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We're staying and we will resist.
Ms Sans Serif
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[quote:Anonymous Coward 164881:MV8zMTI3MDZfNTM0ODk1M19CQ0Y4RDAy] 'We're staying and we will resist' While the Pope tries to build bridges in Turkey, the precarious plight of Iraq's Christians gets only worse, writes Jonathan Steele from Mosul Jonathan Steele in Mosul Thursday November 30, 2006 Guardian Unlimited Whatever harm Benedict XVI's incendiary remarks about Islam and the prophet Mohammed did for his image in Turkey, which his visit there is trying to repair this week, they were devastating in Iraq. The country's small Christian community now lives in fear after extremists threatened to kill all Christians unless the Pope apologised. Churches cancelled services and congregations shrank as people stayed at home. According to the latest bimonthly report on human rights by the UN mission in Iraq, Baghdad churches put up banners dissociating themselves from the Pope's quotation in a speech in September of a medieval Byzantine emperor saying that Islam had brought the world no good. Article continues Mosul contains Iraq's most ancient Christian churches, clustered close together in the old city on a cliff above the Tigris. They suffered the most violent reaction. Rockets were fired at the Chaldean church of the Holy Spirit and a bomb went off by its main door. Unknown gunmen fired at a convent of Dominican sisters and the church of al-Safena. Kidnappers seized Paulos Eskander, a Syriac Orthodox priest, in early October and demanded that his church put up posters denouncing the Pope's remarks as well as a ransom in cash. Although the church promptly complied with the poster demand, the priest's decapitated body was found two days later, showing signs of torture, before the money was paid. Christians in northern Iraq were under severe pressure even before the Pope's ill-considered comments. Thousands have fled in recent months to Syria or the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Every Christian town and village on the Nineveh plain east of Mosul now has its own armed guards. "They are answerable to me", said Sarkis Aghajan, an Assyrian who is the Christians' main political leader in the north. Based in Irbil, he also serves as one of two finance ministers in the Kurdish regional government. "No one, neither the Kurds nor the Arabs can prevent us establishing these forces - not even the Americans. When they were killing and beheading us, no one came to our protection." The Assyrians count themselves as Iraq's original inhabitants. Their ancestors built Nineveh and Babylon and the other great cities of Mesopotamia. They were also the area's first converts to Christianity. Their language, even today, is Aramaic. The latest wave of persecution follows a pattern that is all too familiar. "We have been massacred for two thousand years. They always say we're agents of the west", said Mr Saghajan. The current move to push them out of Mosul is the fifth time Christians have been under major threat in the region in less than a century, he added. Iraq's armed forces destroyed Christian villages in Kurdistan in 1933, forcing thousands to flee to Syria. Baghdad's war on the Kurds saw three more waves, culminating in the notorious Anfal campaign for which Saddam Hussein is currently on trial in Baghdad. This time, says Mr Aghajan, Christians are not going to be pushed out. Referring to the armed guards his churches have recruited - he does not like the word "militias" - he declares: "We've decided to stay and we will resist." His brave words come late in the day. Iraq's Christian community numbered 1.4 million in 1980 at the start of Iraq's war on Iran. By April 2003, when the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, it was down to 800,000, according to Mr Aghajan. Since then the lawlessness, car-bombings and sectarian conflict have cut it to 500,000, of whom 250,000 live in Baghdad. Christians often ran businesses selling alcohol. In Basra and other Shia cities of the south, as well as Shia suburbs of Baghdad where Islamist parties are strong, they have been forced to close. Many Christians worked on US bases as cleaners and laundry workers, often hired because the Americans felt non-Muslims were less of a security risk. This caused them to be targeted by insurgents as "collaborators". Like the Mosul Christians, many of those from Baghdad have fled to Kurdistan. At St Joseph's church in Irbil, which is packed for the weekly service on Friday evenings, few families are willing to talk. They shrink when a visitor introduces himself as a journalist. A car salesman from Mosul now runs a small clothing shop near the church. He agreed to speak but without giving his name. "We left our house in a hurry, and couldn't bring any of our furniture. A bomb had gone off right outside," he said. It was shortly before the Pope made his notorious comments. He is glad he got out in time. :yoda: [/quote]
link to www.guardian.co.uk
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