Saturday, October 10, 2009

WWB: violence and oppression to minority religious groups


Violence and terror against Iraq’s minority Christian population has been evident for years. Many have been targeted and killed, many more have fled. This has happened to other minority groups in Iraq also (see yesterday’s posting on violence and oppression to gays). Jews, Yazidis, Palestinians, Shabaks, Mandaeans, Bahia, Armenian, Syriac, and Turkomen have also been targeted by violence, and have abandoned their homeland in large numbers. Kurds are not included in this grouping, mainly because they have not been subject to oppression and violence and displacement. The Jews have fled Iraq, the Palestinians are trapped in refugee camps with no where to go.

Beyond these minorities, the Sunnis of Iraq have largely been ethically cleansed from Baghdad. This is a story in itself, which I covered in an earlier post on What War Brings. Today, I am focusing on the other minorities that have been victims of violence. This is just a small sample of the violence these groups have faced, and the exodus the violence resulted in. In July of this year, there was a series of attacks on churches. Five bombs went off in one day, and there was a targeted assassination. This left five dead and twenty injured, but the most disturbing part is that this came after many years of such attacks.

Christian community faces new wave of violence

A German NGO dealing with vulnerable and threatened communities in Iraq said the attacks were a bid to drive the remaining Christian community out of the country. "Extremist Islamists are systematically aiming at driving out the remaining 100,000 Assyro-Chaldaic Christians from the Iraqi capital," Kamal Sido, a near-east consultant for the Society for Threatened People (GfbV), aid in a statement on 13 July. According to GfbV, more than three-quarters of the approximately 400,000 Christians living in Baghdad have fled the city since the 2003 US-led invasion, due to either direct or indirect threats to their community.

For the most part, the Christians who formerly lived in Iraq fled to Jordan and Syria, just like the majority of other Iraqi refugees.

Iraq was once home to hundreds of thousands of Jews, but most left in the 1950’s. After the invasion of 2003, the few remaining Jews also left, not because of violence and oppression, but as a result of recruitment by Israelis. I think this was a good thing, because Iraq soon descended into violent chaos.

Here is a touching story of the Last Jew of Babylon on You Tube. He went to Israel to look for his old girlfriend who had migrated decades before.

A report released in late December 2008 by the Brookings Institute and the University of Bern (Germany) showed the exodus of minorities from Iraq.

Brookings-University of Bern report on Iraq’s minorities

Estimates On Iraq’s Minorities:

Christians: 2003: 1-1.4 million, Today, 600,000-800,000
Jews: 2003: a few hundred, Today: 10-15
Mandeans: 2003: 30,000, Today: Fewer than 13,000
Palestinians: 2003: 35,000, Today: 15,000
Turkomen: 2003: 800,000 claimed, Today: as few as 200,000
Yazidis: 2003: Not known, Today: around 550,000

……. In October 2008, Christians in Mosul were attacked riving out over 2,000 families. Only one-third has returned since then. As a result of this violence, a large number of each group has been displaced or fled to other countries. The Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration estimates that about half of Iraq’s minorities have left the country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes 30% of Iraqi refugees are minorities. The Mandeans fear that this displacement might mean their end because they won’t be able to find marriage partners. You can only be a member of their religion by being born into it.

The Shabaks, Turkomen, and Yazidis live in the northern part of Iraq, and they have been targeted recently by violence. Two explosions that happened in August 2009 leveled or damaged 65 homes in the village of Khazna.

Minorities trapped in northern Iraq’s Maelstrom

Two explosions, which obliterated a large swath of this village of nearly 10,000 people near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Monday, killed 34 people and wounded almost 200. The village is inhabited by Shiite Shabaks, a Kurdish-speaking minority. The attack and others like it — including the suicide bombing on Thursday that killed 21 Yazidis in Sinjar, west of Mosul, and a truck bomb in Shirakhan, just north of Mosul, on Aug. 7 that killed 37 Shiite Turkmen — have underscored how vulnerable minorities continue to serve as fodder for a bigger battle under way in northern Iraq.

The civilians are caught in the middle of all the different fractions that are vying for power and have scores to settle. Always, always, it is the civilians who suffer the most when war and occupation come to their country or area. These attacks were not the first, and they probably won’t be the last.

The Mandaens have been especially hard hit in the violence that war and occupation brought to Iraq. They are not in danger of extinction, since they are scattered around the world and can only marry other Mandaens. They are also pacifists, and no one has looked out for their interests.

Disappearing Mandaeans

Nearly 80% of Mandaeans have fled to Syria and Jordan because of the forced conversions, rapes, threats and assassinations they've faced. Often called Gnostics, Mandaens trace their religion back 2,000 years - and its presence in Iraq antedates both Islam and Christianity. Some estimates once put their number at 70,000 within Iraq, but since the war started, that number has dropped to as low as 3,000.

The group “Minority Rights” have made several You Tube videos of Mandaean refugees in Sweden. They are worth watching. One is posted below.


I have not seen evidence that minority groups are targeted for violence in Afghanistan in the last few years, but there are certainly cases of mistreatment. There were many cases of violence against minorities under the Taliban rule.

Sikh, Hindu minorities of Afghanistan “disappointed, isolated and oppressed”

"Before the war [1979] there were 16,673 Sikh and Hindu families in Kabul, Nangarhar, Ghazni, Khost, Kandahar and Helmand provinces. In the past 30 years we have suffered tremendously and many of our people left the country. "We have too many problems but we get no help to solve them. A lot of our houses, shops and other properties have been seized by powerful people, commanders and warlords. "There are no special schools for our children. We teach them our religion, language and other cultural values at home, but it's not easy and as a result most of our children end up illiterate. "Apart from the two Sikh and Hindu members of parliament in Kabul, we do not have a say in decision-making and have no representation in government.


Violence against minorities is really getting going in Pakistan. Just last month, a large gang of people went on an anti-Christian rampage that left eight people dead and houses burned to the ground. Christians make up about 3% of the population of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Christians protest lack of protection after rampage

After an anti-Christian rampage left eight people dead in the town of Gojra over the weekend, Pakistani authorities arrested 100 people and offered $6,000 in compensation to victims' families in an effort to reassure the country's Christian minority that they will be protected by the law. But their response Monday failed to dampen accusations from Christians that the police neglected to protect them. The attackers in eastern Punjab Province also burned homes to the ground. It was the third attack on Pakistani Christians in the past month, a trend that observers attribute to a rise in extremism and suspicions that local Christians are aligned with the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Sunni Islamic militants behind these attacks have also targeted Shiites and Ahmadis. Pakistan has had a huge increase in violence towards minorities in the past year, according to group “Minority Rights”. The violence is blamed on religious intolerance coming from religious extremism. The situation keeps getting worse.

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: violence and oppression to minority religious groups.

Yazidi activists speaks

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, minority communities, some of whom have lived in the country for more than two millennia, have faced targeted persecution including kidnapping, rape, murder and destruction of homes and businesses, because of their ethnic and religious identities. They form a disproportionate amount of those who have fled to neighbouring countries in Jordan and Syria, and those who have sought refuge further afield. Their very presence as communities in Iraq is now under threat and as they are spread thin across the globe, they face fresh challenges of keeping their families together and their ancient communities, traditions and languages, alive.

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