For Religious Tolerance: To be a Christian is difficult in Iraq

Many Iraqi Christians flee to the West whereas politicians urge Christians not to leave their country.

For many Iraqi Christians – except those in Kurdistan Region, which is their only safe haven – lack of security is not the only difficulty they face; lack of freedom is perhaps the most difficult. Iraqi universities used to be a tolerance place; religion was not a matter of discrimination. But now, some Christian students, especially females, do not feel comfortable at university.

One such university student quit college in Mosul after being threatened. “Gradually Mosul University is becoming more religious. Most of the Muslim girls are covering themselves; since I am Christian and wear a skirt, many students looked at me strangely. During last year’s Ramadan (Muslim’s holy month) I was threatened in an anonymous phone call. He told me to wear a veil or leave the university,” said the female student who now lives in Erbil city. She requested anonymity because sometime she visits her relatives in Mosul province.

She mentioned that some Muslim girls at the university also wear Hijab (Islamic veil) against their will. Mosul city has been taken over by extremism; Muslim girls do not want to put their lives at risk for the sake of style.

Bodybuilding is a very famous sport in Iraq. Inside the gyms, walls are covered by mirrors and athletes look at their development every minute. Haitham Petros quit going to gym because he has a tattoo of a cross on his arm. He didn’t want to expose his Christianity. “I was scared that maybe someone would inform terrorists that I am Christian,” said Petros.

Janet Gorgis is a Christian woman from Baghdad. She is around 45 years old and has three children, “First we want freedom, then security.” Gorgis said Christian freedom in Baghdad narrows daily and being Christian is becoming more and more difficult. “It is difficult to work in government establishments; it is difficult to be a student at university and it is even difficult to walk on the street as Christians.” She remarked that her neighbors are Muslim and from time to time they complain that Christians do not wear “suitable” dress or Christian women do not cover themselves when they go shopping or to work. “I try to keep my mouth shut; I don’t reply because we are a minority–we are weak.” Gorgis’ family plans to go to Turkey in the coming weeks to visit a number of European embassies and ask for asylum. She said even if they were rejected, they would not return to Iraq; they would stay in Turkey.

Turkish media has reported that after the Baghdad church attack, dozens of Iraqi Christians arrived in Turkey as refugees. According to Turkey’s media, every week about 150 Iraqi Christians arrive in Turkey, many of them hoping to reach European countries.

Last October 31, a group of gunmen attacked the Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral Church in Baghdad, leaving 70 dead and 75 wounded. Among the dead were women, children and two priests. It was one of the worst attacks against Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority in recent years.

After the attack, top officials from France and Germany stated that they are ready to accept a number of Iraqi Christian asylum seekers, and the move was strongly criticized by Iraqi leaders, including a number of Iraqi Christian politicians. They said the West should not encourage Christians to exit Iraq.

“We absolutely [are against] our people leaving this country. We have been part of Iraq for thousands of years; Iraq is our original land,” said Romeo Hakari, General Secretary of Bet Nahrain Democratic Party, a Christian Party. Hakari said the international community can improve the life of Christian people inside Iraq, and he demanded the Iraqi government build special military units from Christians to protect Christian communities in the country.

Christians have five seats in Iraqi Parliament and five seats in Kurdistan Region’ Parliament. Iraqi Christians like Lebanese Christians do not have one united voice, and there are disputes among them. Some parties want an autonomous region for Christians in Iraq, a region to be protected and ruled by Christians, while others are against the idea and want Christians to live among Muslims.

The Kurdish Globe

Qassim Khidir – Erbil

November 28, 2010



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