Skip to comments.Many Christians Flee Iraq, With Syria the Haven of Choice
Posted on 08/04/2004 8:09:20 PM PDT by Destro
Many Christians Flee Iraq, With Syria the Haven of Choice
By KATHERINE ZOEPF
Published: August 5, 2004
DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug. 4 - Abdulkhalek Sharif Nuaman likes to talk as he works, removing bubbly Iraqi bread from his ovens on long pallets. The baker is a cheerful man, yet his florid face darkens as he explains why he decided to flee Iraq.
Two months ago, Mr. Nuaman says, he was both a member of Iraq's small Mandaean sect, and a patriot with high hopes for the country's democratic future. Then Islamist extremists began attacking Christians in his Baghdad neighborhood, and his 9-year-old son was kidnapped, dragged into a moving car as he played near the family home.
After relatives scraped together $5,000 to ransom the boy, the family decided enough was enough and left, driving across the desert into Syria to apply for refugee status.
"We are safe here, and so we feel free," Mr. Nuaman said of his new home in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana. "The Syrians are brothers to us. There is no discrimination here. That is the truth, and not a compliment."
Iraq is home to some of the world's oldest religious communities, including Assyrians, an early, now independent Christian sect; Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics who recognize papal authority; and the Mandaeans, who follow John the Baptist.
Yet, attacks on Iraq's tiny Christian minority have been steadily increasing since late spring, culminating in the bombing of five Christian churches in Baghdad and Mosul on Sunday. As a result, according to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Christians are now fleeing the country in record numbers.
Ajmal Khybari, an official at the refugee agency's Damascus office, said about 4,000 Iraqi families had registered as refugees in Syria. Although they represent less than 5 percent of Iraq's population, Iraqi Christians now make up about 20 percent of the total refugee flow into Syria from Iraq, Mr. Khybari said.
Rita Zekert, the coordinator of the Caritas Migrant Center, a Catholic charity in Damascus that provides food, medicine and other aid to new refugees, said last year's wartime influx of Iraqi refugees included Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and Kurds in percentages roughly proportionate to their numbers in Iraq. "But nowadays, 95 percent of the people coming to us are Iraqi Christians," Ms. Zekert said.
Though Iraqi Christians are heading to Jordan and Lebanon as well, Mr. Khybari said, Syria is the preferred destination, for its low cost of living, cultural similarities with Iraq and policy of freely issuing visas to citizens of other Arab countries. "For people of a very depleted economic status, Syria is an easier choice," he said.
Yet most of Syria's newest Iraqi Christian refugees say the decision to leave their homeland was anything but easy. They tell of Christian shopkeepers killed by Islamist gangs for daring to sell alcohol, of family businesses sold to ransom stolen children. They say life in Syria is hard for them, as new refugees are often barred from jobs and schools. They left Iraq, they say, only because they were too terrorized to stay.
Solaka Enweya, 56, an Assyrian Christian who arrived in Syria with his three sons on June 27, explained that attacks on Christians had become common since Saddam Hussein's government was toppled, in part because of the perception that Iraqi Christians are aiding the Americans. But like other refugees here, he said attacks on Iraqi Christians increased this spring.
"When we heard that the Americans were going to liberate Iraq, we were so happy," Mr. Enweya said. "Yet our suffering has only increased."
He said his family had been receiving vague death threats since the start of the war, in March 2003. But beginning in April, he said, a local Islamist group began directly threatening his sons because of their faith. Then they blew up his van. Mr. Enweya had run a small delivery service, and with the loss of the van, his whole livelihood disappeared.
"Saddam didn't allow for people to incite religious life like this," he said. "We Christians have suffered so much. Our only choice was to come to Syria."
Suhair Mikhail, 33, recalls walking home from her church in Baghdad this spring with a friend, a young woman from her choir.
"A car stopped, and three men got out," she said. "They began tearing my friend's clothes. They said, 'Because this is the first time we see you unveiled, we will only strip you. The next time, we will kill you.' "
Despite the growing frequency of attacks and humiliations, the leaders of Iraq's Christians are urging their members to remain in Iraq or, if they have already left, to return.
"These terrorists are playing on the sectarian conflicts," said Emmanuel Khoshaba, a spokesman for the Assyrian Democratic Movement, a political party of Iraq's Assyrian Christians. "Before, they were tampering with Sunni-Shia relations. Now it's the Christians' turn."
