The Extermination of Iraq’s Ancestral People – An interview with Joseph Kassab
Aid to the Church in Need interviews Joseph Kassab, the Executive Director of the Chaldean Federation of America, on the mass exodus of Christians who have fled Iraq.
7/11/2011 Iraq (Aid to the Church in Need) – Christianity in Iraq dates back to the end of the first century with the arrival of the Apostle Thomas. Christians were a majority long before Islam set foot in Iraqi soil. Today, however, Christians number a little more than 300,000 of the original 1.2 million that were there before the arrival of the U.S. led invasion. An Interview with Joseph Kassab, the Executive Director of the Chaldean Federation of America in USA.
Q) As we know, Christians are leaving Iraq in great numbers. Why and what was the situation of Christians in Iraq before the US invasion?
A) As you stated earlier, the number of Christians in Iraq before the 2003 war was more than 1.2 million. Now we have less than 300,000 in Iraq and the majority are either internally displaced people seeking security in Northern Iraq and another 300,000 – 400,000 are seeking asylum as refugees in neighboring countries like Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt and some of them are stranded in Europe. One of the reasons for their displacement is because of the vicious violence committed against these people. The atrocities are intolerable and unbelievable. They have become a “soft target” for many reason, one of which and the most important is: Christians do not carry arms. They do not have a militia to protect them. They do not have tribal people to help them and the Iraqi Christians are known to be the elite, highly educated, scholars and part of the “think tank” of Iraq and so they were also targeted for that.
Q) I want to address these questions, but first, I would like to know what was the reality for Christians living under Saddam Hussein?
A) Let us put it this way: during Saddam there was order but there was no law; now there is no law and no order. So you can see that they were better off during that time because there was some order, somehow something to protect them, but at the same time, Saddam during the last decade of his rule, became vicious and an Islamist and went after the Christians in many ways: He sent our seminarians to war against their will; forced them to carry arms and kill people. He nationalized our Christian institutions and forbade Christian babies from being named with Biblical names. He also forced Christians to belong to the Ba’ath Party – his party – otherwise they were ordered to leave. These were the kind of things that were happening at that time, but in terms of security issues, the Christians were better off at that time than today.
Q) In the new Iraqi constitution, there is an article, which guarantees the freedom of religious expression. Is there religious freedom?
A) The Constitution recognizes religious freedom, but the Constitution comes very short in terms of the rights of the religious minorities such as the Christians. It is contradicted in Article 2 which states that Islam is the major religion of Iraq and no ruling can be issued that is contrary to Islam. That means that others who do not profess Islam have lesser rights and this is not helping at all. I think the Constitution of Iraq needs to be reviewed. I think the Iraqi Christians should have more representation in parliament and the government in order to survive.
Q) You mentioned the question of security. Christians are suffering increasing persecution and violence. Where is this coming from? What is the agenda?
A) I think that there is a hidden agenda. I think there is the agenda to drive Christians out of not only in Iraq, but out of the whole of the Middle East. This, unfortunately, is happening but the international community is not saying anything about it. We do not know the reason why there is this agenda to empty this region of Christians considering that this area is the cradle of Christianity.
Q) And the Christians are the indigenous people?
A) The Christians are indeed the indigenous people and our ancestry and history goes back 5,000 years ago, 3,000 years before Christ. I do not understand why this is happening and I think that there is an agenda in making this particular area having one religion rather than multi-religious area.
Q) What kind of stories are we talking about when we talk about violence against Christians?
A) There are many atrocities committed against Iraqi Christians and there are plenty of undocumented as well as horrific stories, fore instance: Rita a 24 year-old Christian woman, because of threats and intimidation fled Iraq for Jordan. Within a month or so she heard that her three brothers who stayed in Iraq were kidnapped by fundamentalists. She insisted on returning and try to save them. On her way back, she was kidnapped by the same kidnappers. They held her for 5 days, beat her and raped her a multitude of times. Her family paid the ransom for her release and then was able to tell her story. She said that during her ordeal she prayed to God and Jesus Christ that she would remain Christian even unto death. She was eventually released after the ransom was paid.
Q) There are some Christians that have gone to the point of death?
A)That is true. We have Ajad who was 14 years old. His job was security to an electric generator in his neighborhood. This financially assisted his mum. His father was killed by the insurgents. One night while on the job, a fundamentalist came to him and said, “What are you doing here”? He said: “I’m guarding this; it’s my job”. They saw that he was wearing a cross and they said to him: “You are Christian? He said: “Yes, I’m a Christian”. They said: “You have to convert to Islam otherwise you die”. He said: “I’d rather die a Christian than convert to Islam”. They then killed him and crucified him and after that they tossed his body into a fire. These are the kind of stories you hear from Iraq. Not too long ago our Archbishop, Archbishop Rahho of Mosul, a very good man who was trying to help his people, was kidnapped. I was on my way from the US to see and visit him and acknowledge him for the good work he was doing. All of a sudden I was informed that he was kidnapped and instead of me visiting, hugging and shaking hands with him, instead I ended up attending his funeral.