BAGHDAD – Not all Christians around the world are celebrating Easter in joy as they enter Holy Week, commemorating on sacrifice of Jesus – unfortunately, Iraqi Christians are rather in fear of militant attack on Easter.
"Our people are afraid of some sort of massacre on Easter. Four churches have come to us to ask about how to hire security," said Isoh Barnsavm, an officer in the Bethnahrain Patriotic Union, one of several political parties that represent segments of Iraq's million-strong Christian minority.
"Neighbors are now receiving threatening letters. Some of the threats are from unknown groups," Barnsavm said. "They say, 'You have to be a Muslim, or else we will kill you.'" According to Barnsavm, the possible attack could be done by Ansar al-Islam, a group linked with al Qaeda that was targeted by U.S.-led forces during the war.
Barnsavm said: "There have been hundreds of attacks. Every day we hear of a new attack." He estimated that up to 200 Iraqi Christians have been killed by Muslim extremists since the war began last year.
Late last month, a Chaldean Christian family received a note warning saying that they would be killed and “doomed to hell” and the next day it really happened. A gunman came and killed the two children.
"How can you guarantee we won't be killed? We can't sleep. We can't go out to work. We're so scared that we are carrying our guns all the time. It all happened in less than 10 seconds," the uncle of the two murdered children said in tears.
"We have one family who has been threatened with a note: 'If you visit a church, we will kill you,'" said the senior Bethnahrain party official, who is also a history professor and well-known writer.
"On one side there's globalization, the borderless world, the concept of democracy, culture that flows across borders. Now the central power against this new system comes from the Middle East, from the Islamic fanatics and a tribal culture,” Barnsavm said as he was explaining of the sign of a religious war occuring in Iraq.
"This is not just the Muslims against Christians. It's the fanatical Islamists striking the West. The Kurds near the Iranian border are being attacked by Ansar al-Islam, which says they are not real Muslims,” Barnsavm continued, “But the fanatics see us as part of the West, so we become the first target inside the country.”
Another big obstacle that Christians in Iraq are going through is that they are not represented on the 25-member of Iraqi Governing Council, which was appointed by the chief U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer. According to the constitution, Islam is the state religion, and the given rights are limited to minorities such as Turkmen and Chaldo-Assyrians. They are often receiving no protection from the police.
"It doesn't say what a Chaldo-Assyrian is. We never heard the term before. Is it a nation? Is it an ethnic group, a religion?" asked Nahrain Kohoshaba Toma, leader of the Bethnahrain Free Woman's Union of Iraq.
"We need to work with coalition forces to provide some sort of security for Christian families. Arab have clans. They have security from their clans. Kurds have clans,” Toma said, “Christians don't have clans. They need security, and it starts with the law. Read the new constitution; it does not even say that Christians exist in Iraq.”
Although Christians received some protection under Hussein’s government, the majority of Christians in Iraq say they are happy of fall of Hussein’s dictatorship.
"We are quite happy that Saddam is gone, to end the rule of such a dictator," Barnsavm said, "The attacks that are happening to us are the price we pay for a new system, ending a dictatorship and building a new system. We paid for these kinds of changes throughout history with our blood, every time in history there was a conflict between East and West."