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Iraqi Christians

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Title: Iraqi Christians  
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Subject: Al-Qaeda, Ethnic cleansing, Assyrians in Iraq, Minorities in Iraq, Iraq War, Iraq, Iraqi American, Refugees of Iraq, Christianity in Iraq, Humanitarian crises of the Iraq War
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Iraqi Christians

Christianity by Country
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The Christians of Iraq are considered to be one of the oldest surviving continuous Christian communities in the world. The vast majority are Eastern Aramaic-speaking ethnic Assyrians, with much smaller numbers of Armenians, Arabs, Kurds and Turcoman extant also.

In Iraq, Christians numbered about 1,500,000 in 2003, representing just over 5% of the population of the country. They numbered over 1.4 million in 1987 or 8% of the population.[1] Christians live primarily in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Arbil and Kirkuk and in Assyrian towns and regions such as the Nineveh Plains in the north.[2]

Christian communities

Eastern Rite Assyrian-Chaldean churches

The majority of the Iraqi Christians belong to the Eastern Rite churches whose followers are almost exclusively ethnic Assyrians-Chaldo-Assyrians.

The Churches of the Armenian rite

Followers of these churches are exclusively ethnic Armenians

The other churches and communities

Followers of these churches are an ethnic mix of Assyrians, Arabs, Kurds, Turcomen and Shabaki


Christianity was brought to Iraq in the first century AD by the Apostles Thomas and Addai (Thaddaeus) and his pupils Aggagi and Mari. Thomas and Thaddeus belonged to the twelve Apostles.[3] Iraq's Eastern Aramaic speaking Assyrian Christian communities are believed to be among the oldest in the world.

The Assyrians adopted Christianity in the first century AD[2] and Assyria became the centre of Eastern Rite Christianity and Syriac literature from the 1st century AD until the Middle Ages. In the early centuries after the Arab Islamic conquest, native Assyrian (known as Ashuriyun by the Arabs) scholars and doctors played an influential role in Iraq, however, from the late 13th century AD through to the present time, Assyrian Christians have suffered both religious and ethnic persecution, including a number of massacres.[4] A new epoch began in the 17th century when Emir Afrasiyab of Basra allowed the Portuguese to build a church outside of the city. In the year of Iraq´s formal independence 1932, the Iraqi military carried out large-scale massacres against the Assyrians (Simele massacre) which had supported the British colonial admistration before.[2]

Prior to the Gulf War in 1991, Christians numbered one million in Iraq.[2] The Baathist rule under Saddam Hussein kept anti-Christian violence under control but subjected some to "relocation programmes".[2] Under this regime, the predominantly ethnically and linguistically distinct Assyrian Christians were pressured to identify as Arabs. The Christian population fell to an estimated 800,000 during the 2003 Iraq War.[2]

Post-war situation

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, violence against Christians rose, with reports of abduction, torture, bombings, and killings.[5] Some Christians were pressured to convert to Islam under threat of death or expulsion, and women were ordered to wear Islamic dress.[5]

In August 2004, International Christian Concern protested an attack by Islamists on Iraqi Christian churches that killed 11 people.[6] In 2006, an Orthodox Christian priest, Boulos Iskander, was beheaded and mutilated despite payment of a ransom, and in 2008, the Assyrian clergyman Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of the Chaldean Catholic church in Mosul died after being abducted.[5] In January 2008, bombs exploded outside nine churches.[5]

In 2010, reports emerged in Mosul of people being stopped in the streets, asked for their identity cards, and shot if they had a first or last name indicating Assyrian or Christian origin.[4] On 31 October 2010, 58 people, including 41 hostages and priests, were killed after an attack on an Assyrian Catholic church in Baghdad.[7] See October 2010 Baghdad church attack. A group affiliated to Al-Qaeda, Islamic State of Iraq, stated that Iraq's indigenous Christians were a "legitimate target."[8] In November, a series of bombings and mortar attacks targeted Assyrian Christian-majority areas of Baghdad.[8]

Half the Christian population has fled, with an estimated 330,000 to Syria and smaller numbers to Jordan.[5] Some fled to Iraqi Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Christians who are too poor or unwilling to leave their ancient homeland have fled mainly to Arbil, particularly its Christian suburb of Ainkawa.[4] 10,000 mainly Assyrian Iraqi Christians live in the U.K. led by Archbishop Athanasios Dawood who has called on the government to accept more refugees.[9]

Apart from emigration, the Iraqi Christians are also declining due to lower rates of birth and higher death rates than their Muslim compatriots. Also since the invasion of Iraq, Assyrian and Armenian Christians have been targeted by extreme Islamic organisations and Arab nationalists.[10]

Relations with non-Christians

Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz's (real name Michael Youkhanna) death sentence was not signed by the Iraqi president in 2010 because the president "sympathise[d] with Tariq Aziz because he is an Iraqi Christian."[11] This also came after appeals from the Holy See not to carry out the sentence.[12]

See also


External links

  • Documentary film 'The last Assyrians', a history of Aramaic speaking Christians
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