Assyrian Church in the Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan

In the area of Barwar in Dohuk governorate, northern Iraqi Kurdistan, the Assyrian minority that is dominating in the villages has made their mark throughout the history.

In one of the caves in the mountains a small church has been carved out. There is no way to reach the Marqa Yoma church by car – you have to climb the mountain to get there.

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Nature is amazing due to the water wells.

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Can you see the small church in the middle of the photo below?

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It takes time to reach and it’s closed most of the time, one of the women in the village has the key.

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One small room…

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…and Assyrians from other parts of Iraq that have chosen to be buried next to the church in the mountains. For a minority that has survived several massacres, fleeing from place to place, it can feel good to finally come home.

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Photos: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Views Blog

Minorities in the Middle East

jo_ch-ceThe Middle East is a region full of minorities that won’t pass under the ethnicity of Arab, Persian or Turk. If watching Homeland one might think something else – I for example had no idea about the different cultures that coexisted in this region when I started travelling. As social integration is one of my passions I want to share some of my experiences with you, and also let people share their own stories.

A few years back I was invited to a family in one of the bleak, sundrenched suburbs in Amman.
“They are Russians” my friend said who brought me with her. It turned out it was a family of Chechnyan origin, incredibly hospitable, that we spent the afternoon and evening with.

It was a big family, many sisters and brothers came that afternoon with their own families and children, and all of them had married only to other Chechens. They were happy to talk about their background and told me how their relatives had fled Chechnya in the 19th century during the Caucasian war. It had been a long journey to reach Jordan, another Muslim country that they hoped would welcome them when they fled the oppression of the Russian central power.

In Jordan they were able to practise their religion without supression and were offered the Jordanian nationalities, not ending up in the vacuum for generations like many refugees do. They went to the same schools and universities and many became successful business men, like this family that now owned a series of supermarkets all over Amman. A special flag have been designed for the Chechen and Circassian minorities in the country, with the Chechen and Circassian flags merged and Hashemite crown on top, as a tribute to the country that had welcomed them.

But for many years they were completely cut off from their native country and relatives that they had left behind. Mail services didn’t exist and war was raging in Chechnya.

“We had our culture only”, one of the men told me. The original Chechen language became mixed up with Russian, as generations passed and many of the original Chechens were illiterate and couldn’t pass on the writing skills to their children.

Then in the 1990s one of the brothers decided to go. He went on his own and after much research was able to find distant relatives and the village from where they descended. He stayed for months and came back with some possessions from their relatives. A small wooden wheel now was hanging on the wall in the saloon in the Jordanian suburbian house, the tickets he had used travelling framed and decorating the other wall. The family was so proud of having found a part of their heritage. War and oppression may still be tormenting Chechnya, but in Jordan the Chechen minority had preserved their culture and pride.

Photo credit: www.crwflags.com