Not too long ago, it seemed like the serious violence in Baghdad, wasn’t a serious deterrent for Assyrians to leave their homes in the Iraqi capital and depart. In fact, even now, it takes much more than violence and threats of killing and kidnapping to drive the resilient Assyrians from their homes, in mostly Sunni Western Baghdad. With the city of Dora being the epicenter of this new violence against Assyrians and Christians, things have been moving at a very rapid pace in the last few weeks.
Although Sunni insurgents have been the dominant force in this formerly peaceful region of Baghdad, things have changed dramatically. Unless serious action is taken against these insurgents and terrorists groups, Dora and other parts of Baghdad could risk becoming empty of Assyrian inhabitant. This could mean a serious blow to decades, even centuries old of a beautiful mix of different ethnic Iraqi groups living in one city.
It all started about a few weeks ago, when terrorists groups led by Al-Qaeda elements, started giving the Assyrians in the area three choices: to either leave and not collect any of your belonging. Or stay, and pay a monthly Jizya (Islamic protection tax from the times of the Khalifat and Abbaisen rule) Or you can stay, be protected and pay no protection tax, but pay the ultimate price for your soul: convert to Islam from
“If not stopped immediately, this could eat into the very unity and foundation of the Iraqi society”
Christianity. You wonder what would give these groups these extra powers to rise and demand this of the Christians in the region. Last time I checked, Dora is in the city of Baghdad, the same city where there has been a 3-month old security crack-down between US and Iraqi security forces. It is mind-boggling that extremists and Jihadists would be left to roam in the area freely, as it is it an island on its own. Dora is not a small city, relatively speaking. But it deserves every bit of attention from Iraqi and coalition forces, to pacify it and declare it back to its rightful owners and the Iraqi government.
Assyrians may have to leave the city or parts of the city for now. But there will come a time, when these inhabitants who have lived in this city for decades, are returned home and be given all that they owned and had before. Moreover, the same goes for our churches in the area, which have been abandoned, and its crosses and other of its religious symbols removed and ransacked. Again, last time I checked, we are living in the 21st century, and in the city in question is part of Baghdad. So when will the US military turn its attention to this city? A city whose recapture is vital to the victory in Baghdad, and a huge psychological boost.
Things continue to deteriorate. Assyrians and Iraqis alike, living outside of Iraq, feel helpless. But there is a few things we can do. For one, we have to raise the voice of reason, and let the world know about what is happening. People have a general idea about the violence in Iraq and Baghdad, but can’t be bothered by the specifics of it and who the victim of this violence is. Assyrians need to raise hell and pressure the US and Iraqi government to do something. Sooner or later, we will need to build not one, not two but three or more Baghdad Walls, to separate amongst all of its various ethnic and religious communities.
Ironically, this is also a time for our churches to come together and unite, because this hits home and close. More can be done by the Sunni community itself as well. A lot of pressure has to be put on Sunni states neighboring Iraq, especially Saudi Arabia, to denounce such terrorist and racist acts. As well, pressure has to be put on Harish al-Thari, the influential Sunni head of the ‘Association of Muslim Scholars’ who has ties to the insurgency. A simple public denouncement from him against the acts of violence against Assyrians, can go a long way. Al-Thari has been out of Iraq for over a year now, and is wanted by Iraqi authorities on charges of supporting the insurgency.
The threat is real and serious, and some have expressed concern that Christians in Iraq today, could become the Jewish of Iraq from last century: both going extinct. There are many differences between the two, which will not make a total exit of Christians from Iraq, a very likely future scenario. But it is serious enough for the UN, Iraqi government, US government and world governments everywhere to do something. Iraqis have also got to realize that this violence against Christians has already been committed against Shiites and other ethnic groups. Shiites have largely and long abandoned the Dora region. So if anything, this concerns all Iraqis, because their very national unity is at stake. If not stopped immediately, this could eat into the very unity and foundation of the Iraqi society
As I write about the damage being done to Assyrians and their churches in the Dora region, I could feel my father shaking in his grave: he happens to be the Assyrian engineer who built the beautiful St.George church in Dora.