Displaced Iraqi Christian refugees strive to keep the spirit of Christmas alive amid violence, war, bloodshed, religious persecution and brutality in their own homeland. These Christians who have been now forced to live as refugees were forced to leave their homes and country by the notorious terror group Islamic State.
A family of Iraqi Christians now living in Turkey expresses determination not to let their spirits down on the auspicious occasion of Christmas. Sami Dankha his family and his three other brothers and their families voice deep sorrow for being away from home however, they reiterated their desire to keep up their spirits and celebrate Christmas as they used to back in their own homeland.
A 69 year old Iraqi Christian refugee said, “The last time we were all together was 2005. Maybe 2006. I am not sure.” She has spent scores of years in Ankawa, a Christian region in northern Iraq. Now spending her life as a refugee in Turkey, she lives with one of her children while other are scattered in countries like Australia, France, Sweden and Iraq.
“We danced and celebrated because of Jesus. Not only us but also with other families,” she said while remembering the days of celebrating Christmas back home. “Now there is a big difference because we are in different countries and that affects the occasion.”
“If you count Christmas and Easter, it has been about 40 times we haven’t gathered,” said Sami Dankha, whose own brothers now live as refugees in other countries like New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands. “I call them on Viber video,” said Dankha.
Additionally another Iraqi Christian refugee in Canada said: “It was a different feel, different from home. I didn’t feel the spirit of Christmas.” She continued, “I feel that the spirit of Christmas is here,” adding, “My children go to a Christian school and are also part of the choir. There are places where they sing Christmas carols.”
United States Commission for International Religious Freedom reported: “Iraq’s religious freedom climate continued to deteriorate in 2015, especially in areas under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL targets anyone who does not espouse its extremist Islamist ideology, but minority religious and ethnic communities, including the Christian, Yazidi, Shi’a, Turkmen, and Shabak communities, are especially vulnerable.
In 2015, USCIRF concluded that ISIL was committing genocide against these groups, and crimes against humanity against these and other groups. While ISIL was the most egregious perpetrator of human rights and religious freedom violations, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), recognized by Prime Minister al-Abadi in September 2015 as officially part of the Iraqi state, have continued to commit systematic attacks against Sunni Muslim civilians, exacerbating sectarian tensions.”
“At the end of December 2015, PMF groups were reported to be harassing Christian women who did not wear the Islamic headscarf. Christians in Baghdad said that the PMF hung posters on churches and monasteries in Christian neighborhoods urging women to cover their hair and that some Christians received threats that they should not celebrate Christmas or New Year’s or disrespect PMF martyrs who died fighting ISIL. Human rights groups have urged the government to hold the PMF and other government-sanctioned actors accountable by, prosecuting them for their perpetration of extortion, torture, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and abductions of non-Shi’a, especially Sunni, individuals.