Arbil, IRAQ – Iraqi Christians were not immune to Muslin tribal mentality which divided Iraqis and created factions, all to the benefit of past paranoid Iraqi leaders. “Dictators and rulers trying to protect their power firmly divide the people so that they can pin one group against another,” says Monir Arafat, a historian of Iraq.
“Each group is worried about the other group. It is easy to start conflicts to keep them busy fighting one another rather than the ruler or dictator. This military strategy of divide and conquer has consequences that have stretched across centuries for the Christians of Iraq.”
What many Chaldeans consider to be a tiresome debate continues to have glowing embers that have now stretched across the world. Arafat says Christian communities continue to argue over the rightful title of their community name. “This is a fool’s argument that by its very nature causes the division they claim they are trying to heal. The wise people ignore the entire debate and allow healing to naturally take place. It is like picking at a scab, hoping it will heal faster. When in reality the picking just opens and infects the wound.”
Others, like Iraqi theatre director Georges Hawell aim to help build unity by focusing on the similarities and not the differences. Hawell is directing a play titled “Bride and Peace” which plays in Arbil to unify Iraqi Christians.
The director explains that the play’s idea came up in the wake of Iraq strenuous developments including forced displacement. The director relates in his play a humanitarian message seeking Christians’ unity.
The play talks about a love story between an Assyrian woman and a Chaldean man who once he decided to marry his loved one, the girl’s father objects and plans to take her to the States to marry her to an Assyrian man. However, the girl manages to return home to stay by the side of her first love. The play ends in a theatrical musical scene that gathers all Christian components in order to confirm that no differences come in the way of coexistence and unity.
Actors were dressed in folklore costumes while the director meant to mix between the Arabic and Syriac languages in the play in order to preserve the origin of Christians in Mosul for those who overlook their mother tongue and only speaks Arabic.
One of the most impressive scenes that marked spectators was when the hero of the play asks from his fiancé not to mock his friends as she was telling him: “You spend most of your time with your Assyrian, Syriac and Chaldean friends”. He answers her: “You don’t know me well. We are all Christians united by the love of Jesus”.
According to the director, art can often be the reason that unites people and this play is a call of unity for all.
The play is witnessing massive turnout and is displayed at the Chaldean Culture Association Theatre in Ankawa village in Arbil.
Historically the Iraqi Christian community sided with different power groups during war centuries ago. Since then the various groups have grown into distinct communities separated by the values and customs of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Sharing similar customs and history the various groups have been working to reconcile and unite. However, some feel agitators continue to drive the communities apart by their attempts to force adherence to one group or another.
“Some feel that their empire of antiquity should be preserved. Others counter that the last empire of antiquity was their group. Each attempt to best the other with artifacts, political jousting, name branding, and more,” says Arafat. “In the end, they waste more time arguing with one another rather than helping their own people.”
Joshua Denha of San Diego says he has friends that are fanatic about their perceived nationalism. “They will give you every reason why you should support their nationality. They say because of blood and DNA to better political power or that their history proves it.”
When asked how he responds, Joshua says, “I tell them that India and Pakistan were also once the same people, have the same DNA, share the same customs, but have different values. The same thing for Christians in Iraq, it should be okay to have different groups. People should unite under morals and ethics and reasoning, not because they have the same grandfathers or come from the same lands or even eat the same foods. Christianity is about ideals. I feel closer to my Italian or Greek Catholic brother who we have no blood relation to me than my Muslim, Yezidi, Jesish, or Athiest cousin who I may be related to by blood. It is not the name that separates us; it is the values and ideals we follow.”
Dawood Youhanna disagrees with his friend Denha. “By having a larger group you have more power and influence to take care of your people. By being divided you are smaller and easier to be conquered. One way to help grow our power is by educating Christians in Iraq that they are all from one empire. It is that simple.”
Denha adds, “The problems of division are caused by people who believe you are connected by blood or customs rather than by ideals and values. That is what has made America great. People who come here for a better life, come from all over because they believe in the American principles. We all have different customs, have different ancestral lands, have different foods, but proudly call ourselves American brothers and sisters.”