A senior cleric in Iraq has said that Christians are being systematically attacked, with the intention of driving them out of the country.
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana, who has been coordinating the humanitarian aid for Christian families in Iraq, told Aid to the Church in Need that neither the government nor the international community had done enough to stem the ongoing exodus of Christians in the region.
He hit out at the Iraqi government for denying that Christians were being specifically targeted and denounced the media for saying that attacks were “not [directed] against Christians but against everyone”.
According to Archdeacon Youkhana, who is from the Assyrian Church of the East, Christians were specifically targeted in recent attacks as part of a “deliberate plan to drive [them] out of Iraq”.
He said the international community had “achieved nothing” in its condemnation of acts of violence such as the October 31st massacre of at least 58 people at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.
Archdeacon Youkhana added that, with the increasing Islamisation of Iraq, Christians were afraid of what might happen in the country in the future.
Describing the growth of extremism, he said that social pressures meant many Christian women no longer left their houses without wearing veils.
And Baghdad University’s music faculty was recently closed after a ruling that music was incompatible with Islamic Shari‘a law.
He said Islamisation affected every aspect of Christians’ daily lives.
Archdeacon Youkhana added that it was “not enough to limit our demands to better protection of the churches, for what about the schools, the homes, their normal everyday life?”
He described how police had warned a Christian engineer not to leave his house or open his door to callers. Police had advised that his shopping be done by neighbours.
“But how is a family to live in such circumstances?” asked the archdeacon.
He said people should be helped to remain in their homes – but added that many were thinking of leaving because their lives were becoming increasingly difficult.
Of the more than one million Christians in Iraq before the US-led invasion of the country in 2003, there were now only around 300,000 left, he said.
According to the archdeacon, every week four flights leave Baghdad bound for the Lebanese capital, Beirut – most of the passengers are Christians.
But he described as “naïve” the idea that Iraqi refugees should move to the West, as such views were indirectly helping to empty Iraq of its Christian presence.
Archdeacon Youkhana said that even in parts of the north free from violence, Christians were leaving because they could see no future for themselves or their families.
He told Aid to the Church in Need that help was desperately needed for families fleeing the 5-million-strong city of Baghdad for the smaller towns of the Ninevah plains.
While many of those fleeing have been educated to university level, they cannot find any work in the north.
The priest said: “On the first day after they have fled all that matters is a safe place to sleep, but later they are going to need jobs, infrastructure, schools.”
He added that Christians worldwide and charities such as Aid to the Church in Need were giving “powerful moral and material solidarity” but that the Church did not have the capacity to provide the entire infrastructure or to effect political change.
Aid to the Church in Need has provided £12,650 for victims of the 31st October massacre at Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Cathedral.
A further £8,450 was sent to poverty-stricken Christians from Baghdad who fled to the Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah.
In Zakho diocese, in the far north of the country, Aid to the Church in Need gave £21,100 to provide food parcels for hundreds of Christian families.
The aid was distributed by Chaldean Sisters of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate.
Archdeacon Youkhana said material support was crucial as “Jesus himself did not merely preach but helped people in real and practical ways”.