Iraqi Christians flee to Syria

Iraqi Christians flee to Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria – In small but steady numbers, Iraqi Christians are moving to Syria to escape the threats and violence of Islamic extremists, say Iraqi Christian exiles.

“The religious and ethnic pressure on us is tremendous,” said Shamasha Muayad Shamoun Georges, 45, a deacon of the Chaldean Solaqa Church in Baghdad, who fled to Syria two weeks ago with his wife and five children. Georges said the pressure comes from “Muslim extremists,” not from the interim Iraqi government, which has a Christian as minister of immigration and refugees.During Sunday evening mass, suspected Islamic militants set off a series of explosions at five churches in Baghdad and the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing at least seven people and wounding dozens.It was the first major assault on Iraq’s Christian minority since the Iraqi war began last year.Christians number about 750 000 people among Iraq’s total population of about 25 million.They include the Chaldean-Assyrians, the majority sect, Armenians – one of whose churches was bombed on Sunday, Syrian Catholics and Syrian Orthodox.Islamic militants have told Christian owners of liquor stores to close down their businesses, and they have threatened Christians who run beauty salons and shops selling fashionable clothes.Georges said he does not expect such pressure to end soon.Another Iraqi Christian in Syria, Jacqueline Isho, said that when Christians complain to the authorities in Iraq, they are “always ignored.””Some police sympathise with, or support, those Islamists and gangs,” Isho said.Scores of Iraqi Christian families move to Syria and Jordan every day, according to Emanuel Khoshaba, a representative of the Iraqi Assyrian Democratic Movement in Syria.Albert Sargon, 24, and his wife, Suhat, 26, left Iraq last month.”I ran away from threatening messages sent by Islamists because I was working as a cook for Americans,” Sargon said.He and his wife do not plan to return.- Nampa-APGeorges said the pressure comes from “Muslim extremists,” not from the interim Iraqi government, which has a Christian as minister of immigration and refugees.During Sunday evening mass, suspected Islamic militants set off a series of explosions at five churches in Baghdad and the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing at least seven people and wounding dozens.It was the first major assault on Iraq’s Christian minority since the Iraqi war began last year.Christians number about 750 000 people among Iraq’s total population of about 25 million.They include the Chaldean-Assyrians, the majority sect, Armenians – one of whose churches was bombed on Sunday, Syrian Catholics and Syrian Orthodox.Islamic militants have told Christian owners of liquor stores to close down their businesses, and they have threatened Christians who run beauty salons and shops selling fashionable clothes.Georges said he does not expect such pressure to end soon.Another Iraqi Christian in Syria, Jacqueline Isho, said that when Christians complain to the authorities in Iraq, they are “always ignored.””Some police sympathise with, or support, those Islamists and gangs,” Isho said.Scores of Iraqi Christian families move to Syria and Jordan every day, according to Emanuel Khoshaba, a representative of the Iraqi Assyrian Democratic Movement in Syria.Albert Sargon, 24, and his wife, Suhat, 26, left Iraq last month.”I ran away from threatening messages sent by Islamists because I was working as a cook for Americans,” Sargon said.He and his wife do not plan to return.- Nampa-AP

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