History of Christianity in Iraq
St Addai the Apostle website for Chaldean Catholics in New Zealand would like to thank Mr. Behnam Afas for writing this article wishing him long life and excellent health.
"THIS ARTICLE IS UNDER COPYRIGHT OF ST ADDAI THE APPOSTLE CHALDEAN CATHOLIC PARISH WEBSITE"
Behnam Afas 2009
Special Research Topic Written by the Historian
Mr. Behnam Afas
Christian Culture in Iraq across the Ages
I have intended to make this study brief and comprehensive, since “Christian Culture in Iraq across the Ages” requires a lengthy book, due to its deep roots, originality and heritage. However, my aim here is to give a brief overview on the subject, after which the inquisitive reader can follow-up from the various references and studies I have mentioned on the matter.
I hope that this study will be a good start to our young men and women, the pillars of the future, in order that they may know what their ancestors have accorded human and cultural heritage across the ages, not on the Iraqi scope only but to all nations.
Behnam F. Affas
Christianity in the early Christian ages up to the sixth century:
The roots of Christianity run deep in Mesopotamia, which later was called Iraq. From the era of the Parthians in the early Christian ages between 153 B.C. – 217 A.D., starting with the preaching of “Mar Toma Al-Rasoul” (St Thomas the Apostle) and the two disciples, St Addai and St Mari, who founded the ancient Church of the East. They built the first church in Iraq which was known by the church of “Kokhi”, where recent excavations in Iraq confirmed its existence in Al-Mada’in near Baghdad.
The name “Church of Kokhi” is historically linked with the martyrdom of thousands of early Christians during the rule of the “Sassanids”. To be exact, at the time of the forty year persecution which was launched by Shapur the Second, nicknamed “Tho Al-Aktaff” (The Shoulders), at which time many martyrs were sacrificed. On top of the list of martyrs, were Catholicos Mar Shemon Bar Sabbae and his companions, around year 341 A.D. Persecutions continued for forty consecutive years. Archbishop Addai Scher have immortalized many of those martyrs in his well known book “Shuhada’ Al-Mashriq” (Martyrs of the East), printed in Mosul in two volumes in 1900 and 1906.
It is worth mentioning that many of those martyrs occupied high ranking positions in the Sassanid state. They were an example of loyalty and devotion to the nation, where Bishop Souleyman Sayegh mentions in his historical story “Yazdandokht” that Abkarhan was commander of the armies and the two martyrs Koshtazad and Azad were king counsellors. It is also mentioned that Kossi was head of the Royal House of Al-Dhai’i. This gives an idea of the active participation of Christians from early times in various administrative, cultural and art matters.
It is mentioned in history books that Shapur the Second, after discovering that persecutions did not work with Christians, decided to expel them outside his country, and it is widely suspected that a big community of them migrated to India, where St Thomas the Apostle preached earlier, and settled in Malabar, now known by the name of Kerala. Up to now Kerala has a big community of Christians, who preserved their religious rituals and heritage, and still use the Syriac language in both its Eastern and Western dialects. They use it in their churches and teach it in their vast university in Kerala.
In its early centuries, Christianity spread in the Arabian Peninsula, but was on the Ebionite faith which was in contradiction to some of the basic Christian beliefs. Nevertheless, they took-up Christianity and they called themselves “Nasranis” (Christians) and this is the main reason why this name was mentioned in the Koran and in Islamic books later on. One outstanding person of those was priest Waraqah ibn Nawfal, the cousin of Khadija, and it is he who translated the non-canonical Gospel of Mathew (Gospel of the Ebionites), from Aramaic to Arabic, as told by Aisha bint Abu Bakr As-Siddiq in the Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim – also in the books of the Islamic prophetic mode of life. Of those who became well known, were monk Georgeos Buhaira, Othman Bin Al-Huwairthi, Zaid Bin Amro Bin Nawfal and others.
This is the reason why many of the Arab tribes that moved to Iraq, especially from Najran were carrying with them their beliefs and their Christian religion. Most outstanding were the tribes of Taghlub, Tay and Tameem. Al-Tibri mentions that when the Manathira rule was established in Iraq, their king Imru’ Al-Qais the First, 288 – 328 A.D. was the first Christian king in Al-Hira of the Lakhmid dynasty. Al-Hira and its suburbs witnessed the founding of an ascetic and worshiping group by the name of Al-Ubbad or Al-Ubbadeen (Worshipers). This group was mentioned in the tales of Al-Khazraji, concerning the translator and medical doctor Hunain ibn Ishaq who said they were from various sub divisions of Arab tribes gathered together by the bond of Christianity (Al-Nassraniya) in Al-Hira. Dr Jawad Ali also confirmed that they were a group from different tribes united by religion and nationality. This is the reason why this name of Christians (Al-Nassara) was referred to Christians from the land of Al-Hira only.
As times went by, the incoming kings alternated between paganism and Christianity, up to the rule of Al-Numan VI ibn Al-Mundhir who became Christian in the year 593 A.D. His capitol city, Al-Hira, became an important centre of Christianity. Churches and monasteries were built and became extinct in time. However, Al-Shabishti recorded the event and kept it documented and described in his well known book “El-Diyarat” (Monasteries) which was investigated by Georgees Awad and printed in Baghdad. Awad described 37 monasteries in Iraq, the most famous of which was Monastery of “Hind Al-Kubra” (Hind Senior) and Monastery of “Hind Al-Sughra” (Hind Junior), which were built by “Hind Bint Al-Numan” (Hind daughter of Al-Numan).
