06/08/2007, 00.00
IRAQ
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Kidnapped Chaldean Priest : No to the Niniveh plain ethnic project

by Saad Hanna Sirop*
Opposition to the “Assyrian” ghetto to save Iraq’s persecuted Christians today finds a qualified representative: Fr. Saad Hanna Sirop, one of the first Chaldean priests to have been kidnapped in Baghdad, and for whose release Benedict XVI intervened. A victim of Iraq’s violent anti Christian persecution, he too views the idea of an ethnic-religious enclave as diametrically opposed to Iraq’s history and the purpose of evangelization. Moreover, Fr. Saad maintains that the project’s real aim is not protection of the Chaldean and Assyrian Christians, but to protect ambitious “personal and economic interests”.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The Christian message is a universal one, which appeals to all men in all ages:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28, 21). Jesus of Nazareth was criticised because of his openness to all peoples, which created unease within the Jewish community of the time.  A Christian, born of this truth, makes “his homeland” there where he is called to live, bringing to that land the message of truth and of salvation.

Iraq’s Christians have always been present, in all areas of the nation:  from North to South, from East to West.  Historical data is abundant and difficult to counter; it is confirmed in every history book and by experts on the History of Iraq.  Among them all I choose to quote Fr Albert Abouna’s books on the history of the Church, a reliable academic and excellent scholar on Iraq’s ecclesial history.

Christians have long sought to live in peace within the greater community, by earning other peoples respect through their example of a peaceful existence.  Down through the centuries they actively participated in the building of the nation and in the restoration of it’s’ culture, proving themselves true citizens, without ever lending their support to an ethnic or religious utopia.  Rather they attempted to show their complete openness to human values wherever they could be found.

Today Christians can be found in Basra, Emara, Baghdad, Ramadi (Falluja), Samara, Kirkuk, Mosul, Erbil, Dihok… This fact proves that Christian conscience is motivated by a desire to be children of the land, brothers and sisters to all men and women, citizens of this country.  All of these terms (land, brother, and country) indicate the universal aspect, the openness to others, which are at the heart of the Christian message.

Ambitions and political projects

The project of a region for Christian’s e a political dream borne of a political ideology which has as its objective the restoration of the lost empire (the Northern Assyrian Empire).  It is almost certainly tainted with the political ambition of some Christian Politicians [and] foreign bishops who want to have an area to govern and a political seat that can guarantee them personal and economic benefits.

The political confusion of post-war Iraq dominated by the ethnic issue, has favoured the idea of a region dedicated to Christians.  In order to concretely realise this, the American card is being played.  They would not impede the creation of such a region – based on a specially adapted form democracy – in fact, they would actively participate in its’ creation.  Furthermore, this “Christian” zone would serve to separate Kurdistan’s Kurds from the Sunni Arab area, weakening the positions of the various participants in Iraq’s political process.  The project would give the Kurds the possibility to have a Christian presence that would strengthen their position as a democratic people, capable of protecting the rights of the peoples within it’s’ territories.

An added factor is that some Foreign Chaldean bishops are in favour of this political project, openly supporting political parties of ethnic origins, propelled by ethnic-religious motivations.

Dangers facing Christians

The Nineveh Plain project would have enormous consequences for the Christian community:

  1. From a political point of view, it would make it appear that Christians harbour ambitions for an ethnically divided Iraq, which – as is plain for all to see – is the root cause of the violence in Iraq.  
  2. From the political-parliamentary point of view, it would force the entry of Christian parties, born in the wake of the war and based on an ethnic concept of Christianity, onto the political playing field.  
  3. From a social point of view, it would favour class divisions within the Christian community itself.   
  4. From a historical-cultural point of view, it would damage the historic reality of Iraqi Christianity which has always collaborated with others across the country to build Iraq’s culture.  
  5. From a religious point of view, it would gravely undermine the Christian message in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.    

What needs to be done?

In this climate of political division and ethnic fragmentation we must gather strength to rebuild bridges and reunify the nations’ people, and Christians can lend much to this process:

  1. They must seek to support a national project which favours a united Iraq, by concentrating themselves on the idea of citizenship and not on the concept of an ethnic or religious tradition.
  2. The idea of Christian Zone would only serve to augment ethnic and religious hatred, thus Christians must adopt a language promoting unity among Christians.  
  3. They must work for a true and lasting reconciliation between all members of society through meetings of great religious value.
  4. They must unify the Christian political message and work together with all existing political parties, to the exclusion of no one person or group for ethnic or sectarian reasons (Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrians, Armenians, and Arabs), and to build a Christian politics that is faithful to Gospel principals and the Churches teachings.

 

* P. Saad Hanna Sirop, 35, was kidnapped August 15th 2006.  For 27 days he was held hostage, tortured and beaten.  Benedict XVI appealed for his release.  The young priest, ordained in Rome in 2001, was head of the Theological faculty of Babel College, the Christian University of Religious studies in Baghdad.  Because of his abduction and the rising wave of insecurity in Baghdad, Babel College was transferred to Erbil in Kurdistan. Fr. Saad Sirop is currently furthering his studies in Rome

 

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