Christmas in Kirkuk

By Ramyar Hassani

Sun, clear sky and a little mild weather made it seem like spring in the winter. The situation in the streets was normal; traffic was light, making for an ordinary day!! This was the situation on 26 Dec. 2011 when the CPT team arrived in Kirkuk to accompany the Christian community for the day.

In the history of the city, various ethnic groups such as Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs have lived together, along with a number of Christian families from different backgrounds including  Assyrians and Catholics. There are around 1500 Christian families with 8 churches in the city and the Christian village of Se Kanian 10 kilometres away.

After 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein, every year there is a lot of fear of suicide attacks during the celebration days in Kirkuk and cities in southern Iraq, and of course Christians are always targeted during Christmas celebrations. In 2010, because of a chain of suicide attacks in the churches and in the Christian areas, the Christian community of Iraq decided not to celebrate New Year’s.

This year 2011 was better, but there was a lot of security present, not like a normal Christmas in Europe and the U.S., but the celebration went on, and of course in Kirkuk too. During the mass on the second day of Christmas, in the Virgin Mary Chaldean Catholic church in Kirkuk, CPT accompanied Christian people who since 2003 have had a lot of problems, and fears of being killed, kidnapped, or displaced.

The priest, who had a cold, was concerned and sad about the absence of people in the church and he mentioned many times that today is the day of being together and celebrating our most important day which is Christmas. He asked, in this holy day, what are you doing in the home? Watching T.V.? Lying on the sofa? What is more important than being with the other Christians in the most important day for us?

But the fear of suicide attacks in front or inside of the churches is not the main reason for people’s absence. There is another reason why most of the Christians were absent. In the Christian village of Se Kanian, on the same day, while there are 50-60 Christian families in the village, there were only 17 persons in the church during the mass. The reason is the same reason why people in Iraq generally have disagreements. It is the small issues that make life very difficult. On the top of the church in the village it is written that it is a Chaldean Christian church. So most of the Assyrian Christians of the village were absent.