Christianity in Iraq

Mar Mattai Monastery, the Saint Matthew Monastery, Iraq (دير مار متى ܕܝܪܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܡܬܝ‎) The Armenian Church of Baghdad, Iraq

The Christians of Iraq are considered to be one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world. The vast majority of Iraqi Christians are indigenous Eastern Aramaic-speaking ethnic Assyrians who are the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Assyria, and follow the Syriac Christian tradition. Some are also known by the name of their religious denomination as well as their ethnic identity, such as Chaldo-Assyrian, Chaldean Catholics or Syriac Orthodox Church, (see Terms for Syriac Christians) Non-Assyrian Iraqi Christians are largely Arab Christians and Armenians, and a very small minority of Kurdish, Shabaks and Iraqi Turkmen Christians. Most present-day Iraqi Christians are ethnically, linguistically, historically and genetically distinct from Kurds, Arabs, Iranians, Turks and Turcomen (as well as from fellow Syriac Christians in Western Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and South Western Turkey). Regardless of religious affiliation (Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Assyrian Pentecostal Church etc) the Eastern Aramaic speaking Christians of Iraq and it's surrounds are one genetically homogeneous people. They identify themselves as being a separate people, of different origins and with a distinct history of their own harking back to ancient Assyria and Mesopotamia (see Assyrian continuity and History of the Assyrian people). Assyrian Christians also have communities in North Eastern Syria, South Eastern Turkey and North Western Iran as well as in the wider worldwide Assyrian diaspora.

Syriac Christianity was first established in Mesopotamia, and certain subsets of that tradition (namely the Church of the East and its successor churches) were established in northern and central-southern Iraq, and would eventually spread to becoming one of the most popular Christian churches in the Middle East and Fertile Crescent Region, and would spread as far as India and China.

Iraq plays a rich and vital contribution to Christian history, and after Israel, Iraq has the most biblical history of any other country in the world. The patriarch Abraham was from Uruk, in southern Iraq, modern day Nasiriya, and Rebecca was from northwest Iraq, in Assyria. Additionally, Daniel lived in Iraq most of his life. The prophet Ezekiel was from southern Iraq and his shrine is located there. Shrines of the prophet Jonah and Saint George are also located there, and various other biblical prophets and saints are said to have been originally from there as well. Adam and Eve are also widely thought to have hailed from Iraq, as the biblical Garden of Eden is largely attributed to have been located in southern Iraq.

Prior to the Gulf War in 1991, Christians numbered one million in Iraq. This may be an undercount by half as seen in the 1987 census numbers. The Baathist rule under Saddam Hussein kept anti-Christian violence under control but subjected some to "relocation programmes". Under this regime, the predominantly ethnically and linguistically distinct Assyrian people were pressured to identify as Arabs. The Christian population fell to an estimated 800,000 during the 2003 Iraq War.

During the 2013–2017 Iraq War, with ISIS rapidly sweeping through Iraq's western lands, Assyrian and Armenian Christians fled as they feared persecution by the terrorist organisation, as they were to ‘execute’ any person who did not believe in their Sunni sect. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to the nation's capital where they found refuge and adequate housing, some of whom have chosen to make Baghdad their new permanent home following the full defeat of ISIS in Iraq. Thousands have also fled to other parts of southern Iraq, such as the Shia-majority city of Najaf which housed thousands of Christians in holy Islamic shrines once th... ...read more

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