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Bring a Smile to a Child in Nineveh
2005 Christmas Drive

 

Christians celebrate a wary Christmas in Baghdad


At church bombed a year ago, parishioners work to rebuild and hope for end to violence

Ben Gilbert, Chronicle Foreign Service

December 24, 2005 

Baghdad -- Christmas songs in Arabic echo into the courtyard from a tiny annex, next to the incomplete main building of St. George Greek Catholic Church. Inside, Father Vincent conducts choir practice for the Christmas Day celebration.

Teenage girls in winter jackets stand in a semicircle around Vincent, singing Christmas songs, while a dozen younger boys and girls look on from green cushioned pews arranged on the concrete floor. On the wall behind the priest, a crucifix shows signs of the sectarian violence besetting this country: Christ's leg is broken off, and his outstretched arm is missing an elbow.

In the early morning of Oct. 16, 2004 -- the eve of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month -- five explosions occurred moments apart, tearing through five churches around Baghdad. The attacks sent a distinct message to Iraq's Christians: Get out.

At St. George, stained glass windows shattered, and icons and pews became fuel for the fire set off by the bomb. By the time it was put out, whole walls were missing, and the interior was scorched.

"The inside was black, like an oven," said Vincent, a Belgian priest who has overseen the church for 25 years and would give only his first name, for safety reasons. "Even the floor was completely ruined. The altar was broken ... nothing remained. All the icons were gone."

But the congregation has succeeded in rebuilding much of the wreckage. The exterior of the church is complete. Interior walls have been painted bright white, and electricians have installed lights for this year's Christmas celebration.

"We started working the night of the bomb," Vincent said. "We had a baptism the same day, and we called the boy George. We said, 'This is a living icon now.' "

About 800,000 to 900,000 Iraqi Christians -- about 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million citizens -- will celebrate Christmas on Sunday. Their numbers are hard to state with certainty, because many have fled to neighboring Syria and Jordan to escape the kidnappings, car bombs and other violence plaguing Iraq.

Yonadem Kanna, secretary-general of the Assyrian Democratic Party, estimates that since 2003, about 50,000 Christians have moved out of Iraq or have moved around within the country to escape lawlessness and growing Islamic fundamentalism.

"At least 100 families have fled from Basra to Baghdad, because there are a lot of militias that are practicing religious fanaticism in the south," he said.

Christians also have left the violent northern city of Mosul to avoid kidnapping, bans on alcohol and, for women, harassment for not wearing the traditional Muslim head covering.

Konna is determined to stay. As head of the political party representing a large ethnic chunk of Iraq's various Christian sects, including the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Assyrian Eastern Orthodox Church, he said things would get better.

"This is a transitional period," he said. "The positive side is that for the first time in history, the government recognizes us as indigenous people of the country, with (the same) full rights as others."

Among the singers at St. George is Anita Daoud Bedawid, a 22-year-old university student studying philosophy and theology. She doesn't like being in Iraq, and like many members of the 100 or so families in the congregation, she wants to leave.

"A lot of things have changed in Iraq," she said. "Every family has a dead person, or a person kidnapped."

Before the war, most churches celebrated an evening Mass on Christmas Eve. This year, churches are celebrating Mass at 2 or 4 in the afternoon, because it's too dangerous to be out at night.

Bedawid said she wouldn't let fear keep her in the house.

"We will buy clothes, we will make a cake, and we will go to my grandmother's to wish Merry Christmas to them," she said.

Her brother Wasim guarded the church gate with an AK-47. The family stood in a new dirt courtyard strewn with bags of concrete and surrounded by an 8-foot wall. Outside, tree trunks are laid in the road to thwart car bombers.

Their mother, 40-year-old Eklas Hannah Thom, said she couldn't stay away on Christmas. "I have to come, because this is God's sacred place," she said.

Across the courtyard, as the sun dipped below the horizon, civil engineer Khaled Shabbah finished work for the day. So far, the church has spent $250,000 in reconstruction. The three-story-high dome is smooth and rounded. Windows have been installed, but the altar and floor are still bare concrete.

