Iraqi Christians’ long history

BBC News, UK
Aug 1 2004

Iraqi Christians’ long history

Iraq’s Christians comprise many rites
Christians have inhabited what is modern day Iraq for some two
thousand years, tracing their ancestry to ancient Mesopotamia and
surrounding lands.
Theirs is a long and complex history.

Before the Gulf War in 1991, they numbered about one million, but
that figures is now put at 650,000 and falling.

Under Saddam Hussein, in overwhelmingly Muslim Iraq, some Christians
rose to the top, notably the Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, and
the Baathist regime kept a lid on anti-Christian violence.

Biblical city

In the wake of the 1991 Gulf War and the imposition of sanctions,
many Iraqi Christians, who had lived in relative harmony with their
Muslim neighbours for decades, left to join family in the West.

The secular government of Saddam Hussein largely suppressed
anti-Christian attacks, but it also subjected some communities to its
“relocation programmes”.

For Christians this was particularly marked in the oil-rich areas,
where the authorities tried to create Arab majorities near the
strategic oilfields.

Christians live in the capital, Baghdad, and are also concentrated in
the northern cities of Kirkuk, Irbil and Mosul – once a major
Mesopotamian trading hub known as Nineveh in the Bible.

Most Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics who are
autonomous from Rome but who recognise the Pope’s authority.

Chaldeans are an ancient people, many of whom still speak Aramaic,
the language of Jesus.


The other significant community are Assyrians, the descendants of the
ancient empires of Assyria and Babylonia.

After their empires collapsed in the 6th and 7th Centuries BC, the
Assyrians scattered across the Middle East.

They embraced Christianity in the 1st Century AD, with their Ancient
Church of the East believed to be the oldest in Iraq.

Assyrians also belong to the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Chaldean
Church, and various Protestant denominations.

When Iraq became independent in 1932, the Iraqi military carried out
large-scale massacres of the Assyrians in retaliation for their
collaboration with Britain, the former colonial power.

Their villages were destroyed, and churches and monasteries torn

In recent years, however, some places of worship were rebuilt.

Other ancient Churches include Syrian Catholics, Armenian Orthodox
and Armenian Catholic Christians, who fled from massacres in Turkey
in the early 20th Century.

There are also small Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities,
as well as Anglicans and Evangelicals.