Published: 11:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 18 July 2011
Iraqi Christians defy violence against them by opening new church
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Iraq
“This church, and our presence here to celebrate its birth, is the strongest message that we are staying in our land... the forces of extremism are the ones which must change their approach and stop targeting us.”Iraqi Christian
Iraqi Christians have made a defiant move against violent attempts to drive them out of their homeland, by opening the first new church in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Iraqi Churches like this one in Baghdad, have come under frequent attack.
The church in Kirkuk, where Christians have come under repeated attack, was officially opened earlier this month with around 300 people in attendance. It serves a housing complex in a secure location for around 200 Christian families who have fled violence elsewhere in Iraq, notably Baghdad and Mosul.
In a welcome development for Iraq’s beleaguered and marginalised Christian community, the church and complex were built on land donated by the Iraqi government and with donations, including $10,000 by President Jalal Talabani. Hassan Toran, the chief of Kirkuk’s provincial council, said that the local government “will support the Christians, financially and morally”.
Saad Issa Rowi (55) received a home in the complex after leaving Baghdad last year. He said: “Getting the land [for the housing complex] is like a gift from God, a gift to stay in Iraq, die here and be buried here.”
The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen considerably, from around 1.5 million to no more than 400,000, since the Gulf War in 1990-91, when they became inadvertently associated with the Western enemy because of their faith. For this reason they have been repeatedly targeted with violence by Islamists, who intensified their campaign against Christians following the US-led invasion of 2003. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes, either heading to the northern part of Iraq, or leaving the country altogether for neighbouring lands. A hostage siege at a Baghdad church by Al-Qaeda last October that left more than 50 dead, and subsequent targeted attacks against Christians, prompted another flight of Christians from the capital.
Anti-Christian violence has generally been concentrated in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. Numerous Christians have been murdered in Kirkuk. The most recent was Ashur Yacob Issa (29), who was kidnapped on 13 May; when his family could not pay the $100,000 ransom demanded by his abductors, Ashur was murdered. His decapitated body was found dumped on the morning of 16 May. And churches in the northern city, as in other parts of Iraq, have been targeted with bombs.