Iraq has for centuries been the home of religious groups with a presence on Iraqi soil dating back many centuries. Christianity took root in Iraq in the second century of the common era. Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus is a common language of worship among Christians in this country. Indeed, a small number of people in some villages still speak Aramaic in their homes and in the street.
The Mandaeans, a pacifist gnostic group that reveres John the Baptist and prohibits circumcision still exists in Iraq.
The Yazidis, whose religion is a mix of Zoroastrianism, Islam, gnosticism and other faiths predate Islam as well.
All of these religious minorities are a living link to the faiths with which we are now familiar. And all of these faiths are in danger of being driven from Iraq by terrorism in the name of Islam The BBC reports as follows on the precarious existence of Iraq’s religious minorities.
Untold until now is the story of ‘a campaign of liquidation’ against Iraq’s religious minorities who, post invasion, have had to endure torture, killings, forced conversions and exile.
As troops move out of Iraq, and in the wake of elections, US and British politicians refer to ‘the emergence of a pluralistic democracy’.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako, of Kirkuk, begs to differ, “200,000 Christians fleeing Mosul alone, in fear of their lives, and 1,000 murdered, is not much of a basis for pluralism or democracy”.
It’s not just Christians who suffer. Both Mandaeans, who speak Aramaic – the language of Christ – and the Yazidis, goldsmiths with a history going back further than Christianity or Islam, are fast disappearing, too.
“Does nobody care about what is going on here?” asks Archbishop Sako.
“It’s nothing less than the destruction of our ancient and honoured heritage, and our religious and cultural traditions.”
Many Christians, Mandaeans and other members of Iraq’s minority faith communities have fled Iraq to diaspora communities around the world. Others languish in refugee centers in Jordan and elsewhere where they await permission to settle permanently in countries of refuge abroad. In America, approval for asylum is agonizingly slow. Cutting red tape for these most helpless victims of the war in Iraq should be the highest priority.
Even if the physical survival of Iraq’s religious minorities can be assured, their endurance as distinct religious groups is endangered by the displacement they have endured in the aftermath of the war in Iraq.
It is important that the world show its support for Christians, Mandaeans and Yazidis in Iraq, whether they choose to remain there or not. Concerns for their safety should be made clear to the Iraqi government. A desire to welcome them should be made clear to the American government as well.
There are organizations helping refugees from Iraq. The Mandaean Associations Union accepts donations. Refugees International also does work with Iraqi refugees. The Chaldean Federation of America also does humanitarian work with refugees from Iraq.
Even when they are not in the headlines, Iraq’s religious minorities continue to suffer. It is important that they be remembered and assisted for as long as necessary until they are all settled in peaceful circumstances. They must not be ignored. They must not be forgotten.