Archive for January, 2009

Louis Sako

The archbishop (Louis Sako) in Kirkuk described the murder of a Christian man in Mosul city “Shoreek”  as a “tragic and sorrowful end of christian man”.  the same man was kidnapped in the New Year eve, and was released by his kidnappers after paying a ransom of 50,000 dollars. 

“Shoreek” whose age is 36 was found dead in Mosul city after a fierce resistance with his kidnappers for the second time, but at the end of his fight, few bullets in his head were enough to end his struggle.

The Archbishop (Louis Sako) says “Iraqi Christians are major targets for the armed gangs, because they don’t have any protection, besides, the revenge custom or practice, however, is unknown among them, that why the families of the kidnapped Christians don’t trace these gangs and try to revenge, that why many gangs see in Christians an easy target to fulfill their aims”.


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Iraqi in Syria

The UN refugee agency has begun helping hundreds of Iraqi Christians who fled to Syria to escape violence and threats in the northern Iraq city of Mosul.

Thousands of Christians have left Mosul over the past fortnight. Most have found shelter in villages elsewhere in Ninawa province, but about 400 have crossed into Syria. It is still not clear who is behind the intimidation.

“Many Christians from Mosul have been systematically targeted recently and are no longer safe there. We are ready to provide support for those Iraqis that seek refuge in neighbouring countries,” said Laurens Jolles, UNHCR’s representative in Syria. “We are grateful that Syria continues to welcome refugees,” he added of a country that is hosting at least 1.2 million Iraqi refugees.

UNHCR has fast-tracked the registration of Christian refugees from Mosul who have turned up at the agency’s offices in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, while a team of field officers has travelled to the Qamishli area close to Iraq, where some people have been arriving. Following registration, families facing financial difficulties are assessed for emergency grants and food assistance.

Field officers have met 20 families from Mosul in the Qamishli area in the past few days, while more than 20 Iraqi Christian families have sought the agency’s help in Aleppo in recent days.

Those interviewed have told similar stories of sudden flight from Mosul. Many left with limited financial resources and need help extending their visas to Syria. All said they hoped to be able to return to their homes in the Iraqi city soon.

Sara* and her mother left Mosul early last week, two days after someone called one of her colleagues at work and said that all Christians should leave the city immediately or be killed. “My colleagues wept as all the Christians in the office rushed out of the building,” she recalled.

Sara was unnerved, but decided to leave only after hearing reports that 11 friends had been killed at a checkpoint by militiamen dressed as police officers. “We heard that they were killed on the spot after their identity cards were examined showing the Christian faith of the person,” she explained.

She and her mother escaped with a couple of bags and all the money that they had in the house – they did not dare go to the bank to remove their savings. They had visited Syria on holiday earlier in the year and met the ancient Christian community in the city of Saidnaya, north of Damascus. The two women, who felt the Church would support them, approached UNHCR in Damascus.

Nina*, a nurse by profession, fled Mosul almost two weeks ago. “The threats started months ago, with phone calls, letters and even messages on our door,” she said, adding that she tried to ignore them at first.

But when churches closed and friends and acquaintances began falling victim to the violence, including a friend shot dead in front of his son, Nina began reconsidering her position. It was difficult because she had an invalid mother.

Nina hung on in Mosul until October 10, when she received a new threat. She immediately took her mother to a village outside Mosul and then carried on across the border into Syria with her sister’s young family. Nina has no phone and has not been able to reach her mother since she left. She says she’s frightened to go back to Iraq, but is very worried about her mother and is considering returning to try to bring her to Syria.

Mariam* hung on even longer in Mosul and only left with her son Farah* after a wheelchair-bound Christian man was murdered. “We were the hard core that never wanted to leave Iraq, even with the tense environment. My brother in Syria has been begging me to leave for a long time, but I never agreed,” she said, adding: “As we felt the knife close to our throats, we had no choice but to flee.”

Her two daughters and their families took refuge in villages near Mosul. “They tell us that there is nowhere for them to go. They are in the streets,” said a softly weeping Mariam, who is trying to arrange a visa to Syria for them.

She dreams of going back, but dreads to think what she will find. She left her keys with Muslim neighbours but has heard that the homes of friends were destroyed with dynamite soon after they left. “I lived in my home for 35 years and had to pack in 30 minutes,” said the devastated mother as she talked to UNHCR in the living room of her brother’s modest home in Qamishli.

