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Christians trying to find a place in war-torn Iraq
US-led invasion has resulted in a widening rift with the the Arab Muslim majority
December 28, 2005
www.thestar.co.za South Africa
By Cyrille Cartier
A little boy with a Santa Claus hood sat bewildered in a truck in his uncle's arms. It was Christmas Eve and loud Christmas music played as the truck roared through the streets of Hamdaniya, a predominantly Christian village about 20km from Mosul.
For Rody Raad this was a Christmas unlike any other. It was the first without his father. Several weeks before, Raad Ayoub (28) was killed by insurgents in neighbouring Mosul. The 2-year-old's uncle was part of the Santa Claus Family, a volunteer group of eight men who were getting ready to distribute presents worth $5 000 (R31 500) to the town's children.
Christians have had a hard time in the new Iraq. As a small minority - about 2% of Iraq's 26-million - they are sometimes lost in the discussions of Iraqi sectarian divides. They often categorise themselves religiously as either Assyrians or Chaldeans, Eastern Orthodox or Catholic, though the passing of time has faded some of the original divides.
Since 2003, however, the differences between them and the Arab Muslim majority have grown. Ironically, said one man in Hamdaniya, before the US invasion, there was peaceful cohabitation between Christians and Muslims. Now many Muslims have left his town, and Christians are wary of wandering beyond their area.
Karam Hasou, leader of the Santa Claus Family, is one of the few who dare to go beyond the "safe zone", as he calls it. He goes to Mosul to attend university, a trip that used to take 15 minutes before the war. Now with all the checkpoints it takes hours - it he can get there at all.
He takes a bus and tries to come back before nightfall, but even during the day, the same bus has been caught in the crossfire between Iraqi army or police and the insurgents. He has come close to death when roadside bombs have exploded, a common weapon used against coalition and Iraqi forces.
In Mosul, a city that thrived with different communities of Arabs and Kurds, Christians and Muslims, the fabric that held them together is being torn apart by the violence. Christians and Kurds are not only being targeted, like some Arabs and Muslims, for collaborating with foreigners: they are also targeted as minorities.
Since 2003, thousands of families have left the Mosul area in search of a safer life. Many have left the country, and according to some estimates, those living outside the country make up two-thirds of the entire Iraqi Christian population. Others with less means have headed to the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
Ankawa, a Christian enclave near Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, is a popular refuge.
"We're against Christians leaving Iraq and we encourage them to unite in Kurdistan," said Nenif Matran Hariri, an Assyrian Christian who came back to Iraq in 2003, having lived most of his life in England.
"If any more leave, there won't be any left." Hariri is working as an adviser on Christian affairs with the Kurdistan regional government and is trying to get Christian families from Baghdad and Mosul to relocate here.
"There's no future for Christians outside of Kurdistan," Hariri believes. "I don't think they can live with Arabs anymore."
Sherzad Kanoon Hanna, a Chaldean living in Ankawa, said: "We regard ourselves as part of the Kurdish people. We get more rights than under other dictatorial successive regimes in Iraq."
But not all Iraqi Christians are united in their view. Some support a united Iraq instead of the popular Kurdish aspiration to independence. While some say the Christians' best option is to support the Kurds, others, like Chaldo Soroot, of the Assyrian Democratic Party (ADM), think Christians must make their own way.
ADM, a political party that started in 1979, joined the Kurdish list in the January elections but established their own in this month's elections.
"We are the original people," Soroot said. "We are a small group but we must have our voice in the new political map." On Christmas Eve, the young men of the Santa Claus Family, most of them in their 20s, donned the red-and-white suits over their long-sleeved shirts with their logo on it: an outline of the map of Iraq with a comic Santa face next to the Iraqi flag. "Merry Christmas" was written in English. Other messages were in Arabic but the name of their group was written in Assyrian, a language written and spoken here only among Christians.
The group has existed for the past seven years. With the help of parties like ADM and donations from abroad, Santa's coffers have grown and six more places have been added to the Christmas Eve tour.
"There should not only be bombs for the children," Hasou said. "When I find a smile on a child's face, it's a lot of happiness for me and my group." - Independent Foreign Service
Ashur TV -----December 2005 Schedule
December = Canoon Gadmaya
Christians trying to find a place in war-torn Iraq Dec. 28, 05
Hopes for peace in Iraq this Christmas Dece. 26, 05
Assyrians make sure Iraq pays attention Dec. 26, 05
Christmas Celebrations in Turkey Dec. 26, 05
Fearful Christmas in Baghdad Dec. 25, 05
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
Sunnis, Secular Shiites Threaten Boycott Dec. 21, 05
The Real War On Christmas Dec. 19, 95
Touch of Assyria in San Jose. Dec. 16, 05
The Mid-East's beleaguered Christians Dec. 16, 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 Americans Ponder Role in Homeland's Vote Dec. 12, 05
Iraqi-Americans ready for polls Dec 12, 2005
Iraqis here get voice in Baghdad's future Dec. 11, 05
Iraq's Voting in Canada Dec. 10, 05
Fostering creativity in dangerous times Dec. 8, 05
Meet Miss World Canada 2005, Ramona Amiri Dec. 8. 05
News From Iraq Dec. 8, 05
740 Stained with the blood of our Martyrs Dec. 6, 05
Myths About the Situation in Iraq Dec. 5, 05
Shades of voter apathy Dec, 2, 05
Iraq's Oily Referendum Dec. 1, 05
Iraqi Parliamentary Elections In California Dec. 1, 05