chapter  30
20 Pages

The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East

WithERICA C. D. HUNTER

The profi le of the Assyrian Church of the East and its Uniate branch, the Chaldaean Church, has undergone monumental changes in the past twenty years as a result of the fi rst Gulf War waged in 1991 and the Allied invasion of Iraq that took place in 2003. Both offensives have resulted in great loss of life and have precipitated the massive displacement of the congregations. The Assyrians and Chaldaeans now sport sizeable diaspora communities in other parts of the Middle East, particularly in Syria, as well as in the West: in Europe, Australia and North America. The new trajectories that were already being forged at the beginning of the twentieth century, as a result of the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, have gained momentum in the twenty-fi rst century as the communities have responded to economic pressures, political turmoil and war. This impact has been felt particularly in Iraq. Whereas Christians in the late 1980s had constituted approximately 9 per cent of the Iraqi population (estimated at 20 million), the effects of sanctions in the 1990s coupled with the two Gulf Wars have led to a dramatic drop in numbers from an estimated 1.3 million in 2003 to between 300,000 and 400,000. 1 Christians account for an estimated 40 per cent of all people fl eeing Iraq to settle in diaspora communities. The Christian population in Syria has mushroomed following the arrival of thousands of Iraqi refugees, making demands on local resources, and with needs for housing, education and employment that are increasingly hard to meet in the escalating violence that has beset the country in the last few years. Displaced from their homeland, many refugees search for the stability and security that they see as only being available in the West. Paradoxically, events in the last decade have seen a return of some Assyrians and Chaldaeans to Kurdistan, a region from which many hailed in the early twentieth century before the vicissitudes of the Ottoman Empire forced them from their traditional homelands. Whilst the size of the Assyrian Church of the East’s communities in Iraq have waned, there is a massive growth of the Western diaspora now located in North America, Britain and Europe.