"We were supposed to finish this work before Christmas, but the place of the explosion became very weak," Shabbah said. "I had to strengthen the foundation, so that delayed us to some extent."

Shabbah will attend St. George on Christmas, although he's not a member of the church. Even Father Vincent is Chaldean Christian, not Greek Catholic -- he presides at the church because there's no one else to do it. That's not unusual in Iraq, where most Christian churches welcome people from other denominations.

For some Iraqi Christians, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 6 instead of Dec. 25. Yusef, an Armenian Christian using a pseudonym to protect his identity, said he planned to go that day to his church club, where men and women can dance together and drink alcohol uninhibited by their more conservative Muslim neighbors.

He admitted he was worried about safety, even though the church club is only five minutes from his house.

"I don't know the situation of the country," he said. "Two years ago, we postponed our Christmas party because we would be drinking, and Muslims don't think the same way we think."

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Ashur TV -----December 2005 Schedule

 

Who are the Christians of Iraq? 

December = Canoon Gadmaya

Christians celebrate a wary Christmas in Baghdad  Dec. 24, 05 

Safety fears hang over celebrations in Iraq Dec. 24, 05

Fear overshadows Christmas joy in Baghdad December 23, 05

U of T pharmacology postgraduate student from Woodbridge Came to Canada from Iraq in 1996 Dec.23, 05

Democracy in Iraq or Ethnic cleansing of the Christians? Dec. 21, 05

Sunnis, Secular Shiites Threaten Boycott Dec. 21, 05

Large Assyrian Turnout in Iraq Election Marred By Kurdish Voting Fraud Dec. 21, 05

The Real War On Christmas Dec. 19, 95

Iraq Expats Narrowly Favor Christian Assyrian Slate Dec. 19, 05

Concern expressed for Assyrian Christians in Iraq  Dec. 18, 05

Iraqis Vote in Historic Election toward Freedom, Democracy Dec. 17, 05

Turkmen Complain Kurds Cheated in Elections in Kirkuk Dec. 17, 05

Touch of Assyria in San Jose. Dec. 16, 05

Iraqi Christians flee to Jordan, Syria in response to increased persecution Dec. 16, 05

The Mid-East's beleaguered Christians Dec. 16, 05

Exiled Iraqi Christians Vote With Concern About Their Future Dec. 15, 05

Tension Mounting on Day of Iraqi Elections Dec. 15, 05

Iraqi Americans Cast Their Votes Dec. 14, 05

Information about Voting in Canada Dec. 14, 05

A vote for democracy 12, 14, 05

Iraqi expatriates to vote in elections, hopeful new government can end bloodshed Dec. 13, 05

Iraqi Americans Ponder Role in Homeland's Vote Dec. 12, 05

Iraqi-Americans ready for polls Dec 12, 2005  

The Latest information about Iraq's Out-of-Country Voting Dec. 12, 05

Between Iraq and a hard place, Iraqi Christians in Syria Dec. 12, 05

Half a Million Iraqi Assyrians (including Chaldeans and Syriacs) have taken refuge in Syria Dec. 11, 05

Assyrian Claims Discussed in Australian Parliament Dec. 11, 05

Iraqis here get voice in Baghdad's future Dec. 11, 05

Official Information about Iraq's out of the country voting Dec. 10, 05

Iraq's Voting in Canada Dec. 10, 05

Iraqi community to cast votes at fairgrounds in Pleasanton Dec. 9, 05

Fostering creativity in dangerous times Dec. 8, 05

Meet Miss World Canada 2005, Ramona Amiri Dec. 8. 05

IRAQ: KURDISH PRESIDENT OFFERS REFUGE TO CHRISTIANS  Dec. 8, 05

Iraq Establishes 8 Polling Centers in the U.S. 12, 8, 05

News From Iraq Dec. 8, 05

740 Stained with the blood of our Martyrs Dec. 6, 05

Kurdistan Democratic Party Stops Assyrian Group From Campaigning Dec. 6, 05

Campaign activity, insurgent violence rise in Iraq  Dec. 5, 05

Myths About the Situation in Iraq Dec. 5, 05

Competition for the best design of the Ancient Assyrian Costumes Dec. 3, 05

List of "Reported" Assyrians murdered in Iraq in 2005. Dec. 3, 05

Dylan's quest: Six-year-old needs blood matches Dec. 3, 05

Shades of voter apathy Dec, 2, 05

Holywood Tapestries Featuring Semiramis is on Auction  Dec. 2, 05

Iraq's Oily Referendum Dec. 1, 05

Iraqi Parliamentary Elections In California Dec. 1, 05

November = Tishrin II 

Burial pictures of the Two Assyrians Killed Nov. 30, 05

Two Assyrian Party Members Killed in Iraq, Two Wounded Nov. 29, 05

Iraq Election Coverage at Ashur T.V. Nov. 29, 05

Iraq's Elections Could Be 'Magnet' for Success, Adviser Says Nov. 29, 05

Assyrian Political posters for the upcoming elections Nov. 29, 05

Islamic reformers struggle to revise school textbooks Nov. 28, 05

Iraq's political-campaign season in full swing as violence continues Nov. 27, 05

The Crusades Remembered, a Different Perspective Nov. 26, 05

Iraqi Factions Seek Timetable for U.S. Pullout Nov. 25, 05

Dora:Baghdad's Neighborhood Becomes Trouble Spot Nov. 25, 05

Iraq: Election Official On Expat Voting Set Up Nov. 24, 05 

Prediction of a Better Future for Iraq Nov. 24, 05

Iraqi Kurdish leadership is more consumed with self-enrichment Nov. 23, 05

Early voting in Iraq's parliamentary election to begin December 12th  Nov. 22, 05

The Assyrian Church of the East Maintains Its Continuity Nov. 22, 05

Not all Middle Easterners are Muslim, Arab Nov. 21, 05

The Middle East Needs Lebanese Christians Nov. 21, 05

Academic Conference on Seyfo [genocide] Held in Sweden Nov. 20, 05

Anovel by Abdulsalam Nov. 20, 05 

Harbole": A documentary film Nov. 20, 05

Letter To the Hellenic Parliament  Nov. 20, 05

My Grandmother Heranus  Nov. 19, 05

Books About the Assyrians Nov. 17, 05  

A Moslem discovers the praise of Christian and Jewish scriptures in the Koran  Nov. 17, 05

Iran is behind the Badr Brigade who are accused of jailing and torturing the Sunnies Nov. 17, 05 

Democracy, the Kurdish Style.  Nov. 17, 05

Talabani Promises Pope Equality and Respect for All Religions Nov.16, 05

Assyrian Wedding Comes to Australian TV Nov. 15, 05

In Jordan, Chaldean Catholics help Iraqis Nov. 15. 05

Are you a Christian in the Middle East?  Nov. 14, 05

The Assyrian General Conference Election Platform for Iraq Nov. 12, 05

Old hotel may become home for Hurricane Katrina victims Nov. 12, 05

Iraqi leader affirms Christians' rights Nov. 11, 11, 05

Egypt's Christian-Muslim divide 11, 11, 05

Assyrian Family Attacked in Tikrit Nov. 11, 05

Ancinet Assyrian Style Citadel in Los Angeles Nov. 11, 05

Priests say Iraqi Christians now victims of extortion Nov. 08, 05

Iraq; International Religious Freedom Report 2005 Nov. 08, 05

Chaldean Synod to focus on Iraq and Liturgy Nov. 08, 05

Assyrian Killed in Kirkuk's Car Bombing Nov. 05, 05

Funeral of Grace Mgr. J. Y. Cicek Nov. 05, 05 

Witnesses Describe Ballot Fraud in Nineveh Nov. 04, 05

Chaldean synod should tackle Christian migration and evangelicals' proselytism,  11. 04, 05 

Unexpected Death of His Eminence Mor Julius Yeshu Çiçek Shocks Assyrians & the Syrian Orthodox Church Nov. 03, 05  

