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

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick