Iraq’s Christians ‘close to extinction’

‘Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom,’ says Archbishop Warda

Christianity in Iraq could now be on the brink of completely disappearing – according to one of the country’s most respected Church leaders.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need coinciding with the anniversary of Daesh (ISIS)’s 2014 seizure of Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil stated: “Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest Churches, is perilously close to extinction.”

Archbishop Warda who – with ACN’s backing – oversaw the care of IDPs fleeing Daesh, told the charity that Iraq’s Christian presence has been decimated over the last two decades.

He said: “In the years prior to 2003, we numbered as many as one-and-a-half million – six percent of Iraq’s population.

“Today, there are perhaps as few as 250,000 of us left. Maybe less. Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom.”

Archbishop Warda said that, although Daesh has been driven out of northern Iraq, the radical ideology which spawned it is still present.

“The defeat of Daesh has not seen the defeat of the idea of the re-establishment of the Caliphate…

“And with this idea of the Caliphate there comes all the formal historical structures of intentional inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims.

“I speak here not only of Iraq. We see leaders in other countries in the Middle East who are clearly acting in a way consistent with the re-establishment of the Caliphate.”

Speaking about the Daesh invasion that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians and the loss of their homes and businesses, he said: “Our tormentors confiscated our present while seeking to wipe out our history and destroy our future.

“This was an exceptional situation, but not an isolated one. It was part of the recurring cycle of violence in the Middle East over 1,400 years.”

Adding: “With each successive cycle, the number of Christians falls away, till today we are at the point of extinction.”

The Chaldean archbishop also warned that elements in Islamic thought have facilitated “regular and recurring cycles of violence against us – like the Ottoman genocide of 1916-1922”.

He said: “If you were a Christian in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, you would never accept for one moment the shadow under which we Iraqis live – and under which we have lived for centuries.

“By my country’s constitution we are lesser citizens. We live at the discretion of our self-appointed superiors. Our humanity gives us no rights.”

Archbishop Warda was also highly critical of what he saw as the lack of solidarity that western countries has shown during the attacks on Christians.

He said: “Will you continue to condone this never-ending, organised persecution against us?

“When the next wave of violence begins to hit us, will anyone on your campuses hold demonstrations and carry signs that say, ‘We are all Christians’?

“And yes I do say, the ‘next wave of violence’, for this is simply the natural result of a ruling system that preaches inequality, and justifies persecution. The equation is not complicated.”

He added: “We Christians are a people of Hope. But facing the end also brings us clarity, and with it the courage to finally speak the truth…

“Violence and discrimination against the innocents must end. Those who teach it must stop.”

Archbishop Warda also spoke of the need for forgiveness and reconciliation between the country’s different religious groups.

“And so we say to our Muslim neighbours, learn this from us. Let us help you heal. Your wounds are as deep as ours. We know this. We pray for your healing.  Let us heal our wounded and tortured country together.”

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