Tags: Iraq | Middle East | Pope Francis | Religion | christians | bartella | shabak

Iraq's Christian Communities Endangered

iraqi christians attend christmas mass and hold candles
A young girl prays while attending a Christmas Day mass at Mar Hanna church in Qaraqosh in Mosul, Iraq. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 05 March 2021 02:47 PM

Iraq's ancient Christian communities heave steadily lost ''their traditional Christian character,'' according to a new report from The New York Times that comes ahead of Pope Francis' visit to the region.

The pope will conduct the first ever papal trip to Iraq later this week, where he will meet with some of the remaining Christians, whose numbers have drastically shrunk to less than one-third of the 1.5 million who previously lived there before the U.S. invaded in 2003.

In Bartella, a small town in northern Iraq, the local Syriac Orthodox Christian priest, the Rev. Yacoub Saadi, noted that ''When you enter, you don't feel you are entering a Christian area. You feel you are entering Karbala or Najaf,'' naming the Shiite holy cities located in southern Iraq.

Most residents of Bartella identify as Shabak, a small ethnic and linguistic minority group that is predominantly Shiite Muslim, and was forced to hide their culture during the reign of Saddam Hussein. 

The Times notes, ''That leaves church officials in Bartella, in their effort to retain the town's diminishing Christian identity, effectively discriminating against another marginalized group,'' by using power given to the church by the Iraqi government to stop development projects that could cause more Shabaks and other non-Christians to move to the town.

One construction project, which would have built homes and centers for shopping and sports, was abandoned because of the church, according to a local Catholic priest, the Rev. Banham Lalo.

''The project was stopped by the church,'' Lalo said. ''People from other areas will buy these houses, from Mosul and from Baghdad. It paves the way for demographic change.''

Saad Qado, the director of the local radio station Voice of Shabak, said that ''Christians ask for their rights and they call themselves oppressed but they are not. We are oppressed. They have everything.''

He added, ''I can take you to Shabak villages that don't have clean water to drink or a hospital even. Some of the villages don't have schools, but no one cares about us.''

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Iraq's ancient Christian communities heave steadily lost "their traditional Christian character," according to a new report from The New York Times that comes ahead of Pope Francis' visit to the region. The pope will conduct the first ever papal trip to Iraq later this week...
christians, bartella, shabak, islam, shiite
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2021-47-05
Friday, 05 March 2021 02:47 PM
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