It was reported that at the time of the Islamic conquests, Khalid Bin Al-Waleed, met her and assured her safety and the security of her monastery where she lived for the rest of her life. It was also reported that Catholicos Isho Yahb (or Yabh) I of Arzon visited the monastery where he spent some time and later died. His burial was supervised by Hind junior, sister of Al-Numan.
While on the subject of monasteries, Rasheed Al-Khayoon, author of the book “Al-Adyan Wa Al-Mathahib Fil Iraq” (Religions and Denominations in Iraq) mentioned that monasteries were an aspect of Iraq’s civilization and culture across the ages, and still are a cultural aspect with its building, architecture and ancient contents, treasures and heritage.
Christian Intellectual Life in its Early Days
From the days when the Arameans came to power, the Aramaic language was the prevailing language in vast parts of that era, due to its softness and ease of writing. It remained in that position until the Islamic domination, at which time the Arabic language took over gradually. Aramaic was the language of conversation, writing and inscription, in both its dialects, the Eastern and the Western. Of those many early Christian scholars who were well known for their writings in Aramaic, we name few, such as Ihikar Al-Hakeem and Tutianos, author of the book “Al-Diatroon” i.e. “The United Bible” and who died in the year 180 A.D. also Bridissan, author of the book “Sharai’e Al-Buldan” (Laws of Nations) who died in the year 222 A.D., and Afrahat Al-Hakeem who died in 346 A.D., and St Ephrem who died in 373 A.D., who is truly considered the leader of Syriac Poetry and it is he who created the seventh poetry measure. He left behind lengthy poems, dialogues, spiritual songs and chants. Many scholars confirm that he wrote 12000 poems, considered the best of Syriac poetry most of which reflect on the various beliefs and theological ideologies. Many of those hymns are still sung in Eastern Churches up to the present day. Many of them were translated into Arabic, French and even Latin. Patriarch Efrem Rahmani and Patriarch Barsauma and other pioneers who were overwhelmed by their meaning and content.
Later on, other writers carried the torch of culture from the previous pioneers, such as Rabola, Bishop of Urfa and Catholicos Narsai, author of the lengthy orations and poems which were published by Fr Dr Alphonse Mafkana in two volumes and were printed in the Dominican printing press in Mosul in the year 1905. Also Mar Yacoub El-Siroji in his splendid church poetry and Babai the Great who died in the year 628 A.D. author of the famous book in his name.
We must not forget to mention, the well known Christian schools at that time, such as Nisibis the Great school, Al-Ruhha (Urfa) school and Koni Monastery school, which were teaching various sciences and Syriac and Greek languages, as well as, poetry, grammar, logic, music, astronomy and medicine. The world famous historian Arnold Twainbi emphasized in his book “Tareekh Al-Bashariya” (Human History) the value of those schools and what they have accorded intellect and heritage. He also confirmed that the spoken language of the people of Nisibis was Syriac and they left us a worthy study of heritage. Due to its importance, Bishop Addai Scher undertook special research of the well known school of Nisibis and printed his findings in a book printed in Beirut in 1905 A.D.
Orientalists, Fr Shabo and Fr Pijan are considered the first of those interested in this heritage and they have investigated and published it. Of those first people who made the Syriac Christian heritage, manuscripts and publications known, were the Sama’aniyon, who published a book called “The Oriental Library” in four volumes. This heritage, manuscripts and publications are available in the famous Vatican library. Robinson Duval also wrote a book and published it in Paris in 1907 under the title “History of the Syriac Literature”. This book was lately translated into Arabic by Father Lewis Kassab and printed in Baghdad. As for Fr Dr. George Gharraf, he perpetuated this heritage in his book “Tareekh Al-Adab Al-Masehe Al-Arabi” (History of Arab Christian Literature) in fourteen volumes printed in Rome between the years 1947-1953 A.D.
We also find perpetuation to this heritage in a book titled “A’ssr Al-Syrian Al-Thahabi” (The Syriac Golden Era) by Count Philip Tarazi printed in Beirut in 1946 and a book titled “Thakherat Al-Athhan Fe Tarekh Al-Masharika wal Maghariba Al-Syrian” (Ammunition of the Minds in the history of Eastern and Western Syriacs) written by Fr Batry Nasry printed in Mosul in two parts in the years 1905-1913. Also a book titled “Al-Lulu Al-Manthoor Fe Tarekh Al-Oloom wa Al-Aadab Al-Syrianiya” (The Sprinkled Pearls of the History of Syriac Science and Literature) by Patriarch Efrem Barsauma printed in Homs in 1943. There are many other books, the number of which cannot be reckoned, in addition to those mentioned, all give us a clear picture of the extent of early Christian participation in the human culture.
