Speech on the plight of the Christian community in Iraq

Struan delivered the following speech at a meeting of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq on Tuesday 17 September 2013 at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Welcome and thank you for coming to today's meeting of our Delegation, which is dedicated to the situation of the Christian communities in Iraq. Let me welcome our distinguished guests: Mr Humam Hamoudi, Chair of the Iraqi Council of Representatives' Foreign Relations Committee, Mr Anwar Matti Hadaya, Chairman of the Independent Syriac Assembly Movement, and Mr Khalis Isho, Member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives and Chairman of the Syriac Assyrian Chaldean People's Council. I also warmly welcome the European External Action Service representatives and His Excellency the Iraqi Ambassador to the EU.

Before we start, I would again like to reiterate my strongest condemnation of the horrible terrorist acts, which continue to target all sectors of Iraqi society, and I would like to express my deepest sorrow and condolences to the families of the victims. In particular I was horrified at the systematic liquidation of 52 civilian asylum-seekers in Camp Ashraf on 1st September and the abduction of 7 hostages, six of whom are women. The hostages must be immediately released and we hold the Iraqi Government accountable for this. Our Delegation, and the European Parliament as a whole, supports the Iraqi struggle against the terrorist plague and wishes to see a stable nation, where different peoples, ethnicities and religions could finally live together in peace, prosperity and mutual understanding.

Let me just say a few introductory words about the Christians in Iraq and about the discrimination and violence they are submitted to by targeted extremists' attacks on a daily basis.

The Christians of Iraq are considered to be one of the oldest surviving continuous Christian communities in the world. At the present time, most Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics who are autonomous from Rome but who recognise the Pope's authority. Chaldeans are an ancient people, some of whom still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

The other significant community is made up of Assyrians, the descendants of the ancient empires of Assyria and Babylonia. After their empires collapsed in the 6th and 7th Centuries BC, the Assyrians scattered across the Middle East. Later on, they embraced Christianity (in the 1st Century), with their Ancient Church of the East believed to be the oldest in Iraq.

Other ancient Churches include Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholic Christians, who fled from massacres in Turkey in the early 20th Century. There are also small Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities, as well as Anglicans and Evangelicals.

This rich mosaic of ancient Christian confessions numbered over 1.4 million people in 1987, or 8% of the population; in 2003, after more than a decade of international sanctions on Iraq, the Christian presence has dropped to 5% of the Iraqi population. Now, today, Christians in Iraq number less than 500,000 - some claim as few as 300,000 - corresponding to around only 1.5% of the total population of the country. If this trend continues, there will soon be no Christians in Iraq at all.

Continuous harassment, violence, threats, killings, rapes, psychological and physical terror and every-day deadly targeted bomb attacks by groups of especially Sunni extremists linked to Al-Qaida, have caused this drastic decrease of the Christian community. Many Christians left the country, while an estimated 65,000 of them fled to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan or to the Ninewa plain.

My question to our guests today would therefore be about determining the quickest and most efficient ways to stop and reverse this trend of violence against Christians and other minorities in many parts of Iraq today - and what they expect Europe and the European Parliament in particular could contribute to achieving that end.