Sunday, April 04, 2010

Iraq / Violence against Christians

Iraqi Christians under Fire
By Edward Stourton
The Telegraph, April 3, 2010
"Fr. Rayan Paulos Atto showed me an elaborately decorated bronze and glass case mounted on the wall near the altar of his airy modern church in Erbil. It was a reliquary, a showcase for displaying a relic of a saint or martyr -- the sort of thing you might find gathering dust in the sacristy of some venerable Italian basilica. Fr. Rayan's reliquary contains a miniature icon of the Virgin which is spattered with tiny droplets of blood -- the blood of his closest friend, a priest gunned down on the steps of his church in the name of Islam. For Christians in Iraq today the possibility of martyrdom is an ever present reality, not a historical curiosity. The campaign of violence against Christians is one of the most under-reported stories of Iraq since the invasion of 2003. And it could change the country's character in a fundamental way; by the time the dust finally settles on the chaotic current chapter of Iraq's history, the Christian community may have disappeared altogether -- after 2,000 years as a significant presence. About 200,000 Iraqi Christians have
already fled the country; they once made up three per cent of its population, and they now account for half of its refugees. Erbil, in northern Iraq, has become a magnet for Christian refugees who are too poor to leave Iraq or do not want to abandon their country. It is the seat of the Kurdish Regional Government, which treats the Christians well; it is safe; and there is an established Christian community to welcome them. Many of them gravitate towards the traditionally Christian suburb of Ainkawa. ... Almost every day refugee families turn up from Mosul or Baghdad asking for Fr. Rayan's help in starting a new life. And with them they bring stories of the continuing horror they have left behind. The latest trend in Mosul is young men and women being stopped on the street and asked for their identity cards -- and shot if their names reveal their Christian origins. 'They used to ask for money first,' Fr. Rayan said. 'Now they just kill them right away.' [...]"