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by Isabelle Panasi


The Christians of the Middle East are currently on the front page of our newspapers. It seems the Westerner press has just discovered them… and feels sorry for them. However, these Christian peoples, may they be Copts, Assyro-Chaldeo-Syriacs, Armenians, Greeks, Melkites or Maronites, are present in the Middle East for millennia. Indeed, they are the true autochthones of these biblical territories where the Aramaic language was used before the Arabic and the Christendom had created whole civilizations before the Muslim warriors’ conquests.

Today, these Christian peoples are slowly dying. On the one hand, their divisions (actually, there are almost 21 different Eastern Churches) made them weak in front of the various conquests upon them. On the other hand, the emigration rate rose up because of the violence they endure such as kidnappings, threats and attacks. Finally, the ambient Islamism coming from the rich oil countries of the Gulf does not accept any other ideology than the one prescribed by the caliphate.

Iraq, cradle of the three greatest monotheist religions of the world, is victim of the war since more than 10 years. Indeed, during the “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, the Bush government wanted to bring the light in the darkness and put democracy in place of authoritarian regime. However, the Pax Americana led to anything else than an economic, political and humanitarian disorder.

Unfortunately, the Islamic group Daesh could in a few years be organized in a true army able to restore a caliphate and spread the terror among the population. While these lines are being written, they detain almost half of the Iraqi territory. Many Saddam Hussein’s former soldiers supported the cause which targeted Baghdad. The world has reacted but too slowly…

Of course, the whole Iraqi population is victim of this new totalitarian State but the Christians, as minority, are currently in a terrific situation. As a matter of fact, if five thousand Muslims exile, they will still remain the majority. However, regarding the Christians, if five thousand depart, whole villages will be emptied of its population.

Every day, the situation is getting worse. The churches are attacked, priests and bishops are killed, Christian women are kidnapped, and the whole Christian population is intimidated. The bloodiest attack took place on the 1st of November 2010 in the Syriac Catholic Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sayyidat al-Najat, in Baghdad. Partisans of the Islamic group Al Qaida took the lives of 52 believers during the Mass, especially women, children and priests. Furthermore, the height of the discrimination against Christians occurred in Mosul and was to be stigmatized with the letter “noun” (referred to Jesus, from Nazareth) and obliged to paint it on their houses.

In 1987, there were more than 1.4 billion Christian Iraqis. This number has been decreasing to 800 000 in the nineties and 500 000 in 2003. Currently, 350 000 Christians are remaining in Iraq, mostly in the Kurdish region. If this continues, the next twenty years will lead to their complete disappearance in Iraq.

That is why Christians begin to be organized in militias to ensure that their presence on Iraqi ground will not be a souvenir but will be perpetuated for the years to come. They have created small armies to fight against the Daesh such as Dwekh Nawsha and the Nineveh Plain Units. They are however not strong enough. They lack weapons and financial funds. They ask the autonomy of the Nineveh Plain regions to have a limited territory and an international recognition.

Jean-Michel Valognes thought in 1994 that soon there will remain no Christians anymore in the Middle East. He qualified it as “Spiritual Disneyland”, where tourist and vagrants will visit ruins of monasteries, convents, churches and schools, wondering about a distant Christian presence. There will remain of course Christians everywhere in the Eastern region but the wealth of the Eastern Christendom will be lost; this region which welcomed the first Christians, opened the first schools, universities and hospitals, invented the first writing, developed the sciences and the astronomy, translated and transmitted the rich Greek philosophy, was the symbol of civilizations, development and education.

The ethnic diversity in the Middle East has to be taken as a real wealth and not as a vector of conflicts and inequalities. The minorities have to coexist within the region. Indeed the Plural societies have to become Pluralist societies, i.e. to move from coexistence by facts to coexistence by choice. This model of society has to be developed if we want a possible good agreement between ethnos groups and equality in rights and duties between citizens.

The Christians will stay in Iraq but under two conditions. The first one consists of their will to stay and make their cultures survive on their ancestral grounds. The second one would be to give them a real political protection, allowing them to live in security and cultural advancement. It is in reality a challenge for these populations. Only time will tell what it will be.