UNHCR has registered around 220,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, of whom 15,000 originate from Ninewa province where Mosul is located. UNHCR is mid-way through a food distribution for more than 190,000 Iraqi refugees throughout Syria, while approximately 38,000 Iraqi refugees benefit from financial assistance.

* Names changed for protection reasons.

By Sybella Wilkes
in Qamishli, Syria

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Oregon Soldier Helps Iraqi Translators Come To U.S.

Bush administration officials, as well as both major presidential candidates, responded Tuesday to calls for an Iraqi withdrawal timetable.

The Iraqi government says, at some point, it wants the American military to leave their country.

In the meantime, thousands are leaving Iraq and moving to the United States. Ethan Lindsey reports on one Oregon soldier who is trying to help with that.


When Captain Jason Faler served in Iraq in 2005, he worked closely with local translators at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Together they sat in on high-level meetings between Iraqi and U.S. officials.

And Faler says it was easy to grow close to the translators — both because they spoke English and he spoke Arabic. His wife is Egyptian-Lebanese.

Jason Faler: “Most of them became very good friends of mine.”

So when Faler returned to Oregon last year, he stayed in touch with his former Iraqi colleagues on email.

Jason Faler: “So it wasn’t odd that I had received an email from three of them on the same day. What was odd was the subject of all three of their emails was the same.”

All three had heard a news report that mentioned a new refugee program passed by Congress.

The legislation, backed in part by Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, gives special visas to Iraqis who worked as interpreters and translators for U.S. forces in Iraq.

Faler says in Baghdad, translators who work with the U.S. live in fear.

Jason Faler: “They’re all hunted. They are very, very enticing targets for the insurgency today.”

When he got the emails, Faler said he doubted he could get all three of his friends out – but he set about helping them anyway.

All now live in an apartment complex in Salem, with their families.

Maan is one of them.

He goes by just his first name, so that his family back in Iraq can remain safe.

Along with his wife and their two kids, he had a particularly difficult time getting out of the Middle East.

Maan: “I moved to Jordan first to make the interview. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad doesn’t process such a thing. So I moved to Jordan, and I thought at this moment, just within some days, I’ll get the visa and fly to the United States.

Ethan Lindsey: “So, how long were you in Jordan then, if you thought it was just going to be a few days.”

Maan: “Five months. And the more days go on, the more I got pessimistic.”

Maan says he came close to giving up on the dream of moving to the U.S. In early February of this year, he even considered going back to Iraq because he didn’t see any hope for his family in Jordan.

Jason Faler: “And only, a couple of days after that, we got an email from the embassy saying go pick up your visa.”

Maan: “Yeah! And you know, it was Valentine’s Day.”

Jason Faler: “That’s right, it was Valentine’s Day.”

Maan: “I still remember that I have to celebrate this day every year.”

Plane flights to the U.S. aren’t free. Not to mention all the phone calls, shipping costs, and research.

Faler, back in Oregon, decided to ask others for help.

He set up a nonprofit, named the Checkpoint One Foundation. It  helps translators move to the U.S. and helps them once they got here.

He decided to locate them in Oregon because they’d be close to him – but also because the cost of living is relatively low.

He’s raised about $80,000 total and helped advise about 50 people from Iraq and Afghanistan. But most of the money so far has gone towards his three friends – and their families.

That’s paid for the costs to get them here – and subsidize their rent, groceries, and other  living expenses.

Jason Faler: “At the end of the month, after all the bills are paid, the accounts pretty well cleaned out. And now we’re in the job search mode, which is proving to be the most daunting. Which speaks volumes, because just getting to this point felt like climbing Mount Everest.”

One translator has gotten a job as a part time language tutor for the U.S. military, another has worked as a busboy.

Not very glamorous for men with college and post-graduate degrees.

It could be the slowing economy, or it could be reticence from employers to hire a recent immigrant from Iraq. Or it could be any number of factors.

But Maan says he can handle a tough job market. In fact, he’s traveled a world away to do it.

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Fathers and Decons

Source: NYtimes.com

MOSUL, Iraq — Iraqi Christians in the northern city of Mosul say this year has been the worst in living memory. After a wave of killings and attacks in October, more than 2,000 families fled to nearby villages.

Mosul remains one of the most dangerous places in Iraq and a stubborn holdout of the insurgency, but security has improved enough that at least half of those families have returned. On Thursday, they braved the violence and biting cold and rain to attend Christmas Masses and pray for their safety.

