While the world’s attention has shifted to such countries as Syria, Egypt, and Afghanistan, the mass movement of Christians in Iraq continues unabated. Today not only are Christians fleeing from the far southern cities of Baghdad and Basra, they also are moving from the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul that not long ago had large Christian communities.
In the far north of the country, in the town of Ankawa, a suburb of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, a growing number of Kurdish Christians are trying to carve out a life away from the violence of Mosul and Baghdad. Archbishop Bashar Warda estimates that 1,500 people have fled to the protection of Ankawa just in the past 12 months. Ankawa has grown from a population of 8,500 in the mid 1990s to more than 25,500 now in 2011.
While there is relative safety here in Ankawa, the challenges of life are immense for these displaced persons, notes an Open Doors worker specializing on Iraq. “Because many of the Iraqi Christians that have fled Mosul or Baghdad speak Arabic, they often have no access to the Christian community that speaks their language as in the north, traditional Chaldean or Assyrian languages are spoken,” he observes. These circumstances result in loss of income and high unemployment, problems finding adequate housing, inadequate medical care, and difficulty obtaining schooling for their. Problems such as these are why some Christians who relocate in the Kurdish section want to leave Iraq and seek a better future abroad.
Open Doors has been involved with supporting Christian refugees such as those in Ankawa with loans and grants to start small businesses, an effective tool to encourage them to stay in their country. Open Doors is also helping refugees with vocational training. The children of the IDPs (Internally Displaced People) are being supported through trauma counseling. Additionally, Open Doors is training Iraqi church leaders in the Word, delivering Bibles and Christian literature to the Christians in the country, and facilitating translation of the Bible into Kurdish dialects.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the violence remains relentless. Bassam Isho is called a martyr in Mosul. Killed by unknown gunmen on October 1, thirty-year-old Bassam was the latest in a series of murdered Iraqi Christians. Gunmen entered the restaurant where Bassam worked and opened fire, killing him instantly. In Kirkuk two more Christians were killed that same week. The Christian community views the attacks as violence targeting them.
Asia News quotes one anonymous Christian as saying, “The attacks on Christians continue and the world remains totally silent. It’s as if we’ve been swallowed up by the night.” The number of Christians remaining in Iraq is plummeting as the flight into other countries continues steadily month by month, the Christian population in Iraq having declined from an estimated 1 million prior to the 1991 Gulf War to approximately 345,000 today, though some think today’s number is even less.
Father, we cry out to you on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Come down in fury against the power of Satan who would destroy Your church there. Take the ashes of what was once a vibrant church and restore her beauty. Preserve and encourage this faithful remnant and continue to use Open Doors and others to heal their wounds and meet their many needs in Ankawa, Kirkuk, Mosul, Baghdad and all the places in which they dwell. Minister to those who have fled the country. Strengthen and equip them to one day return and be part of restoring Your church in Iraq.
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