In an effort to show solidarity with Iraq’s tormented Christian communities, local authorities of Baghdad have announced an official Christmas holiday this year.
Fireworks have been set off over Tigris in Baghdad every night till Christmas and the refugees at the local camp been paid visits by Santa. A Christmas tree, said to be the biggest one in the entire Middle East has been set up in Zawraa amusement park.
Tallest ChristMas tree in the Middle East is in Baghdad with a height of 25m scheduled to be lit up on Christmas Eve pic.twitter.com/px5E3BnlGD— Dhurgham (@Dhurgham88) December 19, 2015
Iraq’s Christian minorities, mostly made up of ethnic Assyrians, have a history that is thousands of years old. For most of the time, the Christians and Muslims in Iraq have had a peaceful relationship and the non-Muslim minorities have often enjoyed exemption from Islamic laws. However, ever since ISIS started spreading its wings across northern Iraq, many Christians have been terrified of practicing their religion openly for fear of death.
Recently, Baghdadi Christians in communities like Karrada, al-Ghadir and Zayuna discovered flyers posted on streets demanding Christian women cover their heads.
Since last year, over 120,000 Christians have been forced to flee their homeland as ISIS seized control of over third of Iraq. Thousands of these refugees remain scattered and missing in various refugee camps.
Barack Obama, who is often criticized for ignoring the plights of beleaguered Christians, recently prayed for them.
“In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by ISIL,” the president said.
The mass exodus within 18 months has shrunk the already small population of Christian minority of the country.
Younadam Kanna, a prominent Christian parliamentarian explained that the international community was encouraging Christians to leave which was further decimating the few numbers they had in Baghdad.
Iraq celebrated its first official Christmas in Baghdad in 2008. However, due to increasing sectarian riots, the event was cancelled the following year.