On December 2nd the 60 minutes news program did a report on the Aramaic Christians of Iraq and even mentioned the Aramaic language. The episode is called "The Purge" check it out at the 60 minutes website!It is a pity that the news is getting out so late-but at least it is getting out-also remember my program on The Crossover that is on "youtube." (You can find it under “Crossover Productions.”)
Biblical Archeological Review has a short article on Aramaic in the Jan-Feb edition. It is on page 12 and 13.
Smithsonian Magazine has an article on Ethiopian Christians in the December 2007 edition.
I have done an interview with http://www.reachout.org/ about the persecution of the Assyrians. Check it out.
According to ancient Church tradition, Christianity was brought to Mesopotamia by Thaddeus of the seventy disciples of Jesus (Luke 10:1) and by St. Thomas, one of Christ’s original twelve disciples. The Christians of this region spoke Syriac, an Aramaic dialect very similar to the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus Christ. Many important theologians, such as Ephraim the Syrian and St. Isaac of Nineveh were Mesopotamian Christians who wrote in Syriac Aramaic. The Assyrian Church of the East, formerly known as the Nestorian Church, was very active in missions and planted churches in Mongolia, China, India, and Socotra. These mission churches flourished for centuries but, with the exception of India, have disappeared largely as the result of Islamic persecution. In the region of northern Iraq, southern Turkey and western Iran a remnant of Assyrian Christians survived, although their numbers were decimated by the genocide of Armenian and Assyrian Christians carried out by Turkish soldiers during World War I. The Assyrians still speak a modern form of Aramaic.
In a census carried out in 1987 there were found to be one million Christians in Iraq. Due to the instability in the region and the lure of a better life in the west the number has declined to perhaps as low as 600,000.
With the arrival of American forces the situation for Christians in Iraq has deteriorated. Sadly, it was more secure under Saddam Hussein that it currently is with the presence of U.S. soldiers. Christians were allowed to worship in peace. There was some ethnic persecution of Christians. Saddam Hussein didn’t want to acknowledge the ethnicity of the Assyrians or recognize the Aramaic language. He wanted Christians to become Christian Arabs and become more Arabized. After the ouster of Saddam Islamic radicals have begun attacking Iraq’s Christians. In the beginning of the war, young Christian women who worked on American bases and Christian merchants that sold alcohol were attacked and murdered. During the summer of 2004 the attacked intensified with synchronized bombings of churches across Iraq. Christians have been attacked all across Iraq, in the northern region around Mosul (ancient Nineveh), in Baghdad and in Basra in the south. Christian boys have been beheaded. There are even reports of crucifixions of Christians. Clergy have been targeted. Pastors and deacons have been murdered immediately after services. Baghdad is the most dangerous region. For this reason, many Christians have fled. Many have fled north to Kurdistan, which is the ancestral homeland for many Assyrians. Over a hundred thousand have fled the country and are stranded as refugees in Syria and Jordan. Another serious problem is ransom kidnappings. It seems every week there is a Christian taken hostage by Moslem terrorist who threaten to murder the victim unless the family pays them an exorbitant amount of money. Christians have been forced to keep a low profile. Many are afraid to attend church services. Several churches have been abandoned. In certain regions in Baghdad have become completely depleted of Christians. The Christians have fled for their lives and are now in northern Iraq or are stranded in exile in neighboring countries.
Despite four years of intense persecution there has been an acute lack of awareness of the situation among America’s Evangelical Christian community and scarcely any reporting of it through the news media until recently.
What should be done? Believing in the power of prayer as I do, I feel the key is this; to be informed and to pray. I also believe Christians need to voice their concerns about the situation to the government. Many Assyrian Christians desire an Assyrian safe haven where they can live in peace in security in their homeland. We don’t want special rights or privileges for Christians, what we want is full equal rights as citizens of Iraq. The Iraqi government should also encourage the use of the Aramaic language and also allow an Iraqi Christian television station, radio station and print media. American Christians should give to help to re-settle Iraqi Christians in their homeland or help them re-settle in the United States, Australia or Europe. Perhaps with the decrease of violence in Iraq the country will once again be safe for Christians to worship their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, freely, openly and without fear. This should be our prayer. Groups such as the Barnabas Fund and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association are providing humanitarian assistance to the suffering Aramaic Christians of Iraq.
(There are a variety of Christian denominations in Iraq. Most Iraqi Christians belong to the Chaldean Church, an Aramaic Church that has come under the authority of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Another important church is the Syrian Orthodox Church. There is a small and fledgling Protestant community. Most Assyrian Protestants come from a Presbyterian background but there are non-denominational Assyrian Bible churches. The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Cardinal Emmanuel Dilly, has spoken out against the Evangelicals. So much for Christian unity! Another Aramaic group, the Disciples of Saint John the Baptist, called the Mandaeans, have also been suffering terribly under the persecution.)
Stephen Andrew Missick served in Iraq as a soldier during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and 2004. He was stationed in Baghdad. He is an ordained minister of the Gospel and is attending seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written articles on the history of the Assyrian Church of the East for the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. He has visited with Assyrian refugees in the surrounding countries. He is the author of The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity and Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ’s Teachings.
The Situation for Christians in Iraq
HALF of Iraq’s Christians have fled since the outbreak of intense violence against them that broke out in late 2004 and has continued until now. There are over 300,000 refugees stranded in neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria. There were over one million Christians in Iraq. The number has declined to about 600,000.
THE situation in Baghdad: Many churches have been abandoned. Over 12 major churches are now vacant. Certain Christian neighborhoods in Baghdad are now completely devoid of Christians. Remaining Christians are afraid to attend church services due to fear of violence against them. many have fled-leaving Iraq completely or fleeing to northern Iraq, a region called “Kurdistan<” where they face poverty and destitution. ISLAMIC radicals have made threats. Threatening messages have been sent to Christians. Copies of these threatening messages can be seen in the Barnabas Fund magazine. The messages warn them to convert to Islam, flee or be killed. VIOLENT attacks on Christians have continued. Violence against Christians is the worst it has been in 100 years. Assyrian young men have been kidnapped and decapitated. (Including 14 year old Ayad Tariq.) Certain Christians have also been crucified. Over 30 churches have been attacked or bombed since 2003. Several pastors have been killed. This year the pastor and deacons of the Holy Ghost Church were killed by Islamic terrorists after services. WHO are Iraq’s Christians? The Assyrian Christians of Iraq still speak Aramaic-the language that was spoken by Jesus Christ. The Christian community of Iraq is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. According to tradition it was founded by St. Thomas and Saint Thaddeus. Roman Catholic Iraqis are called Chaldeans. WHERE can I get more information? Stephen Andrew Missick has written “The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity” and “Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ’s Teachings” which introduce the importance of Aramaic and who the Aramaic Christians are. The Assyrian International News Agency has published a report on the persecution of Assyrians entitled “Incipient Genocide” The Ethnic Cleansing of the Assyrians of Iraq” (http://www.aina.org/). Information can also be found on Zinda Magazine On-line and http://www.nineveh.com/.
WHAT can be done? (Or “What can I do to help?)
Give “The Barnabas Fund” http://www.barnabasfund.org/ PO Box 6336 McLean VA 1210 and “Aramaic Bible Translators” who are working to preserve the Aramaic language and provide Iraqi Christians with Bibles in their own language