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Iraqi bishop: Americans need to know
there is a Christian presence in Iraq

New York, June 17, 2008 – A prominent Christian leader in Iraq has lamented that few Americans are aware of the Christian presence in Iraq.

"It is important for the Christian world to take this factor into account," said Archbishop Avak Asadourian, Ph.D., Primate of the Armenian Church of Iraq, during a June 12 meeting with ecumenical leaders here in The Interchurch Center. The meeting was hosted by Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, President of the National Council of Churches USA, and by the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary.

Archbishop Asadourian is general secretary of the Council of Christian Church-Leaders in Iraq, which was formed in June 2006 to maintain communication with different Christian bodies and to channel humanitarian supplies to the people in need.

Media reports give many Americans the impression that the prevalent religion of the land is the exclusive religion in Iraq, Asadourian noted. But Christianity traces its roots in Iraq to the first century mission visits of St. Thomas the Apostle to Mesopotamia.

"Christianity is indigenous to the land since Apostolic times," the archbishop said. Current trends, however, show that thousands of Christians are emigrating to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere, as are many other Iraqis.”

Before the "War of 2003," as Asadourian termed it, Christians and Muslims  –  Sunni and Shia  –  lived amicably with one another. "Christians are well respected in Iraq ," he said, and added that now, with insurrection and terrorism a part of daily life, there has been a large emigration across the spectrum of Iraqi society, including Christians.

Asadourian described Iraq as "a wounded country – a severely wounded country."

“Iraqis were under the strain of several hardships stemming from many wars, including the thirteen-year-old embargo, which in and of itself is an act of war,” concluded Archbishop Asadourian. The coalition embargo of Iraq, "caused great harm to the population," he said. "But even worse is what happened after 2003. Iraqis thought there would be a change for the better – at least that's what the media reported." 

The coalition occupation of Iraq led to an unforeseen insurrection and daily acts of brutal terrorism. "People are aware that they can leave home alive and never return to their families," Asadourian said. "My cathedral closed for a year and a half because of the lack of security.  What Iraqis need, before anything else, is security.”

The archbishop said that one of his missions is to remind Americans about the ill effects of war upon the entire population of Iraq, irrespective of religious differences. He called upon U.S. churches to influence their government to keep its promises to the Iraqi people.

"There is a tragedy in Iraq now because the promises made to Iraq were never kept. Our natural resources, which are tremendous, must be utilized for the betterment of the Iraqi people," he said. “Until now, the infrastructure in Iraq is in shambles, and people are still waiting for basic necessities, so they may live in a normal fashion. For example, we were promised clean water but what we got is Blackwater.” Iraqis live by their word in business and are particularly disappointed by broken promises.

Kinnamon said the member churches of the NCC are "very concerned about our Christian sisters and brothers in Iraq and throughout the Middle East" and will be seeking ways to bring their plight to the attention of the American people and the U.S. government.

"It is very difficult to live under the shadow of death for so many years. It takes its toll on you," Archbishop Asadourian expressed.

Ecumenical leaders attending the meeting with Archbishop Asadourian were:

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, president of the National Council of Churches; the Very Rev. Haigazoun Najarian, Diocesan Vicar of the Armenian Diocese of New York; the Very Rev. Vahan Hovhanessian, pastor of the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, N.Y.; the Rev. Mark Arey, ecumenical officer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Clare J. Chapman, NCC Chief Operating Officer; Chris Ferguson, World Council of Churches representative to the United Nations.

Also, the Rev. Deborah DeWinter, Program Director for the United States, World Council of Churches; the Rev. Harriett Olson, director of the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries; Wesley M. "Pat" Pattillo, NCC Senior Program Director for Justice and Advocacy and Communication; Kurt Kaboth, NCC Director of Development; Philip E. Jenks, NCC Media Relations Specialist; and Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC Senior Program Director for Interfaith Relations and Faith and Order.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228,





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