Last edited on 12/22/2010 at 11:36 PM (UTC3 Assyria)
Louis Sarko, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk and Mosul, stands outside the cathedral on Christmas Eve in the northern city of Kirkuk, 240 kms (150 miles) from Baghdad, in 2009. Al-Qaeda threats against Christians have led to Christmas festivities being cancelled in the northern Iraqi oil hub of Kirkuk, its Chaldean Catholic archbishop said on Tuesday. (AFP/File/MARWAN IBRAHIM)
KIRKUK, Iraq (AFP) – Al-Qaeda threats against Christians have led to Christmas festivities being cancelled in the northern Iraqi oil hub of Kirkuk, its Chaldean Catholic archbishop said on Tuesday.
"The Christians of Kirkuk will not celebrate the feast of Christmas this year, except for masses, which will not be held at night but at 10 am, after myself and 10 other Christian personages received threats from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq," Monsignor Louis Sarko told AFP.
"I fear that Christians will be targeted, which is why all ceremonies have been cancelled."
It said it acted to force the release of people who had allegedly converted to Islam from Christianity and were being detained by the Coptic Church in Egypt. Days later it declared Christians everywhere "legitimate targets."
Less than two weeks after the church attack, a string of bombings targeting Christian homes and shops in Baghdad killed six more people.
"You would have to be blind not to take seriously the demands of the mujahedeen (holy warriors), and that will cost you dearly," Sarko quoted an ISI email as saying.
"You must listen to our demands and condemn the Christians in the church in Egypt who are fighting our brothers and sisters who have become Muslims.
"You must make the same effort to free our sisters who are imprisoned in the churches of Egypt that you do to save Tareq Aziz from hanging."
Aziz, the only senior Christian member of Saddam Hussein's regime, was handed the death penalty on October 26 for the suppression of Shiite religious parties in the 1980s.
Sarko's announcement comes a day after human rights group Amnesty International called on the Iraqi government to step up protection of Christians.
Amnesty "called on the Iraqi government to do more to protect the country's Christian minority from an expected spike in violent attacks as they prepare to celebrate Christmas," the London-based group said in a statement.
"Attacks on Christians and their churches by armed groups have intensified in past weeks and have clearly included war crimes," Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and north Africa, said in the statement.
"We fear that militants are likely to attempt serious attacks against Christians during the Christmas period for maximum publicity and to embarrass the government," Smart added.
Between 800,000 and 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam's regime, but their number has since dropped to about 500,000 as many have fled abroad.
The multi-ethnic oil hub of Kirkuk now has only some 10,000 Christians, compared with 50,000 before the invasion.
\ã-'sir-é-ä\ n (1998)
1: an ancient empire of Ashur
2: a democratic state in Bet-Nahren, Assyria (northern
Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and eastern Syria.)
a democratic state that fosters the social and political rights to all of
its inhabitants irrespective of their religion, race, or gender
4: a democratic state that believes in the freedom of
religion, conscience, language, education and culture in faithfulness to the
principles of the United Nations Charter —
Ethnicity, Religion, Language
Israeli, Jewish, Hebrew
Assyrian, Christian, Aramaic
Saudi Arabian, Muslim, Arabic
\ã-'sir-é-an\ adj or n (1998)
1: descendants of the ancient empire of Ashur
2: the Assyrians, although representing but one single
nation as the direct heirs of the ancient Assyrian Empire, are now
doctrinally divided, inter sese, into five principle
ecclesiastically designated religious sects with their corresponding
hierarchies and distinct church governments, namely, Church of the
East, Chaldean, Maronite, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic.
These formal divisions had their origin in the 5th century of the
Christian Era. No one can coherently understand the Assyrians
as a whole until he can distinguish that which is religion or church
from that which is nation -- a matter which is particularly
difficult for the people from the western world to understand; for
in the East, by force of circumstances beyond their control,
religion has been made, from time immemorial, virtually into a
criterion of nationality.
the Assyrians have been referred to as Aramaean, Aramaye, Ashuraya,
Ashureen, Ashuri, Ashuroyo, Assyrio-Chaldean, Aturaya, Chaldean,
Chaldo, ChaldoAssyrian, ChaldoAssyrio, Jacobite, Kaldany, Kaldu,
Kasdu, Malabar, Maronite, Maronaya, Nestorian, Nestornaye, Oromoye,
Suraya, Syriac, Syrian, Syriani, Suryoye, Suryoyo and Telkeffee. —
1: a Semitic language which became the lingua franca of
the Middle East during the ancient Assyrian empire.
2: has been referred to as Neo-Aramaic, Neo-Syriac, Classical
Syriac, Syriac, Suryoyo, Swadaya and Turoyo.