The Last Christians of Iraq { 46 images } Created 16 May 2014

Christianity first came to Iraq in the first century AD. The Christians of Iraq are believed to be one of the longest continuous Christian communities in the world. Throughout their long history in the region, Christians have been persecuted, threatened and massacred many times, but they have always managed to remain. Today however, the two thousand year old presence of Christians in Iraq is in danger of coming to an end.

In 2003, before the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States and its allies, there was an estimated 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, about 5% of the population. Fewer than 400,000 are thought to remain today. In a single decade more than two thirds of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country. The majority of Iraq’s Christians are Chaldean Catholics, but there are numerous other sects including Assyrians, the Ancient Church of the East, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic church, Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches as well as others. In recent years, the Christians of Iraq have been caught in the middle of what is essentially a civil war between the Shiite and Sunni Muslim majorities. Extremists on both sides view the Christians as sympathetic to the West and, as non-Muslims, unworthy to live in their Islamic fundamentalist vision of the country. As a result, Iraq’s Christian community has become a victim of an open and systematic campaign to cleanse the country of its religious minorities.

The Christians who remain in Iraq have for the most part sought refuge in the historic heartland of Iraqi Christianity – the Nineveh Plain and parts of Kurdistan – in the north of the country. In the relative security of these areas the Christian communities have concentrated into pockets and attempt to preserve their culture, traditions and religious heritage despite the threats and their dwindling numbers. Iraqi Christians speak a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. However Christians displaced from other parts of Iraq have a difficult time find work and starting a new life in the north because they speak Arabic as a second language and not Kurdish. The linguistic barrier, prejudices, expensive rents, high prices and an on-going sense of insecurity, continues to force Christians to leave the country, often to the United States, Canada, Sweden or Australia.
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