DESPITE years of killings, displacement, and marginalisation, the Church in Iraq is a “missionary” one served by young people proud of their faith, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Mar Bashar Warda, said last week.
Addressing the General Synod four years ago, he had warned that “we are now facing the extinction of Christianity as a religion and as a culture from Mesopotamia” (News, 13 February 2015).
Help from churches around the world had helped Christians to remain, he said last week. But there were now fewer than 300,000. (It is estimated that the population exceeded 1.5 million before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.)
In 2014, Archbishop Warda’s church in Erbil, Kurdistan, received thousands of displaced families overnight, as they fled the arrival of Islamic State (IS) in Mosul and the Nineveh plain (News, 1 August, 2014). Most of them had since returned to “liberated villages”, he said last week. But about 2500 could not go back “because their homes in Mosul are completely destroyed, or the area is not secured yet. Some of them couldn’t find a job.”
While the return of Christians and the reconstruction of homes and churches is under way (News, 24 February 2017), concerns about the fate of minorities in Iraq remain. A report from the charity Minorities Rights Group International called for the mapping of all the mass graves, support for the relatives of victims, and for the forensic analysis of remains (News, 12 August 2016).
“There is no ISIS, but the future is not really quite clear,” Archbishop Warda said. “And all of the potential conflict is there: so many militias controlling the checkpoints, lack of funds for rebuilding the infrastructure, jobs are not there; so that makes it insecure for the Christians, and there is marginalisation.”
Earlier this year, he told the Kurdish news network Rudaw that 6000 families had left to go to Australia, Canada, and the United States, “and there are still lots of them still waiting in Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey, not to mention those who made it to Germany”.
The Kurdish government had been “very welcoming”, he said last week. “We worked with them to really solve so many problems and issues and crises during the time of displacement. . . They made it quite easy for many people to travel to Kurdistan, meet the Christians — that kind of co-operation was really, really important, and it made a difference to the way that we talk about Christians’ existence today.”
Having voted in favour of Kurdish independence in the 2017 referendum (News, 29 September 2017), he spoke last week in favour of the principle: it was “a right”, he said.
Asked about the review of persecuted Christians by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen (News, 10 May), he praised its involvement of local people — “It’s been done from the field” — and spoke in favour of targeting British aid at Christians (News, 23 December 2018).
“We have an example of the Hungarian help, which came directly to the Christian villages, because they went and they made their estimate, and they interviewed people, and they heard and listened to the needs and they responded immediately,” he said. “The same thing with Aid to the Church in Need, the same thing with the Knights of Colombus. These were the initiatives which dealt directly with the church leaders and the church community.”
The Ankawa Foundation was also supporting the diocese through education development and support for mental-health programmes.
The Church was “a living Church,” he said. “Despite the small number, still there is a great spirit of ‘We should be missionaries, and this is why we have so many Muslims coming to know more about Christians. . . We witnessed so many young people being part of the mission of the Church, and that is really uplifting. . .
“You have young people taking pride in being Christian because that is what gives them the identity: ‘We are Christians.’”