Culture

Armenians in Zakho, Iraq, pray for peace in the country

Iraq

The small population of Armenians in the town of Zakho, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), are praying for peace to return to the area during their Christmas celebrations.

Continuing the festive winter season, Armenian Iraqis residing in the city of Zakho in Duhok Province are celebrating Christmas and Christ’s baptism on the first week of January. The celebration, which falls on the 6th of January, was celebrated by dozens of Armenians in the St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, established in 1923. The worshippers prayed for peace to reign in the country, and wished that the Iraqis who fled during ISIS rule return to their homes.

“We hope that those displaced who came from Mosul and those who left their homes and their families to return to their homes in order for life to return to normal as it once was,” said Edal Admon Sabri, an Armenian woman from Baghdad.

Some estimates claim that there are about 20,000 Armenians in Iraq. However, several thousands have been displaced from their villages in the Nineveh Plains, located in a once diverse area of northern Iraq, to the country’s Kurdistan Region after ISIS’ invasion into Iraq in 2014. Despite the militant group’s defeat in the country in December 2017, many have not been able to return to their homes due to the lack of infrastructure in their villages and towns.

The Armenian community in Iraq is considered the second largest Christian community after the Assyrians.

According to some historians, the arrival of the first Armenians to Iraq came through Iran, following the order by Shah Abbas in 1604 to bring Armenians to Iraq. Upon their arrival to Iraq, the majority of Armenians settled in Baghdad and Basra. As such, the oldest remaining Armenian Church in Baghdad, St Mary’s Church, was commissioned and built in 1639/40 by Gevorg Nazaretian, an Armenian officer during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV.

However, the largest period of emigration to Iraq came in 1915 after the start of the Armenian Genocide in Armenia and Turkey. The Armenians who arrived in this massive exodus mainly settled in villages in the Nineveh Plains, Mosul and Dohuk.

The celebration of Christmas throughout Iraq is a sign that the ethnic and religious groups feel comfortable practicing their rituals in their homes and houses of worship.