IRAQI CHRISTIANS – STUDIO 9 FILMS FOR CHANNEL 4 NEWSCOMMENTARY
A brother, maybe a son… lost in the bombing of the church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad in October.
More than 300 worshipped here then… now only a forlorn gathering of survivors remain… bullet holes and blood stains… emblems of the fear Christians feel in Iraq this Christmas. While it's safer in Baghdad for most people now, Islamist extremists are targetting those they call infidels… maybe a million Christians lived in Iraq before the war, but more than half have left and others are following.
LINDSEY HILSUM PTC
Standing here in this church in Baghdad it isnt hard to understand why Christians want to leave. Christanity's been here for 2000 years - some people still speak Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. But the killings, bombings and attacks of the last few weeks may have tipped the balance. People want to go.
Security camera footage from the building opposite shows what happened… the terrorists, believed to be linked to Al Qaeda, climbed over the wall… there was shooting all around … then they exploded grenades and suicide bombs as they held the congregation hostage.
Amongst the dead, Uday Eashoue and his 4 year old son, Adam….
Uday's mother and sisters can't bear to go to church now, not even for Christmas mass. They scarcely dare leave their home.
AMAL HABIB EASHOUE
Now Uday is gone, I feel I've lost my world, as if the world doesn't exist anymore. // I don't want to leave Baghdad. I grew up, got married, and had my children here. I dont want to leave the country. But now that this has happened, I fear for my daughters.
Her husband talks to the police who've belatedly been tasked to protect Christian houses, several of which were attacked after the church bombing. He's bitter that they felt safer in the time of Saddam Hussein.
ZUHAIR MARZINA EASHOUE
We dont want to leave, because we've watered this country's soil with our blood for thousands of years, and this is a Christian civilisation, with Christian history, but what has happened has made us hate the country which doesn't protect us and our children.
Two hundred miles north of Baghdad, the autonomous Kurdish region has provided some sanctuary... Since the church bombing, a thousand Christian families have fled here. Amongst them, Zuhair and Amal's nephew and niece… we met them in a church because although Kurdistan is generally secure the only town where they can afford to stay isn't …. they didn't want to show their faces.
You want to sit outside in the morning and breathe fresh air, to feel life is good, but you sit and you're afraid, you go shopping and you're afraid, you go for a walk somewhere and you're afraid. What kind of life is this? Iraq has become a hell.
Even though it's Christmas, and we love this festival, what can we do? We are sad at the moment, so we won't celebrate.
We drove to the 7th century monastery of Rabban Hormizd at Al Qosh… at its foot sits St Catherine's, where the monks are sheltering some 20 families who fled the northern town of Mosul - Nineveh in the Bible - in November after a spate of attacks.
Hanna left after her neighbour's house was bombed and her children were threatened... Life, she says, was better before the US invasion.. she doesn't want her surname broadcast.
REFUGEE ***SHE NEEDS TO BE ANONYMOUS FOR INTERNATIONAL VERSION
We were happy and getting on with our lives, but as soon as the Americans came into the country this is what happened to us! They say to us, the Americans are your people, they're Christians. They say you brought them here. And they kill us for it.
There were once 300 monks here…now there are only 10. As Islamist groups become more powerful - and in places violent - across the Middle East, Christian communities are diminishing - and nowhere faster than in Iraq.
FATHER GABRIELE TOOMA
ST CATHERINES MONASTERY
In the Middle East - Iraq, Egypt or Syria - in all these places, perhaps not one Christian will remain in the future, because of the threats against them. There's a danger we will become like Iran and other places where Christians were all pushed out. They went to Europe, and their culture and identity were lost.
Back in Baghdad, there are fewer bombs on the streets these days… the Minister for human rights, who happens to be a Christian, says it's not a question of putting walls around churches, but providing security for all Iraqis, whatever their religion..
MINISTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Since 2003 everything in Iraq has been damaged, we are rebuilding a new army, we are building a new police, it was the responsibility of the Coalition Force. // And that means the situation in Iraq is not just the responsibility of the Iraqi government, it is the responsible of all the world, all the countries who were part of the war.
Christmas service at St George's - the only church in Baghdad celebrating fully this year. Canon Andrew White, a Church of England vicar, combines traditions… a Santa who might be at home in an English shopping centre… and the ancient Eastern Catholic rites.
NATSOT "The Lord's Prayer in Aramaic
He's drafted in a Sunni Muslim Sheikh… applauded when he says Christians shouldn't be regarded as a minority but an integral part of Iraq. Canon White - determined to stay in Baghdad despite battling multiple schlerosis - wants others to stay too.
CANON ANDREW WHITE
VICAR OF BAGHDAD
I ask people to stay because its important that we maintain a Christian presence here.// Christianity is like the root of Iraq. If you cut the root, you cut Iraq and it's finished.
The new Iraqi government will have to move fast if it's to stop the exodus…. This is a Christmas full of sorrow... and for many Christians, probably their last in Iraq. LH, C4N, Baghdad. // 7.20 NB:
PLAY TO END OF MUSIC ( CAROL SUNG IN CHURCH)