Christianity Trans Islamic Era
On browsing through history books it becomes apparent that Christians, at first, welcomed the Arab conquerors for many reasons. Most important of which was getting rid of the Persian rule, which made them taste the bitterness of persecution, or may be because of the nationalistic and linguistic rapprochement between them. Christians were offered security in lieu of payment of tributes imposed on non-Muslims, who believe in God (Ahl El-Thumma). This new title of recognition of Christians costed them a lot and was exploited to place Christians in a lower category to pressure and persecute them sometimes.
However, Christians continued their earnest participation in the new rule as before. Those experts in Arabic grammar confirm that this science was copied from the Christian Syriacs, because the Arabs did not have a science that could regulate their language, while the Syriacs had many grammar books. The Arabs sought help from Syriacs to produce Arabic grammar science, as it is clear, because of the rapprochement of the two systems in research and approach.
In the Umayyad (Moorish) era we see their Caliphs rely on selected few Christians in matters relating to finance, technology and administration. They also relied on them in medicine. As Athal, the private physician of Caliph Muawiyah was Christian. In later years, Christians continued to practice this medical profession and especially in the Abbasids era, where they achieved distinguished reputation in that field. We can also mention here that many of the Arab tribes in the Levant desert held to their Christian beliefs. The most favoured Moorish Poet, Al-Akhtal from Al-Taghlob tribe was Christian. Our best reference in this aspect is the Masters Degree treatise presented to the University of Baghdad in 1974 by Mr. Jassim El-Rubay’i under the title ”Nassara Al-Iraq Fe Al-A’hd Al-Amawi” (Iraqi Christians in Umayyad Era), where he clarified in detail their participation in that period. In the Abbasid era and after the establishment of their rule, Baghdad became the Ka’aba (centre) of scientists and writers who come to it from different parts of the world.
During the rule of Caliph Al-Rashid, translation work became very active and reached its peak at the time of Caliph Al-Ma’mun when Patriarch Timothy the First, nicknamed the Great, was head of the Eastern Church. At which time he was contemporary to five Abbasid Caliphs between the years 780-823 A.D. and was in good terms with them. He was well known for his ideological debates with Caliph Al-Mehdi, whose wife El-Khezaran, felt with the Christians, may be because of the influence of her private physician Abi Kuraish Issa. Her good deeds in maintaining and renovating monasteries was reported in the book “El-Mijdal” (The Disputatious) written by Mari.
It is worthwhile mentioning here that Patriarch Timothy the First, during his long leadership, dispatched missionaries to Turkistan, India and China to preach the Christian religion. There they built churches some of which are still standing up to now.
Christians had a big role in translation and publishing work which became very active in the first Abbasids era. They translated books of science, medicine and astronomy from Greek and Syriac into Arabic. The best of those translators was Hunain ibn Ishaq, nicknamed “Sheikh Al-Mutarjimeen” (Chief of Translators). Because of his importance together with Catholicos Mar Efrem, a huge festival was held in Baghdad in the 1970s attended by hundreds of dignitaries from all over the world; people of science, knowledge and heritage.
The translation and publishing movement was of great importance to the Arabic language, because it published heritage, sciences and knowledge in its many kinds in Arabic, at a time when Arabic language was in bad need of such knowledge. It enriched the Arabic library and had a great influence in times to come.
Many writers and thinkers became well known in the Abbasids era, which had a great role in spreading knowledge and culture. Some of whom we mention here, such as, Yehya Bin Uday El-Tikriti, who died in the year 975 A.D., and Abu-Bishr Metti Bin Younis, Catholicos Youhana Bin Issa, Abu El-Fatih Bin Sa’id, Issa Bin Zara’a and others. We must mention here the importance of the City of Tikrit, as it was then an important Centre of Christianity. It was the seat of the Catholicos of the East, a designation below that of Patriarch. It was a radiating centre of civilization and produced many writers and thinkers. It continued with its presentation for a long period of time until circumstances changed there, which forced the Catholicos to move to Mosul. Many of its residents left Tikrit towards the north, following the Tigris to Mosul and its satellite villages, escaping persecution.
As for the medical field, Christians had a very clear and active presence in the Abbasids era. History names but few of those involved in the medical practice, such as the well known medical family of Bakhteshooa’, the majority of which graduated from Jindisaboor school in Al-Ahwaz. This family extended great services in medical matters as well as in the fields of translation and writing. They were contemporary to five Abbasids Caliphs, and were mentioned in Ibn Abi Isseba’ El-Khazraji’s book “Oyoon Al-Abna’ Fe Tabakat Al-Attibba’” (Eyes of the sons in the classes of Doctors). They reached very distinguished positions and had good presence with the Caliphs and the general public. As a proof of this family holding on to Christianity and its heritage, it was reported by El-Khazraji that the medicine man Ibn Jibrael did not accept a gift of few maidens from Caliph El-Mansoor as a reward for his good work, because as he said ”We Christians do not marry more than one wife”. It is worthy to mention that many men of religion were practicing this profession of medicine, at a time when there were no trained doctors. They relied on the books they had and gained excellent reputation in that field.
