Maryam Ishaq is the last Christian remaining in the city of Khanaqin after a massive outflow of Christians following the Iran-Iraq war.
Maryam Ishaq is the last known remaining Christian in the eastern Iraqi city of Khanaqin, close to the border with Iran. The city’s proximity to Iran meant it was located in the crossfire range between Iraq and Iran during the bloody war between the two countries that took millions of lives. This prompted the majority of the Christian population of Khanaqin to leave the city and emigrate.
“There were many Christians here, about 200 families. Due to the Iran-Iraq war, they all left or migrated. Some went to Erbil, some to Amadiyah, and others to Europe. All of them have deserted [this place]”, retold Maryam.
Maryam, however, decided to stay. She speaks of the close attachment that she feels for the Chaldean Church that still stands in Khanaqin and, for her, represents an important symbol of Iraq’s cultural heritage.
She also mentioned that she is married to a Muslim man and that despite their religious differences, they have lived in harmony with one another. Maryam also emphasised that she is respected by the local community.
“My husband is from Khanaqin. He is a Muslim and we live in this city together and receive love and respect from everyone. There is no difference between us. He has his religion and I have mine”, she added.
The terrorism of ISIS over the past few years led to another exodus of Christians from Iraq. Christians have faced discrimination in various forms in Iraq’s recent history, however the heinous crimes committed by ISIS were the last straw for many.
Nevertheless, Christians who have remained in the country live in hope for a brighter future. Many Christians in the north of Iraq who were restricted from expressing their identities and showcasing their culture are now freely able to follow their traditions. Certain initiatives have also been initiated by Muslims as a show of solidarity to their Christian brothers.