ICC Note: The Mandeans are an offshoot of Christianity. While our focus is obviously on Christians, we wanted to post this article because everything that you read below that is happening to the Mandeans is also happening to the Christians in Iraq .
An Exodus to Sweden from Iraq for Ethnic Mandaeans
4/11/2007 Iraq/Sweden (For the full story, go to International Herald Tribune): Mandaeans, a distinct ethnic group estimated to number no more than 70,000 globally, have for millenniums been part of the mosaic of peoples that have lived in the lands that today is Iraq. Those few who remain are seeking refuge as far away as possible; most of those who have fled are in Syria and Jordan, some have reached Australia, others Canada, and many have gone to Sweden, because of this country’s generous asylum policies.
Here, they escape the sectarian cleansing that was unleashed by the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But in Sweden they have also found a new threat to their existence: the erosion of identity, and the collapse of community, that comes with being so far from their homeland.
According to scholars, the religion is a fourth sibling to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Like their adherents, the Mandaeans, also known as Sabians, are monotheistic and share many of the same prophets, with John the Baptist a central figure. The similarity has meant that the Mandaeans have survived their varying rulers, even if their history tells of ostracism, harassment and on occasion a violent pogrom.
But the situation for the Mandaeans in Iraq has turned from difficult to catastrophic. Following the U.S. invasion in 2003 and the sectarian tensions, violence directed at minorities has become rampant. In the bloody order of Iraq , a tiny group like the Mandaeans, concentrated around Baghdad where the violence has been most widespread, come out among the worst.
Reports from Iraq tell of a great number of killings, kidnappings, rapes, forced conversions and evictions.
Amin Farhan, a 61-year-old veterinarian who fled to Sweden in December, told how he was approached in his Baghdad neighborhood by people he had never seen before, who told him that as a Mandaean, he “had no place in Iraq.” He was given a choice of converting to Islam, of being killed, or of leaving. After seeing a friend gunned down in the street, he decided to leave.
“We share the horrors of terrorism and violence with all Iraqis,” he said, sitting in a friend’s apartment in a Stockholm suburb, Rinkeby. “But it is even more difficult for Mandaeans since we are threatened from all sides.”
Muslim extremists see them as kaffir, or unbelievers, and kidnappers focus on Mandaeans because many are goldsmiths. In addition, their religion is pacifist and forbids the carrying of arms.
“In Iraq , we all know the tales of ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ ” said Salim, a goldsmith who made it to Stockholm from Baghdad in January. “Life for us was like living in a fairy tale, but filled only with fear.”
Salim, who is 31, said he left Iraq with his family after receiving death threats and seeing two of his younger brothers kidnapped and tortured. He declined to give his full name for fear of endangering friends and other family members left behind.
This means that even if Baghdad is stabilized, much of the damage is done. A report published in February by the British advocacy group Minority Rights Group International warned that Mandaeans faced “eradication” in Iraq .