Christians in later ages and up to the renaissance era:
After the fall of the Abbasid state in the year 1258 A.D., the Mongols became rulers of Iraq , and in spite of all difficulties, Christians continued practicing their beliefs in all aspects. Few of them became prominent in their classical Arabic writings, at a time when the Arabic language suffered a great disaster. Of those who wrote in Arabic we mention Mari Bin Sulaiman in his well known book “Al-Majdal”, and Patriarch Eliya the Third well known by the name of Abi Haleem El-Hadathi , author of the book “Al-Tarajim Al-Saniya Lila a’yad Al-Maraniya” (The Grand Translations for the Maranite Festivals). This book was investigated and published by Bishop Mikhael Na’amo and was printed in the Dominican Press in Mosul in the year 1873 together with speeches and prefaces in 313 pages. The style of writing, as it is well known, was fluent and rhymed, at a time when rhymed writings and decorative wordings were dominating the Arabic prose.
However, in the 13th century, Abu-El-Faraj Ghreghorius Ibn El-Ibri became a well known historian and wrote books in Biology and Divinity and also in Doctrinal writings, Linguistics and Literature. His book “Mukhtasar Tareekh Al-Dowal” (Summary of History of Nations) which was investigated and published by Fr. Antowan Salhani El-Yassoa’i (the Jesuit) in Beirut in 1890 A.D. is considered the most precise , prominent and authoritative historical references in that era. And his book in “Al-Tareekh Al-Kanasi” (The History of the Church) which is in three volumes, is considered an important reference in the history of the church. This book was printed in Luvan-Belgium between the years 1872-1877 A.D. Patriarch Efrem Barsauma also investigated and published his other books which were on religious, theological and philosophical matters. Lately a convention was held for his work in Baghdad, and was attended by a chosen number of cultured people in appreciation of his status.
This is how Christians across the ages and in the darkest of times could consolidate their religious and earthly position and hold their own against the different currents which swept Iraq.
They preserved their custom, heritage and tradition. It is timely to remember here the important service rendered by monasteries and old churches and their libraries in preserving for us the heritage and it is to this day still rich in priceless manuscripts and old books on different subjects and knowledge. Thus it became a source for studies and a reference for the different knowledge and culture, we mention here but a few of those, i.e. the Chaldean Patriarchate in Mosul, which was moved to Baghdad, the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese in Mosul , Monastery of Mar Behnam near Nimrod which abounds in manuscripts together with the lately transferred manuscripts of the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese in Mosul, Monastery of Mar Matta in Maqloob mountain and Monastery of El-Sayida and Raban Hermoz in Al-Quosh town. Those above mentioned places are considered the richest oriental libraries in manuscripts which were indexed by some for easy reference to scholars and researchers.
In the following centuries, we notice a slow down in those participations and especially in the late Mongolian era and the beginning of the Ottoman occupation of Iraq in the year 1534 A.D. Iraq oscillated between Persian domination and the return of the Ottoman rule. In 1743 when Nader Shah conquered Iraq, there was complete destruction and he reached Mosul and besieged it. However, the ruling Al-Jalili family at that time, and with the leadership of Mahoud Pasha Al-Jalili, the people of Mosul, in their different religions, ethnicity and creed, united and defeated the siege.
This siege was described by Fr Lanza, the Dominican, who lived the siege and witnessed its failure and the retreat of the conquerors. Many of Mosul’s residents related the success of the people in defeating the siege to a miracle by the Virgin Mary in her shrine near the city’s walls. This prompted Haj Mahmoud Pasha Al-Jalili to renovate the church together with other churches. This event was perpetuated by Poet Hassan Abdul-Baqi Al-Immari in a lengthy poem commencing with:
Stop at our place, Oh brother of secrets, in seclusion for a church full of glory and worship.
Steven Linquerek mentioned in his book “Four Centuries of Iraq’s History”, that Al-Jalili family ruled Mosul for more than a century from 1726 – 1834. Its origin is from Diyarbakir, and they were Christians before embracing Islam. Then came the Mamluk rule, and Dawood Pasha, of Christian Armenian origin, governed Iraq from 1817 – 1830 A.D. In his time Iraq witnessed a noticeable development in many areas, but he was quickly deposed and the Ottoman rule returned to Iraq, where they were practicing the Turkeynising policy in all fields except at Madhat Pasha’s rule from 1869-1872 A.D., which was credited with some reforms.
But when the Turkish constitution was issued on 23rd December 1876 at the time of Madhat Pasha the great, Non-Moslems were given their rights, and the Jizea (non-Muslims) Tax was abolished. This tax that was endured by Christians since the Islamic conquests. When the Ottoman constitution was amended in 1919 A.D. we could find Christian representation in the Ottoman Council, in very small numbers. We also find Christian participation in the movements for independence and freedom from Ottoman rule.
Iraq in the Revival Era
Historians agree that the beginning of the eighteenth century saw a revival that embraced all the eastern Arab countries. However, this revival differed from one country to another.
Its signs appeared in Syria and Lebanon (Bilad Al-Sham, the Levant) with the early appearance of the printing press in Lebanon in the year 1610 A.D. in the Monastery of Mar Kazahya. It is a well known fact that printing has a great influence on spreading culture and learning.
