Reeling from regional developments and disillusioned with the West, some Iraqi Christians are looking to Russia for support.
After a decade of church bombings, targeted killings, and anti-Christian workplace discrimination, Ramy Youssef has finally tired of Iraq’s halting progress and is intent on emigrating.
“I don’t want to leave. I don’t want these terrorists to do what no one’s ever done before: push Assyrians out of our historic homeland, but I can’t work like this,” said the fresh-faced IT technician, his voice rising, as he sipped tea in his cousin’s Erbil liquor store a month after death threats forced him to abandon his business in Baghdad.
Youssef will be the last of his immediate family to jet off—joining roughly two-thirds of Iraq’s pre-war population of 1.5 million Christians who’ve fled abroad or trudged north to Kurdistan. Before he goes, though, he’s keen to set the record straight and settle some old scores.
“This is America’s fault. It’s the Muslims who are killing us, but this never would have happened if the West hadn’t turned our lives upside down,” he fumed. “Maybe we’ll be able to return one day if we have proper allies.”
Enter Putin stage right.
As far as some of his Iraqi co-religionists are concerned, there’s a ready-made alternative to American influence out there and they’re frantically trying to solicit its support.
“Russia proved through history that it’s the only defender of Christians,” said Ashur Giwargis, who heads the Assyrian Patriotic Movement (APM), which for two years has energetically lobbied the Kremlin to support an independent Assyrian Christian state in northern Iraq.
Until recently, the Beirut-based exile and his colleagues, who are scattered among the global Iraqi diaspora, had little to show for their efforts, but in January, as Western-Russian tensions escalated over Ukraine, Giwargis was summoned to Moscow to meet government officials.
“They assured their support for the Assyrian cause, but we’re looking for a serious Russian stand in the international arena,” he said.
While they wait, APM members are busy currying favor by disseminating the Kremlin’s message, appearing at Russian embassy events, and cheering its foreign policy maneuvers elsewhere in the world.
“With the growing Americo-European incitement for the Republic of Ukraine to join the European Union … the Crimean parliament’s decision to join the Russian Federation came as pleasant news for the oppressed Christian peoples around the world,” read a public letter of congratulations dispatched to the Russian Embassy in Lebanonin Mid-March.
“Russian professional diplomacy has proven able to contain conspiracies against vulnerable peoples and states,” Giwargis wrote in another missive.
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