Baghdad (AsiaNews) – “In Iraq Christians are dying, the Church is disappearing under continued persecution, threats and violence carried out by extremists who are leaving us no choice: conversion or exile”. This is the urgent appeal sent to AsiaNews by msgr. Louis Sako, Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, while reports arrive of car bombs and the death of Christians in the Kurdish area, until now untouched by the confessional violence.
The bishop who is president of Iraq’s Council of Catholic Churches’ Committee for inter religious dialogue , signed a declaration regarding the “tragic situation of Baghdadis Christians”, denouncing militant groups which under the threat of armed violence ask Christians to convert immediately to Islam or to consign their property and leave the country. The same thing happens in Mosul, but with a different “choice”: pay a monetary tribute to the Jihad if they want to avoid their death.
The Iraqi Christian community, at home and abroad, has long urged the local Church to take a stand against the forced evacuation, rape, kidnap, paying a ransom, blackmail, scarring and killing they suffer and the complete lack of protection from the local government and coalition forces. And in the last two days, as the controversial plan to install a secure zone for Christians in the Niniveh plain begins to take shape, the terrorists have begun targeting the zoned area. “It’s almost a political gesture – observes msgr Sako – as if to say: “we can hit anywhere, nowhere is safe”.
The confessional based attacks are no longer just restricted to Baghdad and Mosul, but now target small centres in the North. Yesterday a group of fundamentalists executed 23 yazidi on the road linking Mosul to Ba’ashika, a majority Christian village: they stopped a bus and after having made Arabs and Christians alight they killed the faithful of this ancient religion, based on the strong Good-Evil dualism. Today a car bomb close to a school in Tell-el-skop, a Christian village, and 9 people died including 2 children; 60 were wounded. A convent of Dominican nuns, which is nearby, was badly damaged in the blast.
“We can no longer be silent –explains Msgr. Sako by phone to AsiaNews – we have to remind the world of the importance of the Christian presence in Iraq, for the good of Iraq”. “Christians are one of the oldest constituents of the Iraqi people –he explains in his statement– Since the beginning they have incorporated with its other constituents like the Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Sabea, and Yazedis; playing a pioneering role in the building of the civilization of Iraq. In addition they defended their adherence to the soil and integrity of Iraq courageously and together with their Moslems brothers. Everybody witnesses their loyalty, honesty, wisdom and their desire to live in peace and brotherhood with others. Christians have long lived with Moslems whether Sunnis or Shias in mutual respect and shared the good and the bad days together with them. They have been part of the Islamic culture for the last 14 centuries, by large without problems. Today they want to continue this existence in the spirit of love and under the charter of human rights”.
However in the current situation Christians are targeted as chief conspirators to be exploited or eliminated. They cannot openly profess their faith, the veil is imposed on the women and the crosses are taken down from their churches, threats of kidnappings and extortion weigh heavily over all of them. Msgr Sako lists the violence to which they are submitted on a daily basis: “now a days Christians are suffering in certain areas and cities in Iraq from forced evacuation, rape, kidnap, blackmail, scarring and killing. This unfamiliar behaviour contradicts the Iraqi humanitarian and Islamic morals. Let everybody realize that emptying Iraq of Christians will be disastrous not only for the Christians but for all Iraqis!... Forcing Christians to leave their homes indicates deterioration in the concept of conviviality and furthermore it destroys the cultural, civil and religious mosaic of which Iraq is considered to be the very cradle”.
The appeal signed by Msgr. Sako urges all of the political, religious and cultural communities of Iraq to remain united, because “there is no salvation without our unity. Let the outsider whoever is he, leave and stay away so that the danger of death and the risk of division disappear and vanish and thus permitting life to return to what it once was; a river which flowed in harmony, a river of brotherhood and close unity”.