The appearance of Bishop Jermanos Farhan 1670-1732 A.D. had a great influence in activating the linguistic and grammatical studies. He was followed by Alshidiak and Butros Al-Bustani and Sheikh Nasseef Al-Yazaji, who left us good heritage in the fields of language and literature. They could be considered pioneers of intellectual awakening. After Napoleon’s expedition, Egypt followed in the coming of Mohammed Ali Pasha to power. It also saw the beginning of a resurgence of intellectual and literary movement. The most prominent of its pioneers was El-Tahtawi and this reflected on the aspects of life in general. Then it was followed, in the early nineteenth century, by those who emigrated from (Bilad Al-Sham, the Levant) escaping the Ottoman persecution and who worked in the fields of journalism and printing. Of those we mention the Lebanese Takkla family, who started Al-Ahram newspaper, and Jirji Zeydan founder of Dar Al-Hilal, and Ibrahim El-Yazaji, poet and owner of Al-Dhia’ magazine and poet Khalil Matran, poet of the two states, and Yacoub Sarrouf and Faris Nimir who started Al-Muktataf in 1878. And the author of the orient May Ziadah and others. All those aforementioned were Christians from (Bilad Al-Sham, the Levant), who came to Egypt escaping Ottoman harassment.
As for Iraq and especially in Baghdad, in the beginning it was kept away from all those movements and learning was kept to mosques and education was similar to that of the middle ages. But we note the early arrival of two monastic missions in Baghdad and Basra. The first was a Capuchin mission (Franciscan) which arrived in the year 1632 A.D. then the Carmelite mission in the year 1716 A.D. The later had a great influence in vitalizing and developing education, by establishing St Joseph school in 1732 A.D. which was in existence until late twentieth century. It had a vital role and especially when improvements and modernizations were introduced to its curriculum in the mid nineteenth century.
Later on, the Carmelite mission gave us one of the leaders in the fields of language and journalism, not in Iraq only but in the whole Arab world. He is the linguistic scholar Fr Anstans Mari the Carmelite, founder of “Lughat Al-Arab Journal” (The Arabs Language Journal) and had very valuable writings in the fields of language and dictionaries. In the thirties of last century he represented Iraq in “Al-Mujama’ Al-Laghawi” (Linguistic Academy) in Cairo.
As for the city of Mosul, it somehow differed from Baghdad, because of the Arab rule of Al-Jalili family which lasted for more that one hundred years, and because it was near Aleppo and Bilad Alsham and also for the early availability of modern printing press, not like other Iraqi cities. It is well known what influence printing presses have on flourishing culture and intellect. This prompts us to study it in detail and especially because the initial steps were taken by the Christian Monastic missions which came early to Iraq as we have mentioned before.
The Role of Christians in Printing:
Perhaps the oldest printing press established in Iraq was the stone press brought to Mosul from France by the Dominican Fathers about the year 1856 - 1857 . They commenced printing few religious and school books which assisted them in teaching in their modern school. They appointed Fr Yousif Dawood first supervisor of the press. He started by printing his book in Arabic language grammar in 1859, and he called it “Summary of Grammar Basics”. It was the first book in Arabic Grammar to be printed in Iraq.
In the year 1860 , the stone press was replaced by a more modern press brought from France, and it started printing various kinds of books, were they religious, literary, historical or linguistics and in many languages. The foremost were Arabic, French, Syriac, Chaldean and even Turkish. In the years 1867 to 1898, the press was very active in its various printings of over one hundred books, ranging from small to large, some with many volumes.
After the departure of Fr Yousif Dawood to Damascus to lead its Parish, the press management was taken over by Fr Lewis Rahmani (Patriarch Efrem Rahmani, later on), teacher Naoum Sahhar and Saleem Hassoun. As for printing in Syriac and Chaldean, it was under the supervision of Bishop Yacoub Ogene Minna, author of many well known books in Chaldean. I have listed all books printed in this press and in various languages during its operating life in my book “History of Iraqi Printing and Publications ”, printed in Baghdad in 1985, also mentioning other presses and publications. This gives a clear view of its participation in spreading heritage and service to intellect and knowledge.
In the year 1863, Deacon Rafael El-Mazaji, founded the Chaldean press from his own finances after obtaining the approval and encouragement of Patriarch Joseph VI Audo.
He rented premises in Mosul to house the press, near the Patriarchate and commenced printing books of religion, literature and rituals until his sudden death in 1865. This was perpetuated by the poet Shihab Eldeen El-Alawi Al-Malesi, in a lengthy poem. The printing press continued operating under the supervision of Bishop Audishu V (Georges Ebed-Iesu) Khayyath (Patriarch, later on), who introduced some noticeable improvements to the press. He also printed some of his religious and literary books in this press. Of those books we mention “Rawdhat Al-Sabi Al-Adeeb” (Meadows of a literary boy) and “Kiladat Al-Thahab Fee Arkan Al-Adab” (Golden Necklace in the Basics of Literature”, which were printed in 1869. This press continued operating up to the middle of the twentieth century, with some stoppages. Fr. Souleyman Sayegh (Bishop, later on) took control of the press which he renovated and printed some of his books in it. He also printed his publication “El-Najim” (The Star) in it.
It is worthy to mention that those two printing presses were established before establishing the Government Press in Baghdad by governor Madhat Pasha by more than twenty years. In general they are the first presses in Iraq.
