Iraqi Christians Pause Their Education – Again
By Claire Evans
01/27/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – When Iraq declared the Islamic State (ISIS) territorially defeated in 2017, it followed three years of violence which displaced most of the country’s ever-shrinking Christian community. Displacement paused the education of countless children, as their families struggled to find new ways to survive daily life. Eventually, a new rhythm of normalcy emerged. But now, in 2020, this rhythm again finds itself disrupted. Once again, the children’s futures are the first impacted.
Protests erupted throughout Iraq in October, breathing new hope throughout the country’s remaining Christian community. School was put on pause, allowing the protesters to focus on their demands for an end to foreign influence and corruption. For a time, it seemed to be working. The government responded harshly, but still the protesters had hope.
A US drone strike on January 2 completely changed the atmosphere. The strike targeted an Iranian general and Iraqi militia leader. Through local militias, Iran strengthened a posture of aggression. The protests continue, but the environment is markedly different. Every day, there are reports of militias kidnapping protesters and targeting people on the street. Fear and worry, more than hope, now mark the atmosphere.
“We as Christians see that our kids may lose this [school] year because of the situation,” explained one parent, Adman. Four months have now passed since the school year should have been ongoing for Iraqi children, but schools cannot easily operate. Staff and parents have difficulty moving through the streets to reach the school. Traveling with children in this atmosphere is even more risky. For Christians, this current risk is further underscored by history. Adman said, “We are afraid from the targeting of Christians once again, like what happened in 2010 targeting a church during Sunday mass.”
Many Iraqi Christians prefer to send their children to Christian schools, and it is even common for Muslim children to attend these educational centers. But since they are Christian-run, it means that the centers stand out in ways that expose them to more risks as the security environment deteriorates.
For one Orthodox-run school in Baghdad that has chosen to keep its doors open, the teachers are noticing these problems increasing in number. “There is a huge impact on the social side of the kids in general, and particularly for the kids who can’t [now] attend school,” explained one teacher. “Parents are concerned about sending their kids to schools. The security situation is not stable; you can’t predict if the road is on or off.”
“Even when those teenagers come to school, they can’t focus because they are worried and terrified,” she added. “We are also late on completing curriculums for the year.”
This problem, balanced with the ongoing challenges of displacement, are felt even more heavily by Christians. In Telskuf, the village became trapped between competing militias following the defeat of ISIS. Although it is located miles away from the location of the US airstrike, the attack had targeted a militia leader with strong influence in Telskuf. Teachers are left unsure what to do with the schools, mirroring the uncertainties of parents.
One said, “We are attending the schools and colleges, but our problem is a lot of people didn’t come back to our areas because they are afraid from ISIS attacking our villages once again. [Now] immigration has increased as conflicts between Hashid and other militias or government”
“The situation is not encouraging at all,” added another teacher in the north.
In Qeraqosh, where most of Iraq’s Christians live, protests have not really taken shape out of fear of retaliation by the militias. Watching the country unravel following the airstrike has further driven a wedge of anxiety into a group of people already traumatized by ISIS.
“I met with the principal,” recalled one parent. “He explained the uncertainty of Christians’ future is impacting the education very much. Families are not sending their kids to schools because they think that they would leave sooner or later as recently immigration has increased and a lot of families are leaving. [There are] no good jobs, no security, no certain and serious promises about the future.”
Iraq is a different country than last year. A different country than under the time of ISIS. As its new identity takes shape, once again the question persists: Is there a future for Christians in Iraq?