Christians have lived in Iraq for 2,000 years but this Christmas they’re not celebrating. Under increasing attack from Islamic fundamentalists are they about to be driven from their ancestral homeland?
Meet Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest who serves the largest congregation of Christians in Baghdad. His service this Christmas could be the last Christmas service to be held in the country which has some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. “I dont want to leave the country. But now this has happened, I fear for my daughters” says the mother of Uday a four-year-old boy killed by Islamic extremists, unfortunately it was not an isolated attack. In the last few months over 1,000 families have fled Baghdad after Islamic extremists burst into a church in October, murdering two priests and holding the entire congregation hostage. Now few Christians in Iraq will even attend religious ceremonies for fear of violence. “Even though it’s Christmas, and we love this festival, what can we do? We are sad at the moment, so we won’t celebrate”. At the church where the violence occurred a few still come to worship, the walls behind them still stained with bloody hand prints. “They say to us, the Americans are your people, they’re Christians. They say you brought them here. And they kill us for it”. The American invasion has radicalised many Iraqis and Christians have become identified with the West and are an easy target.
ALSO… in Turkey
Diba is a Christian who left Turkey 23 years ago after Muslims killed her brother. Today she returns , hoping she can live there in peace. What she finds is a smaller Christian community still living with fear and uncertainty?
“It was much better here before. We were with thousands. All churches were full. But now our people are gone”, says Diba as she pores over her photos of a now disappearing culture. Her face expresses the immeasurable sadness of a vanishing people. Despite her return the future looks bleak for the remaining Assyrian Christians in Turkey. While Turkey claims to be a secular country intolerance still abounds. “What the issue is here, is that there is no real mentality of freedom of religion. There is just one religion here, Islam”. says Ria Oomen-Ruijten, a representative of the European Union in Turkey, as she explains the frequent attacks on Christians in Turkey; one man was attacked by a fundamentalist with a knife in broad daylight on a street in Istanbul. It is this culture of intolerance that is driving the remaining Monks from Dor Gabriel, one of the oldest sanctuaries of the Turkish Christian community. Yet Diba is not about to give up. She sees a different future for Christians in Turkey and is willing to fight for it. “Our dream? We will fight for our land. We will stay on our land. That is what we will try”.
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