If we want to review the printing presses and its owners in Iraq, we find plenty of prominent Christians who started early in this field. We mention here some of them:
Fathalla Sarsam, Issa Mahfoudh and Istephan Azieza, who established presses in Mosul at the beginning of the twentieth century. As well as the Carmelite Fathers who established “Al-Aytam Press” in Baghdad in 1914. The Syriac Catholics established their press in Baghdad in 1922, and it printed the “Sunday Bulletin” with other religious and literary books. In 1932 the Assyrian press was established, and Razouk Ghannam, a well known journalist, established the Iraq Press in 1921 in Baghdad. Also, Tawfiq El-Sama’ani, founded Al-Zaman press in 1937, and Yousif Hermoz established Ul-Umma Press in 1935. In Basra, however, an early establishment of “Al-A’mal” printing press by Fr. Yousif Goki. Yousif Hermoz also established “Al-Watania Press” in 1925. Istephan Kachachi also established a printing press in Al-Kadhmiya.
I have reviewed all those printing presses and its publications in my aforementioned book on “Printing and Publications in Iraq” from its beginnings up to the Second World War.
The Role of Christians in Journalism:
It is worthy to mention that the first magazine published in Iraq was that by the name of “Ikleel El-Ward” (Wreath of Flowers) published by the Dominican Fathers in Mosul in 1902 and continued to appear up to 1909. Many educated people and clergymen participated in writing its articles and was distinguished by the variety of topics it printed in all fields of life.
Later the Carmelite Fathers published a magazine titled “Zuhairat Baghdad” (Flower of Baghdad) in the year 1905 in both Arabic and French. People of distinction participated in its publication, the most prominent being Fr Anstas the Carmelite, the famous linguist, who later published his magazine titled “Lughat Al-Arab” (The Arabs Language) in the year 1911, which served the language, literature and heritage for many years and became very well known not only in Iraq but in the whole Arab world. Selected writers of different religions and denominations participated in its writings.
In February 1913, the well known journalist Dawood Slaiwa , published his journal “Al-Dhara ib” (Levies). It was a journal of literature and criticism. Razook Issa, a student of the Carmelite, also published a magazine titled “Khardalat El-Oloom” (Mustardising Sciences). It may have been the first scientific magazine, but it did not last long.
Patriarch Efrem Al-Rahmani – born and bred in Iraq – published a journal titled “Al-Athar Al-Sharquia” (Oriental Antiquities) in the year 1922. It was printed in Arabic and some of its articles were translated into French. It was rich in articles of history, antiquities and heritage. Its publication continued until its founder’s death in 1929. In the year 1922, Fr Abdulahad Jirji published a journal called “Nashrat Al-Ahad” (Sunday Bulletin) which kept on appearing for a long time. Sixteen volumes were published then stopped because of her founder’s ill health and retirement in 1937.
In 1927 the Syriac Orthodox Church in Jerusalem published a magazine called “Al-Hikma” (Wisdom), the majority of its writers were Iraqi Syriacs and was supported by Patriarch Efrem Barsauma with his articles of history and heritage. In the late 1928 “Al-Najim” (The Star) magazine was issued by its founder and editor Fr Souleyman Sayegh (Bishop, later on). It had a wide acceptance in literary and religious circles and continued for a long time and its many rich volumes are the best testimony of the service it rendered in the fields of intellect and heritage. Many prominent Christian writers and authors of that time participated in its publication.
In the mid fifties of last century, two magazines were published in Baghdad. The first titled “Majalat Al-Noor” (Magazine of Light) issued by Fr Yousif Babana (Bishop, later on) and continued for six years. The other is “Al-Fidaa” (The Sacrifice) magazine published by Fr Noel Ayoob and did not last long.
The Syriac Orthodox church became active at the time of Bishop Paulis Behnam when he took over the diocese. He opened a theological school and issued “Lisan Al-Mashriq” (Voice of the Orient) magazine, which was rich in articles of history and heritage in its first issues, but it did not last long.
In 1964, the “Yasoua’ Al-Malik” (Christ the King) society in Mosul, published a magazine called “Al-Fikr Al-Massihi” (Christian Intellect), whose editor was Fr. Zuhair Affas and his deputy Fr. Georges Casmoussa (Bishop, later on). In its beginnings, it was in the form of a bulletin and later became an admired magazine, which continued to be published for more that forty years and still exists up to this day. However, lately its administration was handed over to Dominican Fathers in Baghdad, headed by Fr. Yousif Toma the Dominican. It is considered the first Iraqi Christian magazine to hold on all this time in the face of difficulties and obstacles, in spite of the fact that it is a magazine open to all Christians and its articles excelled in being open in all fields.
In Mosul, the magazine “Bain El-Nahrain” (Between the Two Rivers) was published in 1972 for its founder Fr. Jacques Ishaq (Bishop, later on) and its editor Dr. Yousif Habbi. It was a magazine of intellect, history and heritage and continued for a long time.
In 1975, the Syriac Language Academy, which is part of the Iraqi Scientific Academy, published a magazine bearing its name and was dedicated to Syriac studies and heritage. A chosen group of writers and researchers participated in its publication.
