Mark Seddon: We may be witnessing a new age of Christian persecution

Share
Related Topics

In villages and monasteries in northern Iraq, and in churches in Baghdad, Irbil and Mosul, it is still possible to hear Assyrian Christians talking and praying in ancient Aramaic, said to be the language of Christ. Fewer in number now, the Assyrians are the direct descendants of the empires of Assyria and Babylonia, the original inhabitants of Mesopotamia. The Church of the East, currently presided over by Archbishop Gewargis Sliwa in Baghdad is the world's oldest Christian church.

Before the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi Christian population numbered some one and half million. By and large, Saddam's Ba'athist government didn't discriminate against the country's minorities; indeed, Iraq's veteran Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz was the most visible of the country's Christians. Today, barely 400,000 remain, with church leaders claiming that organised ethnic cleansing is taking place, unchallenged. Iraq's Christians have in the past been accused of collaborating with Britain and America, and while both Sunni and Shia political leaders say they want Iraq's Christians to remain, some church leaders are urging their remaining flock to abandon Iraq before it is too late and they are massacred.

If al-Qa'ida has its way, this ancient culture and people will soon be no more. In recent days, grenade and bomb attacks killed two more Christians and injured 18 more in Baghdad. Motorcyclists drove down streets, targeting Christian homes. Back in October, suicide bombers attacked the Church of Our Salvation in Baghdad, killing 58, before – and this was unreported at the time – grotesquely blowing themselves up, along with a child hostage, at the altar. In a statement afterwards, al-Qa'ida said: "Christians are a legitimate target."

Tensions between Muslims and Christians are not confined to Iraq: yesterday morning, at least seven people were killed and 24 injured in an explosion at a Coptic Christian church, possibly in retaliation for the rape of a Muslim girl.

Several years ago, I helped set up Save the Assyrians, to put pressure on Iraq to protect its minorities. The campaign had all-party support in Britain and a role in persuading the European Parliament to work with the Iraqi authorities to acknowledge the rights of Iraq's Christians. Britain has a special responsibility towards the Assyrians, who helped the British to police Iraq in the early years of the last century. Thousands were massacred in 1932 for "collaborating".

Now, Iraq's remaining Christians want an autonomous Christian province in their ancient Ninevah Plains homeland in northern Iraq. While Britain or the US may not help their cause, for obvious reasons, the UN, EU and Commonwealth could add their not inconsiderable weight. President Talabani of Iraq declared in November that he had "no objection to a Christian province in Iraq". One Assyrian exile in Britain, however, told me, "They keep talking, but nothing happens."

There is a widespread view among the Iraqi Christian diaspora that their government is simply allowing what some now see as an inevitable and unstoppable exodus of one of the world's most ancient civilisations.

Al-Qa'ida will have judged that a continuing campaign of terror could send Iraq's remaining Christians fleeing within a decade. The terrible irony is that the fate of Iraq's ancient Christian communities may have been sealed when the avowedly Christian leaders of Britain and America decided to topple Saddam Hussein.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine