In 2003, more than 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq. Now, after more than a decade of war and conflict, less than 150,000 remain. But, The Jerusalem Post's Seth J. Frantzman reports, those Christians remaining are now preparing for the holiday season in areas that have been liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS):
In one of the oldest lands of Christianity, Assyrian Christians are awaiting their third Christmas since extremists from Islamic State made hundreds of thousands into refugees in 2014. “Around Nineveh [in northern Iraq] the only people are the soldiers and the clergy,” says Juliana Taimoorazy of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. “They want to go back and return to their homes and rebuild in the spring.”
In 2003 on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq which toppled Saddam Hussein there were around 1.6 million Christians in Iraq. Most of these were Assyrian Christian members of the Assyrian Church of the East or Chaldean Catholic Church. They lived throughout Iraq but were concentrated in Baghdad and in the area of Nineveh Plains around Mosul in northern Iraq which borders the Kurdish region. In 2014 when ISIS took Mosul they expelled the Christians. Over the last two years it mined Christian towns such as Bakhdida and Tel Keppe, digging tunnels under the houses and damaging the churches. It dynamited the 1,400 year old St. Elijah’s monastery.
Christians fled to refugee camps in the Kurdistan Regional Government and many left for other countries, joining an Assyrian diaspora that lives throughout the Middle East and the United States. Taimoorazy, who fled Iran as a teenager in 1989, says that there are less than 150,000 Christians in Iraq today. But they are determined not to let ISIS have the final say. “I’ve noticed dedication among the generation after ISIS. Young people want to return and help rebuild it and they want to be equipped to fight...”