Christian Oppression in Iraq

Struan delivered the following speech during a joint debate on human rights, democracy, freedom of the press and media in the world in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 12 June.

The persecution and oppression of religious minorities in Iraq should give us all great cause for concern. The on-going bloody conflict between the Shias and the Sunnis continues to attract the world's attention, while the systematic obliteration of many of the ethnic religious groups goes on virtually without notice.

Iraq's Assyrian Christian community is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the first century AD. In the early centuries after the Islamic conquest, Christian scholars and doctors played an influential role in Iraq. However, from the late 13th century until the early 16th century, Christians suffered persecution and massacres. In 1932, the Iraqi military carried out large-scale massacres against the Assyrians. Indeed some of the Armenian Christians are descendants of refugees who fled the massacres in the early 1900s in Turkey.

Prior to the Gulf War in 1991, there were more than one and a half million Christians in Iraq. They lived in absolute peace with their Muslim neighbours. But Saddam Hussein implemented a policy of Arabisation and forcible re-location of the Christian communities in Nineveh and Northern Iraq. Today, with continued violent oppression and attacks, there are fewer than 300,000 Christians left in Iraq.

Many hundreds of thousands fled to the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq; an estimated 330,000 fled to Syria and have again been displaced by the civil war raging in that country, most of them fleeing to Turkey. This amounts to effective ethnic cleansing, facing one of the world's oldest Christian communities with extinction. The EU needs to take urgent action to help our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq. The Iraq Delegation which I chair will hold a special conference on the situation of ethnic minorities and religious groups in Iraq next Thursday when some experts on the subject will be able to outline the current deteriorating position.

Struan Stevenson MEP

Struan Stevenson is A Conservative Euro MP for Scotland and President of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq.