November 12th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My Take: Violence Against Iraq's Christians is nothing new

Iraqi Christian women mourn the victims of the October 31 church attack in Baghdad.

Editor's Note: Albert W. Hickman is a research associate in global Christianity at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and was an associate editor for the Atlas of Global Christianity.

By Albert W. Hickman, Special to CNN

Violence against Iraq's Christians is up.

The most recent rash of attacks began on October 31, when gunmen stormed the Sayidat al-Nejat (Our Lady of Salvation) church in Baghdad; in the ensuing violence at least 50 died and 75 were wounded. This week brought more attacks, with three people wounded in western Baghdad when bombs exploded outside Christian homes.

The attacks have provoked demands (including some from Muslims) that the Iraqi government do more to protect Christians.

Recent days have also brought both threats of additional violence against Christians and at least one call (by a Syriac Orthodox archbishop) for Christians to leave Iraq altogether.

Yet the latest violence against Christians, for all its horror, is merely the most recent - not simply in the seven years since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, but in the almost two thousand years of Christian presence in Iraq.

Tradition holds that the Apostle Thomas brought Christianity to Jewish colonies in present-day Iraq in the first century. Adiabene (northeastern Iraq), home to a significant Christian population by the late second century, was a refuge for persecuted Christians from the Roman Empire.

By the fourth century, Seleucia-Ctesiphon (southeast of modern Baghdad) was the seat of a bishop. In 424 the church in Mesopotamia declared its independence as the Assyrian Church of the East, the oldest Christian church in Iraq. The period through the sixth century saw alternating cycles of prosperity and persecution (including many martyrs) at the hands of Zoroastrians.

Seleucia-Ctesiphon, once the most important patriarchate outside the Roman Empire, was largely responsible for the early extension of the Christian faith to other parts of Asia. Until the tenth century, the Assyrian Church’s missionary activity ranged as far as China.

The arrival of Islam (with the seventh-century Arab conquest of the Persian Empire) at first had little effect on Christians. The replacement of the conquering Umayyad dynasty by the Abbasids, however, brought increasing Islamicization. Pressure to convert (and persecution of those who refused) also increased, although martyrdom was not necessarily greater than under the Persians.

Neither did Christians suffer excessively under the Seljuk Turk occupation from the eleventh century. Christians’ alliances with the subsequent Mongol conquerors, however, brought retaliation from resentful Arabs and Kurds, who massacred many Christians and enslaved survivors during purges in the early 1300s.

Already in decline by that time, Christianity’s retreat accelerated until Tamerlane’s invasion at the end of the fourteenth century dealt an almost mortal blow to the Church in Iraq.

In the midst of this decline, however, Roman Catholic missionaries had, from the thirteenth century, been making efforts towards reunion between the Church of the East and the Vatican. These efforts bore fruit with the establishment of the Eastern-rite Chaldean Catholics in Baghdad in 1553.

A Latin diocese was formed in 1632, but no resident Latin bishop was permitted until 1820. Protestantism also appeared during the nineteenth century, with British missionaries in the 1820s followed by Americans in the 1840s. The Protestants’ attempts at evangelizing, whether of non-Christians or members of the Orthodox and Catholic churches, produced little in the way of results.

Anglican efforts focused on establishing schools and a printing press proved more successful.

The nineteenth century also rekindled the persecution Christians had experienced previously as the Church of the East, reduced to only around 100,000 members, was further decimated by Kurdish massacres in the 1830s and 1840s.

The withdrawal of Russian and British troops - whom both Orthodox and Catholic Christians had aided - during World War I resulted in the massacre of tens of thousands more Christians by Turks and Kurds.

Further persecution, this time at the hands of Iraqi Arabs, came when the British again withdrew in 1932 at the end of their League of Nations mandate.

The Christian landscape in Iraq today includes a wide variety of groups. About half of all Christians in Iraq are Catholic, mostly Eastern-rite Chaldean Catholic. Around one quarter are Orthodox of various traditions, and the remainder are mostly members of independent Charismatic and Protestant churches.

A growing number of converts from Islam choose to remain within their Muslim context rather than joining traditional churches.

While individuals faced hardships under Saddam Hussein, Christians were not singled out based on their faith, although they were not allowed to build additional churches.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, however, Christians have experienced increasing persecution at the hands of the Muslim majority, in part for their cooperation (real or perceived) with the occupying forces.

