Friday, July 27, 2007

A depressing press conference

I usually don't mention much about my work on this blog - I try to keep things lighthearted but I attended a press conference Wednesday that was one of the most depressing I've ever been to. It was about the ongoing slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and how the U.S. military is doing nothing to stop it. Some 2.2 million Iraqis, half of whom are not Muslim, have fled the country and are languishing in Jordan and Syria, thanks to our horrific immigration policy, which has let only a trickle of these people into the country.
I have included of a photo of Canon Andrew White, the Anglican priest whose testimony led the hearing in the Senate Russell building.
One of the worst testimonies, which I didn't have room to include in my article, came from Donny George, chairman of Iraq's state board of antiquities and director of the country's museums. He said:
"At my parents' place in Dora (a Christian neighborhood in Baghdad), we started hearing the Muslim extremists will do to the Christians exactly what they did to the Jews in 1948. This meant complete cleansing of people from the country. We receive a letter in an envelope together with a bullet of a Kalashnikov. The letter threatened my younger son, Martin, accusing him of cursing Islam and teasing Muslim girls. They mentioned that they suspect his father, myself, works with the Americans, so he was ordered to write a letter of apology to them (the Brigades of the martyr Zarqawi) with a fine of $1,000 to be put in an envelope and dropped in a certain place in Dora, otherwise the next day he will be kidnapped and beheaded immediately.
"When I heard that, I asked my elder son to get my mother, my two sisters and Martin and bring them to our flat in another part of Baghdad and in the afternoon I arranged for the letter and the money to be dropped for them, so they will not come after my son. In the coming few days, I heard the same thing had happened to 12 Christian families in the same area of Dora...they all paid and left the ara, leaving eerything behind, houses and properties. Now Dora is completely empty of any Christian Assyrians and almost all the churches there had been bombed or burnt."
Listening to this, I felt lightheaded. What if someone gave me one afternoon to pack up and leave my home in Virginia? What would I do? Fortunately this man managed to get his family into the States, thanks to the State University of New York, where he was given a visiting professorship. But most people in his position - who managed to make it out of Iraq alive, are not allowed to hold jobs nor educate their children while they rot away in refugee camps.
"I think the future is very bleak," said Pascale Warda, Iraq's former minister for migration and deplacement. "My people said to me the other Saturday, 'We've never had it so bad since the Mongols.' "
For those of you unfamiliar with Central Asian history, she's referring back to 1258, the year the Mongols sacked Baghdad. Tamerlane came in 1401 and razed the city again, creating even more massacres. These folks have long memories.
All the people who testified Wednesday kept on saying the word "genocide." And that's what it is.
Here is my article:

Iraq's perils dire for minority faiths

By Julia Duin
July 26, 2007

Iraq's outnumbered Christians and other religious minority groups are targets of a terror campaign and are facing a dire situation where killings and rapes have become the norm, a panel of witnesses testified yesterday on Capitol Hill.

In a hearing convened by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, and four other panelists unfolded tales of horrors overtaking Christians, Yezidis (angel worshippers) and Mandaeans, members of a pacifist faith that follows the teachings of John the Baptist.

"The situation is more than desperate," said Mr. White, who described how Christians in Baghdad have been told to convert to Islam or be killed. Hundreds of those who could not afford to flee the country are living in churches without adequate food or water, he said.

"In the past month, 36 members of my own congregation have been kidnapped," he said. "To date, only one has been returned."

Iraq's eight remaining Jews, now hiding in Baghdad, are "the oldest Jewish community in the world," he said, referring to the 597 B.C. Babylonian conquest of ancient Judah that brought the Jews to the region as captives.

"The international community has done nothing to help these people," Mr. White said, explaining that the group is trying to emigrate to an Iraqi Jewish enclave in the Netherlands, which won't admit them.

Michael Youash, director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, called the situation "soft ethnic cleansing." The "de-Christianization of Iraq" is not far off, he predicted, saying that Washington has refused to help Iraqi Christians, whose common faith with many Americans has made them loathed by Muslim radicals.

"The State Department just dismisses this as part of an overall conflict," he said. "But Christians are being disproportionately targeted. The attacks are purely vindictive and vicious. They are meant to give a message."

Religious minorities have no militias to protect them, Mr. Youash said. "If someone attacks a Shi'ite, there are consequences. If someone attacks a Yezidi or a Mandaean, there are none."

Pascale Warda, president of the Iraqi Women's Center in Baghdad, said more than 30 churches have been destroyed; priests have been fatally shot, kidnapped and beheaded; a 14-year-old boy was crucified in Basra; and Baghdad's once-famous Christian neighborhoods have been emptied of thousands of residents.

"That's because of fatwas issued by Islamic fundamentalists who give them three choices," she said. "Convert to Islam, pay the jizya [a tax imposed on non-Muslims] or leave with no personal possessions."

Suhaib Nashi, general secretary of the Mandaean Associations Union, said that in the past week alone, several Mandaean families in Baghdad were given one hour to leave their homes or be killed.

On Feb. 26, Rena Al-Zuhairy, a 20-year-old Mandaean student, went to school merely to pick up her college degree. "The last voice her mother heard was her crying over the cell phone to save her," Mr. Nashi said. "The police force is corrupt, often helps attackers and has little to no role in protecting minorities."

Several panelists criticized Kurdish militias in northern Iraq for joining the persecution.

"Christians flee one dictatorship only to arrive to another dictatorship," Mr. Youash said. During the January 2005 elections, Kurdish soldiers stole many ballot boxes from areas populated by Christians and Yezidis, he added, but the U.S. government did not respond.

"Minorities learned that standing up for their right to vote only exposed them to greater persecution," he said.

1 comment:

Veronica Mitchell said...

Thank you so much for covering this story. I am putting up a blog post tonight and linking to your post to drive some traffic your way and help inform people of this crisis.

I want to help these people. Is there anything practical that ordinary citizens can do?