Three Christian schoolgirls beheaded in Indonesia Nov. 03, 05

On the trail of stolen Iraqi art Nov. 03, 05

Lost in the Sunni Triangle Leaders of Baghdad church presumed dead.  Nov. 03, 05

Who is Killing the Iraqi's and the Americans?   Nov. 02, 05

What Next in Iraq?  Nov. 02, 05

An American's View of Iraq's Assyrians  Nov. 01, 05

October = Tishrin I

New Coalitions Emerge for Parliamentary Elections in Iraq10, 31, 05

Should the U.S. Withdraw? Let the Iraqi People Decide 10, 31, 05

Those Who Voted Against Constitution Are Terrorists: Iraqi President 10, 30, 05

An Assyrian Engineer Killed by the Kurds in Kirkuk 10, 30, 05

Kurds Reclaiming Prized Territory In Northern Iraq 10, 30, 05

Dwyer: Most Iraqis want a constitution - and want U.S. troops to leave 10, 30, 05

The oldest lense 10, 28, 05

Westminster Hall debate on Iraqi Kurdistan  i.e. northern Iraq 10, 25, 05

Iraq constitution approved  10, 25, 05 

Assyrian and Babylonian medicine was surprisingly advanced 10, 24, 05 

What's in a Name? 10, 12, 05 

Draft constitution denies equal rights, say Iraq's Christians  10, 22, 05

Rejection of Iraqi Referendum Possible as Nineveh Vote Fraud Reviewed 10, 21, 05 

Rosie Malek-Yonan's Schedule of The Crimson Field Book Tour 10, 20, 05

TURKEY DECRIES the Assyro-Chaldean MONUMENT IN FRANCE 10, 20, 05

Vote Figures for Crucial Ninveh Province Don't Add Up 10, 19, 05

Iraq Constitution: Bad news for Christians  10, 19. 05

Assyrian students unite 10, 19, 05

Iraq bishops ready to seek help from Pope  10, 19, 05

Charter vote resonates with Valley Iraqis Likely passage gives many hope 10. 18. 05  

Dividing the Chaldeans from the Assyrians by the Iraqi Constitution  10, 18, 05

A monument in France dedicated to the Remembrance of Assyro-Chaldean massacres by the Ottoman Turks. 10, 17, 05

Swing state' of Nineveh may be moving in favour of constitution 10, 15, 05 

Iraq votes for the Constitution and for its future 10, 14, 05

Forgotten victims - Iraqi Christians who speak the language of Jesus  10, 14, 05

Mgr Sako: people in Kirkuk have not read the constitution but will vote  10,13, 05

Terrorism strikes all Iraqis, says Patriarch 10, 13, 05

Assyriska a national football team without a country  10, 12, 05

Referendum: 'Yes' in Kurdistan and Southern cities and 'No' in Kirkuk, al Anbar and Diala 10, 12, 05

Chaos depriving Towns from Voting - The Minorities Fear the Domination of Islamic Parties10, 12, 05 

Bas-reliefs of winged goddesses discovered in western Iran 10, 12, 05

Immigration of Iraqi Chaldeans Abroad Passes through Jordan 10, 12, 05

Baghdadis tell their stories  10, 12, 05

Assyrialogist Henry Saggs Dies at 84 10, 10, 05

Letter by Ms. Jacqueline Zomaya The Assyrian representative to the Iraqi National Assembly 10, 10, 05

The Kurds are "cleansing" their domain ­ and provoking a civil war in Iraq  10, 09, 05

Nestorian label "imposed unjustly upon the Assyrians"  10, 08, 05

Iran's Assyrian MP-Felicitation to the Supreme Leader  10, 8, 05

Syriac Manuscripts from the Vatican Library: Volume 1 10, 08, 05

Sunnis Threaten Referendum Boycott if Rules Not Changed  10, 05, 05

Helping the Iraqi refugees in Jordan  10, 04, 05

Final Draft of Iraqi Constitution  10, 03, 05

Two More Assyrian Children Orphaned  10, 02, 05

Discoveries of the Assyrian antiquities in Syria 10, 01, 05 

Sectarian Strife tears apart Baghdad's Neighborhoods 10, 01, 05

 

 

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