One of them was Syriac, the other was Chaldean. The Syriac speaks Arabic
but understood my conversation with his comrade in English. The
Chaldean is a member of the Kurdistan
parliament who speaks in perfect, fluent English. Among the three
denominations that constitute one of the oldest Christian communities in
Mesopotamia, only a representative of the Assyrian community was not
Syriacs, Assyrians and Chaldeans are ethnically and linguistically
the same people. They take pride in speaking Aramaic, the language Jesus
Christ spoke. Generally, they do not like to be asked whether they are
Syriac, Assyrian or Chaldean. They insist that they are all the same and
that such a question is of a divisive nature.
Nevertheless, I asked and found that one of them is Syriac, belonging
to the Orthodox church, and the other one Chaldean, connected to the
It was the Syriac who asked me what I consider to be the fate of the
Christians in Iraq — whether I think that one of the oldest Christian
communities on this earth might perish and be uprooted from their
On the 12th day of the operation to liberate Mosul, many districts
and villages of Ninevah province were freed by the Iraqi army and the
Kurdish peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), who
are acting in coordination under the American military baton. Many see
US involvement — perhaps a bit over-optimistically — as a hopeful
development for unity in Iraq in the post-Islamic State (IS) era.
For the Christian minority residing in its historical homeland —
constituting a majority in some parts of it — the future is uncertain.
That is why I am asked whether Christians will be able to survive in
I responded bluntly: “Look at the situation in Jerusalem and more
importantly in Bethlehem, in the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Bethlehem
was an overwhelmingly Christian-populated town; now there is hardly a
Palestinian Christian living there. Do not forget the fate of the
Christians of the Asia Minor, what kind of catastrophe has befallen on
He interrupted me and spoke about what is happening in Syria and the
gradually changing demographics of the Christians in Lebanon. Yet the
emphasis, naturally, is on the fate of Iraqi Christians. It is their
homeland, and they are not only the indigenous people of the land but
one of the oldest — one of those rare communities in the world who have
been in living in perpetuity on their land.
Dr. Soory Maqdassy took over the conversation from his compatriot and
set forth an Iraqi Christian demand for the post-IS era. He said, “We
cannot live as we used to live until IS is eliminated and Mosul is
declared liberated. We must have an autonomous region in the Ninevah
Plain, in the north and south of it. Now, the north of it with the
district center of Bashiqa and settlements such as Bartella, Karakush,
etc., are liberated. They were all Christian centers. Only in Bashiqa,
half the population were Yazidis, while the other half were Syriacs. The
Ninevah Plain, south and north, has been an extraordinary region for
all the minority faiths only to be found on the territory of Iraq, from
Christians to Sabians, from Shabeks to Yazidis. They lived in
coexistence throughout history. However, unfortunately, after 2003 — the
so-called liberation of Iraq — both the Baghdad central government and
the Kurdish government in Erbil overlooked and undermined us and did not
respect minority rights. Iraq is constructed on Shiite, Sunni and
Kurdish components, and the product of it has become the cleansing of
our population from the Ninevah Plain with the arrival of Daesh [IS] and
the declaration of the Islamic state. We cannot trust Baghdad or Erbil
anymore. We need to have an autonomous region in the Ninevah Plain,
after the liberation of Mosul.”
His Syriac companion, Sami Supania, was nodding to every word
Maqdassy uttered as if to emphasize once again the common position of
the Christian minority of Iraq.
While some former Christian localities of the Ninevah Plain were
liberated by the Iraqi army — such as Bartella — and some by Kurdish
peshmerga — such as Bashiqa — the Christian interlocutors are insisting
with pride that in the Iraqi army and the peshmerga there are armed
Christian units who spearheaded the attack against IS to liberate their
towns and villages.
For them, this is an encouraging sign that they can take care of
their affairs in terms of the administration and defense of the Ninevah
Plain, once IS is removed.
They speak of figures: Since the arrival of IS in 2014, the number of
displaced people from the Ninevah Plain grew to around 250,000. Almost
40% of this number has moved to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and beyond. The
Christians said that nearly 120,000 are ready to return to the towns and
villages they evacuated.
I reminded my Christian interlocutors that the operation to liberate
Mosul may take weeks and even months and could be very messy and bloody.
For them, repopulating the region does not need to wait for the
liberation of the western bank of the Tigris River, where the Arab heart
and the city center of Mosul is. They said that if allied forces
liberate the eastern bank — which is mainly populated by the Kurds and
has a Christian hinterland, the Ninevah Plain — then the Christians will
start to return and Christian survival in Iraq will be possible.
With their understandable lack of trust in Muslim Arabs and Kurds
alike, they want to rely on what they term “the international system” or
“the outside world,” meaning the combination of the United States and
the countries of the European Union. In Iraqi Christian eyes, after all,
these countries are Christian nations who should be protecting the
There was mention of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which has
not been implemented. Article 140 involves resolving the conflicts
pertaining to “the disputed territories” between Baghdad and the Kurds
and territories from Sinjar on the Syrian border to Kirkuk and to
Khanaqin, relatively close to Baghdad at the Iranian border. The last
advances of the Iraqi army and the Kurdish forces with their Christian
units in the opening battles of the liberation of Mosul involve “the
I listened to KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in Erbil, who,
when the Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack asked whether the Kurds
would wait for 11 more years to resolve the issue of “the disputed
territories” after the liberation of Mosul, responded with an outright
Barzani implied that Kurds would go on their way if Article 140 is not implemented in the post-IS period.
But now the Iraqi Christians want to enter the field when it comes to
the implementation of Article 140 with a demand for Christian autonomy.
They say the first step involves normalization — the return of the
displaced Christians back to their homes — and then a census, to be
followed by an autonomous region to be established for Christians in the
It is a dream they want to make possible. If they cannot succeed, then another tragedy in the Middle East might lie in wait.