenian babies who died in fighting near the Turkish border.[9]

2003 invasion of Iraq

With the invasion of Iraq, the situation for Armenians in Iraq worsened considerably. Armenians have been subject to killings and kidnappings for ransom. Many Armenians have immigrated to other Middle Eastern countries (most notably Syria and Lebanon), Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia. Armenian churches have also been target of bombings by paramilitary groups.

In October 2007, two Armenian women in Iraq were killed by the Australian private security contractors, Unity Resources Group, in Almasbah district in Baghdad.[10][11]

The Armenian winner of the Miss Iraq competition went into hiding out of fear of being targeted by Islamic militants.[12]

Deployment of Armenian troops

Armenia took part in the efforts of the US-led Coalition by sending a group of 46 non-military personnel, including 30 truck drivers, 10 bomb detonation experts, three doctors and three officers. They served the under Polish command in the city of Karbala and the nearby town of Hillah.

In October 2008, Armenia ended its modest presence in Iraq, citing improved security and the ongoing withdrawal of a much larger Polish army contingent that has supervised Armenian troops deployed in the country.[13]


Armenians in Iraq are mostly members of the Armenian Apostolic Church (also known as Armenian Orthodox) or Armenian Catholic Church.

St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church (at Younis al Sabaawi Square, Baghdad) is the main church for the Armenians of Iraq. There is also the Saint Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church in Dohuk, northern Iraq.

The Armenian Catholic Archbishopric Church maintains a presence in Baghdad, as does the Armenian Evangelical Church of Baghdad.

Some Armenian churches were also targets of bombing and some Armenians have died as a result of sectarian fighting in Iraq.

Contributions to Iraqi culture

Armenians have played traditionally an important role in Iraqi culture, particularly in literature and music and in general all arts. Armenian folk music and dance is admired in Iraq.

Yaacoub Sarkis was a famous author and researcher in Iraqi arts. He used to hold cultural gatherings in Baghdad's Murabba'a region on the Tigris river, where the Iraqi cultural elite would meet. He is also renowned for the two-volume Al Mabaheth al Iraqiyyah, a definitive guide of Iraqi history and society. He lived well into his eighties before his death in the 1950s.

The two founding members of the Western-style pop group Unknown to No One, Art Haroutunian and Shant Garabedian, are of Armenian heritage. During Saddam's reign the band could only have its music aired once they sang a song celebrating the dictator's birthday. Unknown to No One has been given a large amount of publicity in the post-Saddam era.[15]

In Iraqi Kurdistan

There have always been pockets of Armenian populations in Iraqi Kurdistan. Their numbers have increased considerably with wave of new immigration coming from Baghdad and other Iraqi regions after the toppling of Saddam. Armenians attribute their leaving towards the north to safety concerns, with some Armenian institutions and churches having been targeted by bombings, and some Armenians subject of kidnapping and killings in Baghdad and central regions of Iraq. The Armenians consider the Kurdish-dominated parts of Iraq in general to be much safer areas to live in.

The Armenians in Iraqi Kurdistan have a representative in the parliament of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Armenians in Avzrog

A small minority of Armenians live in Avzrog, a village in the Iraqi province of Dohuk. The village of Avzrog is split into two areas: one populated by Armenians and the other by Assyrians. The name of the village comes from the Kurdish language; av (water) and zrog (yellow).

It was built for the first time in 1932 when the Armenians of Zakho and its suburbs decided to establish the village and settle in it. The village was subject of destruction in 1975. The Armenian inhabitants of Avzrog don't speak Armenian, they speak Arabic and Kurdish. Despite this, Armenians in Avzrog maintain their Armenian social identity like folklore and names. Avzrog has a total population of about 300 people.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Iraq: Tiny Ethnic-Armenian Community Survived Hussein, Making It In Postwar Times." RFE/RL. July 6, 2004.
  4. ^ a b c Dekmejian, R. Hrair (1997). "The Armenian Diaspora" in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, Volume II: Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth Century to the Twentieth Century, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New York: St. Martin's Press, p. 427.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Hovannisian, Richard G. "The Ebb and Flow of the Armenian Minority in the Arab Middle East," Middle East Journal 28 (Winter, 1974), p. 28.
  7. ^ Cockburn, Andrew and Patrick Cockburn. Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession. London: Verso, 2002, pp. 5, 160.
  8. ^ 28 Armenians died during 4 years in Iraq. March 24, 2007.
  9. ^ Fisk, Robert. The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006, pp. 685-86.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Iraq's beauty queen fears for life after threats to pageant." USA Today. April 12, 2006.
  13. ^ "Armenia Ends Iraq Mission." Asbarez. October 16, 2008.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Nawa, Fariba. "Iraq's Boy Band Dreams Big." Scholastic News.
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