Secret documents found in Iraq reveal a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing by former President Saddam Hussein against indigenous Assyrian Christians living in northern Iraq.
According to the Rev. Ken Joseph Jr., a leader in the Assyrian Christian community, the documents tell of a “decades-long pattern” of persecution and “Islamization” by Saddam.
Writes Joseph in a column on AssyrianChristians.com:
“Entitled ‘The Settlements and Villages of the Christian Assyrians in the Region of Kurdistan Iraq,’ the document, which goes to 104 pages, is a shocking view of a previously mostly unknown campaign of terror against a tiny minority in Iraq.”
Joseph says 290 villages were named in the documentation with the word “destroyed” next to each one.
“The document with ‘Confidential For Internal Use Only’ and subtitled ‘The Contribution of the International Non-Governmental Organizations to the Islamization of Assyrian Villages’ goes into great detail on the destruction of the indigenous people of the region,” he writes.
The villages in question had been inhabited by Christians for centuries, while the Assyrian people have lived in the area since before the time of Christ.
According to Joseph, the Kurdistan Regional Government worked together with Saddam in the cleansing operations.
“Entry after entry reads ‘demography forcibly changed,’ ‘destroyed,’ ‘disappeared,’ ‘gas holocaust,’ ‘intifada,'” he writes.
“Entries read ‘gas-Anfal,’ meaning the villagers were gassed during the ‘Anfal Campaign’ by the Saddam government to destroy the area and ‘Islamizize’ and ‘Arabize’ it.
“The ‘gassing of the Kurds’ extended to a much greater population of Assyrian Christians as well, although this has been previously completely hidden.”
Joseph notes many churches were destroyed during the campaign. One entry recorded: “‘Mar Gewargis Church, 1,300 years old, destroyed 1978.” Another said, “Mar Odishu Church destroyed, church bell stolen from ruins.”
Villagers not killed were forced to leave their towns and move to larger cities. Joseph spoke to Christians in Baghdad whose stories back up the report.
“They forcibly came into our villages and ordered our people out under penalty of death,” said Amir Oraha, an Assyrian activist who was jailed under the Hussein regime. “Each time, we were replaced in our own villages by Muslims who had come from other parts of the country. It was a careful and organized plan to get all Christians out of northern Iraq, particularly in an area where we have the historical right to be there.”
Joseph reports many of the destroyed churches were replaced with “huge Muslim mosques donated by Saudi Arabia.”
Said Oraha: “We have 10,000 families who want to return to their villages now. They are living in Baghdad, Mosul and overseas. We have tried. We have appealed to the United States, to the Iraqi government, to international organizations for help, but we are not being helped. The Kurds are being given massive funds to move to our area, but we are not.
“What can be done? We are appealing to the world to help us. We do not understand why the United States budgeted $180 million for Kurds to move to our villages and nothing is budgeted for us to move back to the villages that we were forcibly taken out of by Saddam Hussein and his men. We are waiting for help so the Assyrian Christians can finally return home.”
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