He is especially worried that the church bombings will bring a new wave of refugees. Mr. Khoshaba counsels Christians to be patient.
"Iraq is in a new stage of its history," Mr. Khoshaba said. "We have free speech, and places in the national assembly. Chaldeans and Assyrians are some of Iraq's most ancient people. It will be terrible if they leave before we can taste the fruits of Iraq's democracy."
You can not have Democracy without the demos having the right to be armed. Athens would not have been the first democracy if it did not have its hoplite class.
That those in our State Dept seem not to know what a democracy means is not suprising seeing as the State Dept has favored Islam over Christians these last 60 years and compliant strong men over democratic regimes. There is no American in the State Dept who has a clue about how to create democratic institutions and hasn't been since the end of WW2.
Lastly, I mean what I wrote when I said the State Dept has favored Muslims 100% of the time in world conflicts where conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims happened since the end of WW2.
It's mainly because Syria is a Secular dictatorship. Many don't realize that Iraq under Saddam was safer than any form of Islamic government even an Islamic Democracy. The only form of governments where Mid-East Christians are safe are pro-West governments like the Shah of Iran which emphasized the glory of the Persian Empire [pre-Islamic Iran] or Secular Democracy [of which we haven't seen form yet in the region].
Right you are, freedom44. Good job blasphemer-in-chief Bush who worships Allah. Your stupid war on Iraqis has made life hell for Iraqi Christians.
You're an imbecile of the first order. Can I say that here?
Do a Google search, keywords: "Chaplain, Iraq, July or August, 2004"...
A widespread viewpoint that conflicts with the agenda of those reporting the "news":
google search the plight of Iraqi Christians @ http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&edition=us&ie=ascii&q=Iraq+Christians
It's more than that. Syria is a secular dictatorship whose ruling elite is drawn from a religious minority: the Assad family are Alawites, members of a semi-Christianized sect of Shia Islam (they celebrate some Christian feasts as well as the usual Shi'ite festivals, and take Christian-sounding named, Bashir is the Arabic version of Basil or Vassily). As such they make a point of treating other religious minorities (including Christians) well as a counter-balance to the majority Sunni.
Sadly, the part about Iraqi Christians is true. The part about the war being stupid, I believe to be false. We went in there because Saddam was developing WMDs, and was in bed with Al Qaeda. The war was justified. Okay, don't believe there was a drop of bleach in Iraq, let alone enough poison to kill 5000 kurds? Fine. Then look at it from a geopolitical perspective. We send the message to the Middle East, you mess with the USA and we will overthrow your nation. But nontheless, I believe the stated purpose for the Iraq war is legitimate.
I will say this much, though; it sound positively bizarre that anybody would flee to Syria for safe haven. I mean, "Syria" sounds like "Hezbollah" or "Islamic Jihad" country, not a safehouse for Christians. Go figure.
NYT would be the source of this in order to show any spin of defeat. Bad they are fleeing but never loose sight of the NYT spin.
Correct me if I'm wrong,Is the US state dept so strong that it gets it way everywhere it wants?to hard to digest.Is it coz of the State dept that the US was(or is mostly) in bed with the Saudis,Egyptians & Pakis-find that real real hard to believe-it is afterall,one of the arms of a form of government with a very powerful president.
Or are people here picking on the state dept because it's a convinient scape goat??
"will say this much, though; it sound positively bizarre that anybody would flee to Syria for safe haven"
when u got a bunch of wackos out &hellbent to blow u up,the first thought is not on going around to the US 0r UK embassies to get travel visas.They're trapped between a rock & a hard place-what do u expect them to do.The Iraqi action is no different from what French jews did when they emigrated to Poland & Holland when Hitler came to power,only to find him there in 1939.
Well from what Ive heard about Syria-u don't have the brute religious persecution of minority communities there that you can associate with US "allies" like Egypt & those in the Persian gulf.Syria is pretty much a logistics sponsor of terror-no intellectual Mullah firepower.THe Hezbollah get their arms from Syria while Iran pumps in money & ideology.
Unless Syria is the next stop of the US juggernaut,these Christians should be relatively safe there.
Prsidents come and go but the State Dept is forever.
Err-I find that too hard to believe-don't tell me that the White house has no role in what the state dept does.
agendas are not made in teh state dept or the White house but by those behind the scenes/
Say it, it is obviouly a lurker who was waiting to jump in...a foreigner who is aligned left.
Time to "liberate" Syria and chase Christians out.
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