ICC Note: Hat’s off to Reuters for covering this problem. Please keep the Iraqi brothers and sisters in your praryers.
Iraqi Christians find Sanctuary in Istanbul
By Thomas Grove
ISTANBUL (For the full story, go to Reuters) – Every Sunday the basement chapel of one of Istanbul’s largest churches echoes to the sound of slow chanting in Aramaic, the ancient language spoken by Jesus.
The 300 worshipers, all Iraqi Christians, have come here to forget the Muslim sectarian violence that drove them from their war-ravaged homeland. Refugees, they pray for a swift onward passage.
“God, watch over the families here. Let them go to the United States, maybe Australia or Europe, even if it may take months. Let them be patient,” prays Father Francois Yakan during the mass in the sparsely decorated, low-ceilinged chapel.
Aid workers and charities in mainly Muslim Turkey, which is also home to ancient Christian communities, are bracing for a fresh inflow of refugees, both Christian and Muslim, from Iraq’s unremitting violence. An estimated 2,000 people flee the mayhem there each day.
Aid organizations in Turkey have already processed approximately 3,000 immigrants from Iraq, the majority of them Christian, and thousands more are waiting to be processed. Others will not apply for asylum but hope to remain in Turkey or move on to third countries.
It is people like Yelda that Christian groups in Turkey mainly focus on. “These people fall into the category of religious discrimination and they have a valid claim, given the violence of Iraq,” said Ozbek of the ICMC.
“Now we are working seven days a week trying to keep up with the applications.”
Father Yakan, who like his Iraqi congregation belongs to the ancient Catholic Chaldean Church, said he began services in the basement chapel of the Roman Catholic Saint Anthony’s Church in Istanbul nine years ago.
“We are from the same church — from the first Catholic Church, the Chaldean Church … We must help them, they are our brothers,” said Yakan.
“The Christian Iraqis come here because they think their applications will get processed faster, that because there are fewer of them it will be easier,” said Belinda Mumcu of the Vatican-backed charity Caritas.
That is what Mazen Massoud Yelda, 34, thought before he applied for visas for himself, his wife and two children and bought bus tickets to Silopi on the Turkish side of the border.
Now in Istanbul for nearly a year, Yelda makes Muslim prayer beads in a factory near the city centre.
In the Baghdad neighbourhood of Dori, he ran a copier and computer supply and repair store until it was bombed by militants. He says he was targeted because he was Christian and had made photocopies for a nearby Christian seminary.
“It has become so awful, but we have forgotten there is a place called Iraq because it has nothing for us anymore. If we were to go back, we would get killed,” he said.