By 2003 the number of Christians in Iraq had risen to over 1 million, from around 170,000 in 1910. As a percentage of the population, however, Christians had declined from over 6 percent in 1910 to about 3 percent in 2003.

Since then, many have fled the increasing persecution, mostly to neighboring Syria and Jordan, so that the current Christian population of Iraq is an estimated 500,000–600,000, less than 2 percent of all Iraqis.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Albert W. Hickman.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • History • Iraq • Middle East

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Believer

    Whether God exists or not is a 50-50 proposition.
    You say you see no evidence that God exists. You also say that facts disprove the existence of God. This is incorrect. The interpretation of the facts that you list can be interpreted in a creationist view or an evolutionist view, depending on your presuppositions. The creationist view is completely in harmony with the facts, and with Genesis.

    I say that I see no evidence that God does not exist, but rather the fact that the universe had a beginning means it must have had a cause. Something outside of the universe must have caused the universe to come into being. By the way, time and matter are related in the physics of relativity. You cannot have one without the other. So a first cause exists apart from space and time that caused them both to come into existence simultaneously. I call this first cause God.

    No, you say, this universe came from a a black hole in another universe. Oh really? Now who is talking about accepting things by faith? There is no evidence for this multi-verse theory, it is the brainchild of atheist physicists who can't accept the evidence that our universe had a beginning.

    So given the fact that the universe had a beginning, and therefore a cause, as the evidence suggests, you can then by faith either:
    1. Believe that God was that first cause
    2. Believe that the beginning of our universe was spawned from some other hypothetical universe for which there is no evidence
    Which brings you back to the 50-50 proposition and the understanding that you have your faith and I have mine.
    So maybe you should take another tack. Examine the claims of the one man who claimed to be God incarnate – Jesus, and who proved it by rising from the dead. The evidence for the resurrection is compelling, and so are the teachings of Jesus. My question to you is are you willing to evaluate the claims of Jesus with an open mind? God bless you if you do.

    November 15, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  2. Muneef

    Kindly read about the Holy Message:


    November 14, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • Reality

      The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

      ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

      Are you ready?

      Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

      "1. Belief in Allah"

      aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

      "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

      Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

      "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

      A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

      "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

      Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

      Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

      Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

      "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

      Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave attended to by his wives before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

      Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

      November 15, 2010 at 7:47 am |
  3. NM

    please check out http://www.islamicsolutions.com/world-day-of-god-2010/

    November 13, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
    • Muneef

      Read the Sermon related to the Day of God Nov16


      November 14, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  4. Gary

    Megatron great points by the way!!

    November 13, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  5. Gary

    As much as I dislike any organized religion. Islam is by far the worst. Islam destroys human dignity. Islam hinders individual freedom and accomplishments. As an agnostic I realize the one religion that has brought the most misery and deaths to nations is Islam. ......I want to read the Satanic verses...anyone know where I can buy that great book.

    November 13, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  6. David Johnson


    Yes, this is worrisome to me also. The Muslims seem very quick to kill what they disagree with. (Sorry Frogist).

    But Keith, all religion is bogus. You have the Christian Right who wants to rule this country. They just aren't as violent while striving to achieve their goals. Still, they are trying to rule, just like the Muslims.

    A wise man once said: "Religion Poisons Everything" – C. Hitchens. The man is a prophet!

    November 12, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
    • Keith

      Maybe a prophet of doom for you and your atheist pals. You, him, Hawking-all destined for the lake of fire. Truly sad, yet you bring it on yourself so it's getting harder to feel any sympathy for you. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." Romans 1:22 As for the massacre in Iraq-done by gutless, muslim cowards. islam sucks.

      November 13, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
  7. Keith

    Funny how there's no Christians going into mosques and blowing away a bunch of muslims. Religion of peace my eye. Islam is bogus.

    November 12, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  8. Enoch

    So, the Americans and Europeans went to Iraq to fight against Christians, just like in ex-Yugoslavia.

