06/06/2008, 00.00
IRAQ
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Iraq’s Christian cultural heritage belongs to all, let us save it!

by + Louis Sako
Kirkuk’s Chaldean archbishop appeals to UNESCO. The Christian exodus from Iraq jeopardises the survival of churches and manuscripts found nowhere else in the world. The United Nations and the international community should do something.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – The exodus that is emptying Iraq of its two-thousand-year-old Christian community could wipe out its rich cultural heritage which has survived for centuries in this land. If emigration continues at the present rate in just a few years not only will the country be deprived of one the oldest components of its population but the world will lose a great legacy.

What will happen to very ancient churches and monasteries like the Church of Koche on the outskirts of Baghdad, Tahira, Mar Isaiyia, Miskenta, St Thomas, Marhudeini, the Monastery of St Michael in Mosul and Kirkuk’s Red Church (all dating back to between the 5th and the 7th centuries AD)? What will happen to ancient manuscripts and a language—Aramaic—unknown to the rest of the world, if those who have always guaranteed its life and conservation disappear?

With the help of the international community we must save these assets from the neglect in which they find themselves at present because of insecurity and from potential destruction if their integrity is compromised by military operations.

For this reason I propose the creation of a Christian museum that could bring together under one roof all that has been accumulated in this land over time.

Filming these buildings and manuscripts as well as documenting this heritage, which is part of the world’s and humanity’s heritage, are tasks for UNESCO.

Christianity in Iraq goes back to the first century AD, when St Thomas the Apostle arrived in the Land between the Two Rivers.

Thereafter it grew and developed, reached its highest point in the 4th century when the Church of Mesopotamia became a missionary Church, sending missionaries as far as India and China. Indeed Christians have been pioneers in Iraq’s civilisation.

Even after the Muslim conquest Christians continued to actively contribute to the cultural development of the Arab world through literature, philosophy, astronomy, physics, mathematics and medicine.

From the start Christians blended in with other ethnic and religious groups (Kurds, Turkmen and Yazidis) who, along with their Muslim brethren, have always and courageously defended the integrity of the country. They are witnesses to loyalty, fidelity, honesty and a willingness to live in peace and brotherhood with others. For 14 centuries they have lived in the context of an Islamic culture defined by mutual respect.

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