In 1995, the Chaldean Patriarchate of Babylon published the “Najm Al-Mashriq” (Star of the Orient) magazine. Its editing was entrusted to a group of specialized clergymen and authors and is still in existence up to this day. It is worth mentioning that today in western countries and in various countries there are magazines published by the Christian communities in those countries, we mention “Najm El-Kildan” (The Chaldean Star) which is published in Detroit, and “Ma bain El-Nahrain” (Between the Two Rivers) which is published in Auckland – New Zealand. Also “Nohra” which is published in Melbourne – Australia. May be there are others in some European countries where Christian immigrants from Iraq are found.
It is worth mentioning that many Christian writers and authors participate in writing in many other magazines and not only Christian magazines and especially outside Iraq. We mention here some of those magazines i.e. Al-Mashriq (The Orient) and Al-Saffa (Purity) and the Al-Massara (Joy) the Lebanese magazines, and “Al-Muktataf” (Picked), “Al-Hilal” (Crescent) and “Al-Dhia” (Light) the Egyptian magazines. Some of the specialists and researchers wrote very important articles in foreign heritage magazines such as the Italian magazine “The Christian East”, and the “French Asiatic” magazine, and the “Eastern Christian Encyclopedia” in Belgium and some other well known magazines.
As for the field of journalism, Dawood Slaiwa and Yousif Ghaneema published a newspaper called “Sada Babel” (Echo of Babylon) in 1909. It was one of the first Iraqi newspapers and was concentrating on articles of literature and culture as well as modern writings.
Author Georgie Khayat, an Iraqi from Mosul, published “Al-Faiha” (Vastness) newspaper in Aleppo, since he was holding the post of district translator there in the early twentieth century. This is confirmed by Count Tarazi in his book “Tareekh Al-Sahafa Al-Arabia” (History of Arab Journalism). In 1920 Razook Ghannam published a newspaper called “Iraq”, which was printed in his own press bearing the same name. In 1923 Rafael Butti became prominent as a professional journalist and together with his colleague Abdul Jaleel O’fee issued “Al-Hurriya” (Freedom) newspaper, which was caring for articles in literature and politics. Later, Rafael Butti published his own newspaper
“Al-Bilad” (Fatherland) which lasted a long time. Then Saleem Hassoun , a teacher in Al-Dominican school in Mosul and author of many books in linguistics and grammar, entered the arena with his newspaper “Al-A’alam Al-Arabi” (The Arab World) and was followed by Jibran Malkoun who published a daily newspaper called “Al-Akhbar” (News) caring for news and politics. In 1937 Tawfik El-Sama’ni purchased a printing press that belonged to “Al-A’hid” (Pledge) party and used it to print his newspaper “Al-Zaman” (Time) which continued to appear up to the 14th of July coup. We also mention here other participating journalists such as Iskandar Ma’arouf and Mikhael Taissi, author of the famous “Kannas Al-Shawaria” (Street Sweeper) publication of criticism and we could consider it the beginning of the art of written caricature.
Outside Iraq and in the United States, Fr Dr. Alfons Shwarez published a weekly in both Arabic and English, which kept on appearing for a long time.
In Mosul however, Issa Mahfoudh could be considered the first publisher of a newspaper in 1927. It was called “Sada Al-Jumhoor” (Echo of the People). It is reported that its founder was one of the first who worked in the field of printing and especially in the Dominican Press and later as a self employed printer. In 1939 Ibrahim Haddad published “Sawtt El-Umma” (Voice of the Nation) newspaper which continued its publication to the fifties.
The most prominent of journalists in Basra, we mention Yousif Hermoz who published “Al-Hayat” (Life) newspaper in 1925. He later moved to Baghdad and published “Sawtt Al-Sha’ab” (Voice of the People) newspaper in 1935 . In 1934 Istephan Kachachi. Published “Al-Ayam” (Days) newspaper.
It is worth mentioning that Christian women had a very important role in Iraqi Journalism. In 1927 , Paulina Hassoun published a magazine for women under the name “Layla”. It may have been the first woman magazine published in Iraq. She was followed by the famous journalist Meriam Narma, who worked in the field of journalism for more than quarter of a century until her death in the fifties of the late century.
It is befitting to mention that the best reference on the history of Iraqi journalism are those lectures given by Rafael Butti to students of Institute of Higher Studies run by the Arab League. Those were collected and printed by him in a book in Baghdad under the title “History of Iraqi Journalism”. Under the same heading, Abdul-Razzak Al-Hassani, published a book which he later re-printed in 1957. In addition to this, Count Philip Tarazi, published a book under the heading “History of Arab Journalism” , printed in Beirut in the years 1913-1933 in four volumes.
Christians Activity in the fields of Writing, Translation and Publishing:
Since the seventeenth century a wish was in the minds of those thinking of writing, translation and publication, as they knew the importance of books in educating and enlightening society. But they always were met with the obstacle of printing which did not exist in Iraq at that time. So, most of their writings were kept as manuscripts, while some others printed their writings in western presses. Of those we mention Bishop Ishak Bin Jubair (Born in Mosul in 1643 and died in Rome in 1721) author of “Al-Iktida’a Bilmassieh” (Following the example of Christ) which was printed in Rome, together with his philosophical and theological books translated from Saint Toma Al-Ikweni writings. His manuscript in the “Syriac Language Grammar” was kept without printing together with the rest of his writings.
