The Main Reason Behind the Migration of Iraqi Christians and Minorities: Constant Discrimination and Uncertain Future!
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako
Christians and other minorities played a significant role in enriching Iraq’s cultural, social and economic diversity, making valuable contributions to education, health, public administration and social services. This diversity created a beautiful mosaic of ethnic, religious, cultural, linguistic and traditional components. In the 1970s, Christians were about 5 % of Iraq’s population, and after the fall of the previous regime in 2003, their percentage dropped down to less than 2% due to being terrorists’ violence target, (e.g. Eastern Christians in the 1960s were 20%, while they are about 4% today). So, this “silence” and the absence of serious steps to change their situation, will push the remaining Christians and minorities to choose emigration, which will affect negatively this beautiful national cultural diversity, and distort it. However, a country with one homogenous fabric could be isolated from the world and may generate a kind of radicalism, ethnic and sectarian fanaticism. Therefore, Government priority should be, to preserve and protect the Christian and minorities’ rights and identity.
Decline in the noticeable historical presence of Christians and minorities is due to several factors: Institutional weakness at the level of justice; chaos; equality; fragility of the security situation; and the competition for personal benefits away from integrity and principle. Moreover, racial discrimination against them on daily practices including education, employment and social life, particularly against young people with higher education ambition, and employability. For example, Maryam Maher is a young Christian graduate (female) with high grades has been listed by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (HESR) among the outstanding graduates of the college for the academic year 2016-2017, with a recommendation to be appointed, but the implementing agency ignored that because she is Christian! Another example is the issuance of an official letter from the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers Dr. Mahdi Mohsen Al-Alak, on 27/1/2019 to replace the current President of the University of Hamdanyia with a more efficient Christian Professor, but the decision was not implemented also. What kind of law is this? A third example is of yesterday’s incident when 3 Christian women in Bartella were harshly beaten and robbed!
On the other hand, the terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda and ISIS are considered the most “painful” since “Sifa” massacre – of the World War I – that contributed to Christians’ suffering and injustice, where they were displaced from their homes and towns, in addition to the destruction of their buildings; Churches that have been turned to ruins; as well as erasing their crosses, statues and other religious symbols, urging them to leave their homes and areas.
Images of discrimination against Christians and minorities:
Political Positions: According to the “quota” of the Iraqi Parliament, five representatives of Christian component should be elected. However, the major “political parties” intervene in the process by supporting certain candidates for their own benefit, “stealing” Christians’ right in having this privilege, since the reality, showed that such “elected Parliament members” do not care about the Christian component, and have done nothing in terms of providing services to them. The same thing applies to the election in municipal and administrative councils!
Personal Status Law: Christians and other religious minorities do not have their own “special” courts, so they have to be subjugated to Islamic court, in terms of spiritual, religious matters, marriages, inheritance etc. We wonder, why don’t we apply a civil law for all Iraqis? as is the case in most countries of the world.
The Office of Endowment: The mission of which is to follow up the affairs of the Churches and Temples of the Yazidi and Sabean Mandaean religions focusing on the legal, real estate and maintenance aspects. Also, to take care of the school curricula to ensure their compatibility with religious and national values. Unfortunately, this office is “hindered” by its’ simple budget and limited allocation; in addition to the persistent delay of the executive authorities, in attempt to stop endowment projects.
All these oppressive factors, are actually threatening and affecting Christians’ and minorities historical and cultural existence. It also contributed collectively to make their “path way” awful, foggy and fearful of the future, especially in facing the silence of decision makers in the Iraqi Government. Even though, Christians are known for being loyal to their homeland and have paid a precious price for that.
Work Plan is Needed:
During our meetings with Government Officials, it is important to sense their good intentions, which is not enough. The actual need is for practical measures or steps that might change the reality. Christians and minorities are eager to see “practical solutions”, after all the injustice and discrimination they have endured along the years. Their desire is to practice their lives and their faith freely as Iraqi citizens; and their rights to be respected in order to contribute positively to the prosperity of their country. Below are some ideas that deserve a follow-up, support and encouragement from the Iraqi Government, hopefully:
- Iraqi leaders and political “powers” must put their political differences aside, and be the voice of moderation, national sovereignty and tolerance. They should search seriously for a solution to the existing problems and eliminate the above factors from its’ roots, in particular, religious extremism that uses violence. It is worth mentioning here that religion came for the sake of man, to rationalize his mind and heart; urge him to virtue and avoid immorality; treat everyone with compassion, in order to live in peace and joy. Hence, crimes that we commit in the name of religion and in the name of God, Who we worship, are mortal sins. We must apologize for committing it and avoid it, by all means.
- The Iraqi government must seriously make the fundamental reforms including: the application of the law with no fear or favouritism; disarming militias; providing security and stability; combating extremism, discrimination, terrorism and corruption, using qualification and competence as a measure for employment. Example for the unfairness in employing people from the Christian component is disregarding the compensatory law of employing Christians to replace their Christian colleague who “resigned, left the job for different reasons or retired, this law was approved by the Council of Ministers in 2018. In my previous article, I described Christians as “deferred migrants” facing an absent government stance, where I reported many cases of injustice against Christians.
- Iraqi constitution should respect the right of peaceful existing in spite of being different and diverse, by adopting a contemporary civil political “policy” that promotes citizenship values; achieves the principles of freedom, dignity, democracy, social justice and true relationship among all Iraqi citizens regardless of their religious, cultural and ethnic affiliations; and promotes coexistence with Muslims. This way, Iraq will be the land of love and peace.
- Iraqi laws ought to provide good conditions that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities the full citizenship and freedom in practicing their faiths explicitly; preserve their heritage, archaeological and historical monuments as an integral part of Iraqi civilization, in order to enable them to continue their lives with dignity. Christians and minorities are longing for a humankind society in which people respect each other.
Despite the painful experience and suffering of Iraqi Christians and minorities, caused by successive terrorist incidents along the years. I believe that this is the only way, to encourage those, who are currently living in the neighbouring countries or in diaspora (as migrants), to think about returning home, especially that the homeland is still alive in their hearts and conscience.