Why does Danmission work in Iraq?
Iraq is often referred to as the cradle of Christianity, and the history of Christians in the area dates back to the 1st Century AD. Christian Iraqis and Christians in the region in general have, in modern times, played a vital role in the construction of a secular Arab identity and nationalism, just as they have had a significant influence over Iraqi art and culture. Christians have traditionally constituted an affluent and influential minority in Iraq but now risk losing their historical and cultural significance. War, sanctions, religious persecution, and a lack of opportunities for Christians, have all meant that the number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from 1.3 million before the Western invasion in 2003 to less than 400,000 today.
In 2014, following the takeover of North West Iraq by the extremist military movement ISIS, and the proclamation of a caliphate in the region, waves of refugees (IDPs, internally displaced populations) put enormous pressure on Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, including on the cities of Erbil, Kirkuk and Dohouk. Most refugees arrived carrying with them nothing, no values and no personal belongings, and were thus completely dependent on humanitarian aid.
Many refugees decided to leave Iraq altogether, and many more wish to follow suit. Even Christians from the relatively secure Kurdish-dominated areas have left Iraq, as they fear for the future of minorities in Iraq, and have lost faith in ever returning to their homes.
Danmission in Iraq
Danmission believes Christians belong in the Middle East, not least in Iraq. If all of the Christians leave, Iraq will be left open to extremism, and will be weakened significantly in cultural terms. Danmission wishes to actively support efforts to secure peaceful co-existence in Iraq and, in turn, ensure the construction of an inclusive, intercultural Iraqi nation with respect and room for minorities.
Danmission therefore began cooperating with the Chaldean Catholic Church in Erbil, Northern Iraq, which is heavily involved in international humanitarian aid distribution in the region. The purpose of the cooperation was to deliver humanitarian aid, including the distribution of food products, medicine, drinking water, other necessities, and accommodation (in empty buildings and tented camps).
Danmission’s strategic objective is to contribute to a continued Christian presence in the region, to fight religious and political extremism, and to react to humanitarian disaster through cooperation with local partner organisations. Christian Iraqis make up the majority of refugees aided by Danmission although the humanitarian aid is provided to all population groups in need. The four cornerstones of Danmission’s work in the Middle East are: church and theology; poverty reduction; dialogue and interreligious understanding; and, finally, humanitarian aid.