    November 12, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  9. Reality

    And keep in mind while reading the topic's historical account, how your own beliefs are basically a direct result of the randomness of the birth process:

    To wit:

    "John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today

    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed."- JM Somerville

    November 12, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      Hey Reality!
      Why don't you use my latest list? Do you hate soft-ware and the Ja-panese? lol
      bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to post that wonderful argument:
      Many, if not most are buried within other words, but I am not shooting for the perfect list, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      s-ex....Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      c-um.........as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, etc.
      sp-ic........as in disp-icable (look out Sylvester the cat!)
      ho-mo...whether ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, etc.
      t-it.........const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, etc.
      fu-ck...isn't this a great word? yet they filter it. 🙁
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, (an unexpected one)
      pr-ick....perhaps cupr-ic would also fall under the ban.
      va-g....as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      ar-se....yet "ass" is not filtered!
      nip-ple...those baby bottles are obscene aren't they?
      cu-nt...as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK, famous for having problems with filters...!
      co-on...as in rac-oon, coc-oon
      ra-pe...as in gr-ape, etc.
      jacka-ss...but ass is fine lol
      p-is.....as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, etc.
      ft-w....as in soft-ware...!!!!!omg!
      j-ap...as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc...this is one I had forgotten,as I only encountered it elsewhere...

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this is complete.
      okay words that you might have thought were bad...lol
      I have found the best way to re-submit is to hit the back button, delete the cookies, look for and fix the problem and then hit "post". There are also "technical" ways past the filter, like "html ent-ities" (google it without the dash), but the filter is the problem, not a solution. Filters should not be needed in a free opinion blog. But this isn't really free, is it?

      November 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
    • Reality

      Sum Dude,

      The list is now updated. Danke Schoen!!

      November 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      @Reality – Don't thank me, thank CNN for giving us such a wonderful blog. They are very fair, impartial, and generous people who work for a huge news corporation. The filter is a sign that they love us and want us to be driven insane. 😛

      November 13, 2010 at 12:03 am |
  10. Reality

    And where did OT, NT, and Koranic scribes get their godly and religious ideas? From the Hitti-tes, Babylonians, Egyptians, Buddhists, Greeks, Macedonians and the Romans!!!!

    "Stories circulated to the effect that Alexander of Macedonia was not only the son of Philip II, but also of the god Zeus-Ammon (Plutarch, Parallel Lives, "Alexander" 2.1-3.2); Plato was the son of Ariston and the god Apollo (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 3.1-2), and Augustus was the son of Octavius as well as the god Apollo (Suetonius, Lives o f the Caesars 2.4.1-7). The extraordinary character of these elites reputedly stemmed from both their divine origins and their kingroups. Their kin-groups provided one form of legitimation-political right to the throne and/or social status (thus the importance of Joseph in Matthew's genealogy). Their divine procreation provided another: their honor was divinely ascribed, and their greatness as leaders derived from divine paternity."

    From: K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1998. p.55

    November 12, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  11. Mike, not me

    Thank you Mr. Hickman for the history lesson on the region.

    November 12, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  12. David Johnson

    Maybe the Iraqi Christians should consider converting. Isn't one made up religion as good as another?

    *Proud 'cause I came up with a solution*

    November 12, 2010 at 8:00 am |
    • Megatron

      Absolutely not! Those other religions are patently false. They have absolutely no evidence backing up their claimes. Unlike my relgion of choice. I think you need to think about how you apply your logic. Here's some lessons in logic.

      A) If we have an argument and your position is "I do not know" and my position is "God did it". You must accept my position because you cannot prove it wrong and you don't have any idea.

      B) If you reject the beliefs in A, then you are in fact believing in B. I'm sorry, if you do not believe in God, then your belief is a belief just like mine and we're on equal footing. Take that atheists!

      C) Something cannot come from nothing. I'm sorry, but all these evolutionists state that the theory of evolution starts with the big bang. Well geniuses, tell me how the big bang started. And if you don't know, you have to accept it's God as per undenyable fact A.

      D) Listen, you just don't want to admit there's a God because you like living in sin. That's the facts buddy.

      E) LIsten again, the bible is perfect. Anything wrong with it is based on your misunderstanding of what was written. Take slavery for example. Didn't happen. Slavery was an ancient word for cuddling with bunnies while you sleep. Look it up brainiac.

      When will evolutionists smarten up?

      November 12, 2010 at 8:19 am |
    • Mike, not me

      Well I like your point B.

      Maybe continuing to study it out will help you

      November 12, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • Megatron

      I think you missed the point Mike. All those points are illogical.

      November 12, 2010 at 8:47 am |
    • Megatron

      To show you how you are wrong, I've constructed a little skit. We'll have Mike and Megatron as the actors. And there's a question at the end.

      Mike: The universe was created by God.
      Megatron: I don't believe that. I don't see any evidence that would convince me.
      Mike: Then who or what created the universe?
      Megatron: I do not know.

      What is my belief about the creation of the universe?

      November 12, 2010 at 8:49 am |
    • Frogist

      @David Johnson: Maybe we should have you running the peace talks between Israel and Palestine. We'll have peace in the Middle East in no time! We can dress you up like Samuel Jackson... *action movie music* David Johnson is the Negotiator!

      November 12, 2010 at 9:11 am |
    • Mike, not me

      I believe your example is incaccurate.

      Mike: The universe was created by God. Because we have such and such evidence pass down through history.
      Megatron: I don't believe that. I don't see any evidence that would convince me.
      Mike: Then who or what created the universe?
      Megatron: I do not know.
      Mike: Why have you rejected the evidence provide?
      Megatron: Because I do not believe it because B, C and D.

      Ahh so you do have a belief that A is incorrect?

      What is my belief about the creation of the universe?

      November 12, 2010 at 9:34 am |
    • Megatron

      Umm, I do not reject evidence based on belief. I accept reasonable evidence that is beyond the question of being false.

      In that specific example (which was picked by me for a very good reason), there is NO evidence that God created the unvierse. None. Zero. Zilch. The only reference is in Genesis' creation story. But given that this story has been shown to be false (fossils, genetics, biodiversity, sedimentary layers, carbon dating, among a plethora of other facts), the item cannot be taken as fact.

      So, I reject the acceptance of the concept based on lack of evidence. This is a logical conclusion, not a belief.

      Again, my question stands. What do I believe by not accepting a blanket statement that God created the universe?

      November 12, 2010 at 9:41 am |
    • Megatron

      @Mike Ahh so you do have a belief that A is incorrect?

      I have no clue what A is. I at no time in the skit reject any claim. I only dismiss it as unfounded. It could be very well that it is the case, however it's foolish to state absolutely that this is the case.

      That's logic.

      November 12, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • Mike, not me

      You just stated it (or typed it)

      The only reference is in Genesis' creation story. (Belief A) But given that this story has been shown to be false (fossils, genetics, biodiversity, sedimentary layers, carbon dating, among a plethora of other facts)(because of belief B)

      November 12, 2010 at 10:11 am |
    • Megatron


      The only reference is in Genesis' creation story. (Belief A). That's not a belief. That's a conclusion based on the evidence that has been presented to me. If you have additional evidence I'd like to see it.

      Genesis being proven wrong is also not a belief, it's a conclusion based on facts. Facts are not subject for interpretation they simply are. When facts contract a thoughts, the facts win out. Not the thought. So the fact that you don't see fossils of modern birds, dinosaurs and humans in the same sedimentary layers proves that genesis is wrong.

      This isn't up for debate. Genesis is wrong based on what we can observe. It's not right because of what we choose to believe.

      November 12, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • David Johnson


      I got your point. I thought it was funny! I love what you post, man!

      November 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
  13. Reality

    Once a day WARNING for new commentators:

    • The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

    • More than one web address will also activate “waiting for moderation”. Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

    "Raison's Filter Fiber© (joking about the copyright)
    1. Here's my latest list – this seems like a good spot to set this down, as nobody's posting much on this thread.....
    bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to post that wonderful argument:
    Many, if not most are buried within other words, but I am not shooting for the perfect list, so use your imagination and add any words I have missed as a comment (no one has done this yet)
    – I found some but forgot to write them down. (shrugs).
    c-um.........as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, etc.
    sp-ic........as in disp-icable (look out Sylvester the cat!)
    ho-mo...whether ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, etc.
    t-it.........const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, etc.
    tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, (an unexpected one)
    va-g....as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant
    ar-se....yet "ass" is not filtered!
    jacka-ss...but ass is fine lol
    p-is.....as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, etc.
    There are more, so do not assume that this is complete.
    okay words that you might not expect to be filtered....!!!

    Here's a word to add to the banned list: co-co-on
    whether it's c-oc, or co-on, this is ridiculous."

    Apparently you can type the words using Unicode characters but simply putting hyphens in the words would appear to be much easier.

    November 12, 2010 at 7:44 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.