Fayez Abed Jawahreh, mayor of the Chaldean Christian village of Alqosh has been recently ousted by members of the Kurdish Democratic Party, in a move that will further disadvantage Christians in the region
To understand the plight of Christians in Iraq requires one to separate their experience from their western counterparts. Christians in Iraq are a minority, and the aftermath of ISIS has made them all but extinct. To comprehend what is happening to Christians in the region one must delve into the many injustices they face.
Apart from the evident genocide of Christians in Iraq at the hands of ISIS, Christians are facing frequent acts of discrimination, exemplified by the recent ousting of Alqosh mayor Fayez Abed Jawahreh. Jawahreh is an ethnic Chaldean, an ancient group of people native to the region who extend their lineage back to biblical Babylon and were among the first to convert to Christianity. Chaldeans are by far the largest group of Christians in Iraq, making up approximately 80% of the 1.2% of Christians in the country.
Some Chaldeans choose to identify by other names such as Assyrian, adding confusion to the understanding of their history and identity. Indeed, many western sources designate the group as Assyrian, and one is easily confused by the interchangeable nature of the ethnic group’s name.
Nevertheless, Alqosh, the village that Jawahreh presided over is historically known as Chaldean and is among the last Christian villages of Iraq, with a significant cultural history that has made it synonymous with the Chaldean Catholic identity. Alqosh has largely remained autonomously Christian, becoming a symbol of the endurance of Christian identity in Iraq. This has come to pass, however, as Chaldean Jawahreh is no longer presiding over the village that boasts his ethnic and religious identity.
Instead, on July 16th he was ousted by Bashar Al Kekee, the head of the Nineveh Province Council (ironically Nineveh is a historically Christian province) and the member of the Kurdish Democratic Party. Keke justified the expulsion of Jawahreh by claiming misuse of public office and corruption as reasons for the abdication of the mayor. These accusations are yet to be proven true. But the damage has already been done. This ousting has effectively ended the Christian governance of Alqosh. Instead, a Kurdish Democratic Party member by the name of Lara Yousif, who replaced temporary mayor Adel Amin Omar will serve as administrator of the village, signaling the final blow to Christian self-determination in the country.
The ousting in a bigger context
One may find it surprising enough that Christians even exist in Iraq. Indeed, their story is not one frequently covered in the west and tragically when coverage is given to them by western media, it is often coverage of the latest ISIS atrocity or religious hate crime. But Chaldean Iraqi Christians have a rich and beautiful history. Their people claim a descendant back to the ancient groups of Mesopotamia and speak a language that resembles the language Jesus spoke.
But their history and culture are dying due to a tragic combination of lack of cultural preservation, and the threat of ethnic cleansing. Christians are leaving Iraq in droves, and their children are losing their unique identity as a product of assimilation and lack of cultural exercise. To many in the Chaldean diaspora, cultural survival is unattainable. Many feel that the Chaldean identity in the coming generation will dissipate, and Chaldeans will no longer be inhabitants in their native Iraq. The recent expulsion of Jawahreh exemplifies the worries of Chaldean Christians. The worry that their people will not survive in their homeland. That outside political factors will consume their habitat, and that foreign rule will force their assimilation.
The future of Chaldeans in Iraq is a lot like the short term future of Iraq itself— a future decided by an outside aggressor, tragically confined by external powers. Powers that lack the want to preserve an ancient people whose inhabitancy predates that of all other groups in the country. But such is the tragedy of the Chaldean Christian people. And such is the tragedy of all minorities who have no say in the future of their survival.