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Chaldeans Fondly Remeber Tel-Kepe
By Huda Metti :: Sunday, August 24, 2008 :: 83679 Views :: Article Rating :: 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. Thomas, MI USA

St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church
6900 Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Tel: (248) 788-2460
Fax: (248) 788-2153

Founding Pastor:
Rev. Hanna Cheikho

Current Pastor:
Rev. Frank Kalabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes, Retired  

Rev. Frank Kalabat

Rev. Frank Kalabat was born in 1970 in San Diego, California and entered St. Francis Seminary of San Diego, California.  The admission to the Catholic seminary made him the first born U.S. Chaldean to enter an American seminary.  In 1992, Fr. Kalabat continued his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.  In July 1995, shortly after graduation he was ordained as priest by His Excellency Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.  

Fr. Frank chose Mother of God Parish in Southfield, MI. as his first assignment serving the Chaldean community as an associate pastor for half a decade.  In 2001, Fr. Kalabat was elected to serve as Pastor of St. Tomas Parish in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he remains today.   

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1942. Upon graduation Fr. Abrahim was admitted to St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad, Iraq.  After a decade of studies and numerous degrees, Fr. Abrhim was ordained a priest in 1967.  He chose to continue ministering in Baghdad, Iraq.  There he was appointed the headmaster of the catechism at Mother of Sorrows Cathedral.  Fr. Abrahim also assisted St. Therese Church in Baghdad until 1978.  Afterward he was asked to assist St. Joseph Church in Baghdad and was appointed Parochial Vicar from 1978-1992. 

In 1992, Fr. Abrahim was called upon to assist the growing Chaldean population in Michigan.  Upon his arrival he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Tory, Michigan.  Two years later Fr. Abrahim was asked to become the pastor of a Parish community in Windsor, Canada  where he remained the parish pastor until 2001.

Continuing demographic changes in Michigan required Fr. Abrahim to return to St. Joseph Parish in Tory as a Parochial Vicar, where he remained until 2006.  In 2006 he was elected to St. Thomas Parish as Parochial Vicar in West Bloomfield, MI. where he currently serves the Chaldean community.


Rev. Emmanuel Rayes

Rev. Emmanuel Rays was born in Araden, Iraq in 1930.  He studied at St. John Dominican Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.  The Chaldean catholic ambassador ministered in northern Iraq from 1954-1963, in Syria and Lebanon from 1963-1980, and in the United Stated from 1980 to the present day.
Form 1980-1983, he was appointed associate pastor at Mother of God Parish in Southfield, Michigan.  From 1983-1989 he served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  During the early 1990’s he ministered to the Chaldean community in Farmington Hills and was at St. Joseph Parish in Tory where he was Parochial Vicar until 2000.

Although Fr. Rayes retired in 2001, he remains active in serving the community.  He is the author of many articles in Arabic and is the editor-in-chief of the Al Mishal and Al-Tariq magazine.  He has translated and continues to translate many books from French and English into Arabic.