Iraqi Christians slowly fleeing to Syria

Associated Press
Aug 3 2004

Iraqi Christians slowly fleeing to Syria
Pressure from Islamists forcing minority out, exiles say


DAMASCUS, Syria – In small but steady numbers, Iraqi Christians are
moving to Syria to escape the threats and violence of Islamic
extremists, say Iraqi Christian exiles.

“The religious and ethnic pressure on us is tremendous,” said
Shamasha Muayad Shamoun Georges, 45, a deacon of the Chaldean Solaqa
Church in Baghdad, who fled to Syria two weeks ago with his wife and
five children.

Georges said the pressure comes from “Muslim extremists,” not from
the interim Iraqi government, which has a Christian as minister of
immigration and refugees.

During Sunday evening mass, suspected Islamic militants set off a
series of explosions at five churches in Baghdad and the northern
Iraqi city of Mosul, killing at least seven people and wounding
dozens. It was the first major assault on Iraq’s Christian minority
since the Iraqi war began last year.

Christians number about 750,000 people among Iraq’s total population
of about 25 million. They include the Chaldean-Assyrians, the
majority sect, Armenians – one of whose churches was bombed on
Sunday, Syrian Catholics and Syrian Orthodox.

Islamic militants have told Christian owners of liquor stores to
close down their businesses, and they have threatened Christians who
run beauty salons and shops selling fashionable clothes.

Georges said he does not expect such pressure to end soon.

Another Iraqi Christian in Syria, Jacqueline Isho, said that when
Christians complain to the authorities in Iraq, they are “always

“Some police sympathize with, or support, those Islamists and gangs,”
Isho said.

Scores of Iraqi Christian families move to Syria and Jordan every
day, according to Emanuel Khoshaba, a representative of the Iraqi
Assyrian Democratic Movement in Syria.

Khoshaba said there are now 10,000 Iraqi Christians in Syria, and 90
percent of them arrived after the Iraqi war began in March last year.
Such figures could not be confirmed with government officials as
Syrian and Jordanian immigration forms do not ask a person’s

“I have run away because gangs kept on threatening me,” said Adeeb
Goga Matti, 48, who belongs to a wealthy Chaldean-Assyrian family in

He said his 10-year-old nephew, Patrous Yakou, was kidnapped at the
end of 2003 and released only after his family paid a ransom of
$15,000 (U.S.).

After the kidnapping, Matti stopped sending his four children to

“Chaldean-Assyrians are the easiest targets for gangsters because
they don’t belong to a tribal system like other Iraqis,” Matti
stressed. Muslim Iraqis tend to belong to clans who rally round and
protect their members.

Matti is in Damascus applying for a visa to Australia. Iraqi
Christians in Syria are also applying to emigrate to Canada, the
United States and other Western countries.

Albert Sargon, 24, and his wife, Suhat, 26, left Iraq last month.

“I ran away from threatening messages sent by Islamists because I was
working as a cook for Americans,” Sargon said.

He and his wife do not plan to return.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress