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Chaldeans Fondly Remeber Tel-Kepe
By Huda Metti :: Sunday, August 24, 2008 :: 68310 Views :: Living & Lifestyle, Community & Culture

Located a little more than 10 miles or 15 kilometers from Mosul there stands a, “Hill of Stones.”   For many Westerners this would seem to be an uninspiring and gloomy place to live.  However, to many Chaldeans the rich and fertile land of Tel-Kepe (Telkaif), Iraq was once a wondrous place of adventure, peace, and communal living.  In contrast to its name Tel-Kepe (The Hill of Stones) the region was quite fertile making many Chaldeans rural farmers living off the land and mastering the science of agriculture in some of the harshest of conditions.

A very high majority of the inhabitants of Tel-Kepe were Chaldean Catholics.  Indigenous people of the region who were converted to Christianity by Mar Addai and Mar Mari, disciples of St. Thomas and later merged with the Roman Catholic Church in the seventh century.  

As Muslim invaders conquered the Mesopotamian regions Christians fled to mountainous areas for protection and to eek out a living.  The mountainous terrain provided protection and solitude from persecution.  The man-made stone hills are thought to be remaining forts, looking posts, and strategic obstacles of the ancient.  The geography and topology of Tel-Kepe remained a protective barrier until the 20th century for Christians.

Tel-Kepe made significant contributions in the sharing of knowledge and Catholicism throughout the region.  The famed Rabban Hurmiz Monastery remains as one of the primary school centers of the region during the 1800’s.   

The first wave of the region’s Christian eradication or exodus came during the genocide of Mesopotamian Christians during World War I.  The Middle Eastern Christian Holocaust perpetuated by the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) drew little attention outside of the region.  

The second wave was during the middle and early-late 1900’s.  The Iraqi governments systematically began forced integration of Christian communities for a number of reasons.  One plausible theory was the ongoing problems the Iraqi government was having with Kurdish and Iranian rebels in the north of Iraq.  The problem forced an immediate need for government security officers to blend easily among the population in order to collect information on rebel plots.  Arab Iraqi security officers were easily identified in Christian towns making the strategy doubtful.  The answer was to blend the towns with Muslims whereby Saddam Hussein’s agents could easily hide in the open.   

To implement the strategy the government used the “Slow Cook” strategy of cultural change; an engineered cultural change or shift done slowly over time.  Since Christian communities were often more educated, organized, and wealthy their property could easily serve as a reward center for party loyalists.  The cooperative nature of the Christian faith and communities’ naturally inspired economic and educational prosperity through virtue, character, and godly behavior. 

As a reward the Iraqi government would often seize or purchase Christian homes or property under the smallest pretence.  They would then give or sell the property to Muslims or government officials.  This allowed government agents to eventually blend into the communities easily.  Other benefits of the “Slow Cook” strategy included, keeping Christian communities divided to reduce their influence and strength as brokers between Kurds and Iraq, reducing any possibilities of organized objections to being treated as second-class citizens.  Instead Christians were used as scapegoats for terrorist and criminal acts of either warring factions.   

The Iraqi government also moved Christians out of the rural mountains and areas into major cities and towns with offers of education and government jobs.  The effort diluted Christian influence and created vacancies in Christian towns that were often filled with Muslim residents furthering aiding the “Slow Cook” efforts.  

Over time, towns like Tel-Kepe began having a growing population of Muslims who then objected to Churches have public displays of faith or schools teaching non-Arabic or Muslim curriculum.  

Christians aware of the strategy began to move out of the country.  The government was happy to comply with travel visas and discounted travel costs knowing that the slow exodus provided opportunities for the government to meet its control objectives of the region. 

The third wave occurred during the Iraq War.  Chaldeans and other Christians were aggressively targeted, kidnapped for ransom, and tortured to raise money, inspire radical Muslims, reward soldiers, and win fanatic Muslims to the cause of fighting the west’s invasion. 

The three waves have left an endearing memory of a peaceful and wondrous time on the hearts and minds of Chaldeans.  Grandparents, older uncles and aunts, parents, and older siblings fondly reflect on a time when Tel-Kepe’s beauty was unsurpassed and the land’s offerings were plentiful. 

Although a minority of Christians still resides in the area, continued tensions and attacks against them threatens to empty the region of the indigenous people.  

St. Joseph, MI USA

St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church
2442 E. Big Beaver Rd.
Troy, MI 48083
Tel: (248) 528-3676
Fax: (248) 524-1957

Congregation Organizer:
Rev. Michael J. Bazzi

Church Constructing Pastor:
Rev. Sarhad Y. Jammo

Current Pastor:
Msgr. Zouhair Toma

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Ayad Hanna

 Current Pastor: Msgr. Zouhair Toma

Msgr. Zouhair Toma (Kejbou) was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1947.  He was ordained a priest in Baghdad, Iraq in 1968, and accepted his first assignment to serve the community of Baquba.  The Monsignor’s leadership skills and organizational talents along with his mastery of theology were immediately evident.  He later assisted Sts. Peter and Paul in Al-Salehia, and St. George in New Baghdad.

In August, 1978 Monsignor Toma was called to serve the growing community of persecuted Chaldeans finding refuge in Australia.   Being the fist Chaldean priest to arrive in Australia he quickly established a parish for the Chaldeans in Sydney to serve their social and spiritual needs.  The parish was named after St. Thomas the Apostle and built a rectory. 

In 1989, for his incredible work he was granted the title of Monsignor, Chaldean Patriarchal Vicar for Australia and New Zealand.  Continuing his passionate work to serve the Chaldean community the Monsignor moved the Parish Center to a more accessible location and built a large church campus featuring a modern community center, residence quarters, and administrative offices in 1995. 

In 2003, Monsignor Toma added a magnificent church to replace the previous one in order to serve the fast growing community and also opened two other centers.  The first was Our Lady Guardian of Plants in Melbourne, and the second was Mar Addai the Apostle in Auckland, New Zealand.  Mar Addai in New Zealand included two very large churches along with rectories and community centers.  Overseeing the Patriarchal Vicariate for 28 years, he managed to inspire six more priests to help minister to the fast growing Chaldean community. 

In August 2006, Monsignor chose to assist the St. Thomas the Apostle Diocese in the U.S. as more Catholic churches were being built in America and address the growing need.  On October 2006, Monsignor was incardinated and appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Troy.