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Leaving Iraq : An Iraqi Christian

ICC Note

Sahar S. Gabriel, an Iraqi Christian, left her country due to violence in her country. Her article on the New York Times describes personal stories of persecution of Christians in Iraq .

By Sahar S. Gabriel

03/19/2009 Iraq (The New York Times)- I will miss Iraq . I was born here. My family comes from the north of the country, which isn’t like the rest of Iraq . Dohuk and Sulaimaniya, where most of the population is Kurdish and Christian, are like the Geneva of the Middle East . They are much more peaceful, they have everything that you want and the scenery is beautiful, with mountains and lakes. That I will miss very much, because I always missed going there. Especially at Christmas time.

I won’t miss Baghdad or my neighborhood. I hate my neighborhood. As Christians we kept to ourselves mostly after 2003, except for a very, very few liberal neighbors.

Just a few days ago I was beside a mosque. I could hear the preacher saying “It is your duty as a Muslim neighbor to show your other non-Muslim neighbors the light, you have to show them the right path.” This is just “in your face” offensive. They are taking it for granted that there won’t be any comeback, that we Christians are harmless. Which we are most of the time. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t offended.

These kind of things happened in Saddam’s time, but it was more subtle. It wasn’t in your face. It’s only personal experience but at school some of my teachers preferred the students who were Muslim. Some of them were clever, but I was as clever as they were. And this was in a school run by nuns, Iraqi Franciscans.

Christians started leaving Iraq during Saddam’s time, in 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait . People didn’t approve of what he did there. We didn’t know what happened in Kuwait through the official Iraqi media, of course, but we heard from returning Iraqi soldiers about the killings, the ill-treatment of people, the looting, breaking into houses and stealing.

I think Christians saw it coming, they figured that if someone would do that to a neighboring country, to their fellow Muslims, it was only a matter of time before he would commit those things against Christians too.

Christians started to leave from my area, very slowly. Then after the American invasion in 2003 and the rise of the extremists they started leaving very quickly.

We didn’t know that 2003 was going to be different from 1990. I had hopes that Iraq was going to be turned into Dubai or the Gulf area, so advanced and developed. I thought: “Great, America is going to come, the cinemas will be open, there are gong to be bookstores and cybercafés.”

My dad’s cousin was kidnapped for a ransom in 2007. I think it was for $30,000. They paid, and they got him back. He was shaken up a little bit. I don’t know which side took him.

My area used to be 80 percent Christian, but is now 5 percent. My church is still there, but very few people go now. There was a time when we had to change our mass schedules on Saturdays because everyone knows Christians go to mass on Sundays, and they were an easy target.

There used to be Christian households lined along the street, but now it is only one every street. Even those people will go soon. In 10 years there won’t be a single Christian in Iraq , I think. Maybe less than 10 years. Even if they are not leaving Iraq completely, some of them will relocate up north. I think Baghdad , the center of Iraq and the south will be Christian-free.

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