At the nearly thousand-year-old Chaldean church of Miskinta, where a bomb had exploded in October and graffiti praising the insurgency remains on a nearby wall, about 50 parishioners followed a deacon outside to the courtyard, where a fire was lighted to symbolize the birth of Christ.

Many tried to hold back tears as they prayed for “the rebirth of tormented Iraq to a new life of forgiveness and compassion.”

Among those attending the Mass was Fadi Ammar, 5, who lost his father and another relative in a bombing in the Jadid neighborhood of Mosul on Dec. 1, which killed 21 people. The family had just returned to Mosul after fleeing in October to their ancestral village in the adjacent Nineveh Plain, which, although part of the province that includes Mosul, is now under the effective protection of Kurds from the semiautonomous Kurdistan region and is considered significantly safer than Mosul.

Another Mass, at St. Paul’s on the east side of the city, was held on Wednesday afternoon instead of on Christmas Eve because of security precautions.

To the extent that security has improved, it is thanks largely to the nearly 3,000 national police officers sent here from Baghdad to bolster the local force in October.

But many of the Christians who have returned said they did so because they were inspired by the determination and faith of one priest and a handful of nuns to remain in the city against the odds.

At St. Paul’s, Mikhail Ibrahim said the only reason he returned to Mosul after fleeing for a few weeks with his family was because of his faith in the Rev. Basman George Fatouhi, the Chaldean Church’s de facto leader in Mosul.

“He was the only one who stayed and took care of the community,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “He told us to come back and we did.”

Father Fatouhi, a charismatic 27-year-old priest, was thrust into the effective leadership of the Chaldean Church in Mosul after the kidnapping and death this year of its leader, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho. Archbishop Rahho’s closest aide, another senior figure in the church, was killed in 2007.

Father Fatouhi had negotiated with the archbishop’s kidnappers, who abducted the archbishop after a church service and killed three of his companions.

Their demands went from $300,000 to $20,000, but after the lesser sum was paid the negotiators were told that the archbishop had died in captivity because he did not have his diabetes medication.

Father Fatouhi and another church member dug his body out of a shallow grave and took it to the morgue.

Since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians have been hit hard, particularly in parts of Baghdad and Mosul. Numerous churches and the Chaldean archdiocese building in Mosul were bombed, and many priests and parishioners were killed or kidnapped for ransom.

The largest Christian denomination is the Chaldean Church, an Eastern Rite church that is part of the Roman Catholic Church but maintains its own customs and liturgy.

Attacks on Chaldeans are just one element in Mosul’s stew of simmering ethnic, political and sectarian tensions.

Mosul is home to a mix of Sunni insurgents once linked to Saddam Hussein and to the home-grown group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Nineveh Province is also the contested buffer zone between the central government and the semiautonomous Kurdistan region. About 5,000 American soldiers are stationed in the province.

There is ample evidence to suggest that many of the kidnappings and killings of Christians were carried out by Sunni militant groups and that ransom money has gone to finance the insurgency. But there is increased talk among Christians and the central government in Baghdad that the violence may be the work of Kurds who want to push Christians in Nineveh to ask to have their historic lands absorbed into the relative safety of Kurdistan.

Kurdish leaders strongly deny those charges.

Also on Christmas, a roadside bombing in western Mosul killed two civilians and wounded five, Iraqi security officials said.

A car bomb left at a crowded riverside park was dismantled by American forces before blowing up, according to several witnesses. And an American soldier was killed in an “indirect fire attack” near the city, the military said.

Amid the violence, the few remaining church leaders like Father Fatouhi and Sister Autour Yousif, who also belongs to the Chaldean Church, are working against the tide to keep their faith alive.

During the depths of the crisis in October, they were not only providing moral and spiritual support, but often venturing out at great risk to buy food and provisions for families who were too scared to even go to the market. They have also been determined to maintain church services in some of the most dangerous parts of the city.

On numerous occasions the pair have found themselves carrying out the grim task of collecting the bodies of Christians from the morgue because their families were too afraid to do it.

Sister Yousif is among three nuns at a convent next to the Miskinta church who have refused to leave Mosul. They care for 27 orphan girls and reach out to Muslims and Christians alike.

“We are like the rest of the people,” she said. “We will remain until they all leave. The poor need us.”

In his homily on Thursday, Father Fatouhi compared Jesus to a flame that continued to “warm the hearts” of the faithful during difficult and trying times.

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