We also mention Fr Khidir Bin Al-Kass Hermoz (Born in Mosul in 1679, died in Rome in 1755) who left Mosul to Rome at a time of conflict between the different denominations. He took with him his well known dictionary which remained as a manuscript and did not have a chance to being printed. Copies of this dictionary were kept in the Chaldean Patriarchate library and other copies in Rome and Lebanon. I have submitted a study on Fr Khidir published in the “Najim Al-Mashriq” (Star of the Orient) magazine in the nineties of last century.
While in the mid eighteenth century, at the time of establishing the Dominican printing press, the Chaldean press and other presses, the writing, translation and publication movement flourished noticeably. Its pioneer was Khouri Yousif Dawood (Bishop Iklimees Yousif Dawood, later on) (1829-1890) who supervised the Dominican press in Mosul and translated and printed the Holy Bible in several volumes starting in 1871. This print and translation of the Holy Bible is considered one of the first and most precise.
Writing of school books on various subjects of knowledge, arts and languages began then, as well as investigations of different books of heritage, and writing articles in magazines of religion. He also participated in linguistic studies. His book “Summary of Grammar Basics” printed in 1859 is considered the first book in Arabic language grammar to be printed in Iraq. Now there is a copy of this book in the Iraq museum. His second book in grammar titled “Exercise in Grammar Basics” is very worthy of study, and he published it in its second edition in 1875, with commendations by four Moslem linguistics and religious authorities in Mosul. They also praised Fr Yousif Dawood and called him an Authority.
I have photographed those books and excerpts from them in my book of study and analysis of him bearing his name. I have printed this book in Baghdad in 1985, indicating the role of this man in the Iraqi intellect. He left eighty five written works in different intellectual fields, forty of which were printed and the rest remained as manuscripts kept in libraries in Rome and Al-Shurfa monastery in Lebanon. Patriarch Audishu V (Georges Ebed-Iesu) Khayyath was his contemporary and classmate in Rome. He took over running the Chaldean press after the death of its founder. He printed few books on matters of heritage and some of his writings.
The foremost of the few who followed in the foot steps of those pioneers and took the same course, was Fr Lewis Rahmani (Patriarch Efrem Rahmani, later on) with his many books that exceeded thirty and Bishop Addai Scher, author of “Tareekh Kaldo wa Ashur” (History of Chaldeans and Assyrians) and many books of heritage and history, in addition to his many articles and studies in various French and Italian publications. Bishop Yacoub Ogene Menna also became prominent when he took over the running of Dominican Press for printing books in Syriac and Chaldean in addition to his many books in grammar and literature of the Aramaic language.
As for Alfons Mankana, he investigated many books on heritage and wrote books on grammar of the Aramaic language, then immigrated to the United Kingdom and worked in its old established libraries investigating and researching. Some of his writings in English were published.
We can not list all the names of people who participated in the intellectual renaissance, but have mentioned the prominent ones only. The nineteenth century concluded with the emergence of a unique linguistic personality, namely, Fr Anstans Mari the Carmelite who started by publishing his linguistic and historical writings in Arabic and European newspapers. Later he founded his magazine “The Arabs Language” in 1911, which served the Arabic language, culture and intellect not for a short time. His most significant book, of more than thirty books that he wrote, was “Al-Moa’jam Al-Mussa’id” (The Supplementary Dictionary) which was printed in late twentieth century by the Iraqi Ministry of Information.
Patriarch Efrem Barsauma, participated extensively in the fields of research, study and publication of heritage. His book “Al-Lulu Al-Manthoor” (Scattered Pearls) is considered one of the most important references in Syriac Literature.
As for authors and intellectuals who were not men of religion, but have participated in one or more fields and became distinguished, we mention, as an example not limitation, Dr. Sulaiman Ghazala, the doctor, the politician and the writer. Also Naoum Fathalla Al-Sahhar, the writer of the first theatrical play printed in Iraq, and Hermoz Rassam, the first Iraqi archaeologist, in addition to some prominent journalists, whose names were mentioned before, such as Yousif Ghanema , Dawood Slewa and Rafael Butti. In the first half of the twentieth century, Bishop Souleyman Sayegh, was a distinguished personality in the fields of historical, story, and theatrical play writings. He is also considered pioneer in writing historical stories and historical theatrical plays.
We wish to refer here to the “Encyclopedia of Iraqi distinguished people in the twentieth century” published by the Iraqi Ministry of Information in 1995. In its first volume, one thousand eminent Iraqis were listed, fifty of them were Christians, who participated effectively in various fields of intellect, culture and science. In its second volume, a similar number approximately of distinguished Christians were listed. This encyclopedia is the best reference for finding the Christians who participated in the fields of intellect and knowledge especially in the twentieth century.
The Role of Christians in Iraqi Theatre
Perhaps, Dr Ali Al-Zubaidi is the first to touch on the subject of roots of Iraqi theatre. He announced that those roots extend to the Christian schools which were founded by the Dominican Fathers in Mosul in mid nineteenth century . He gave this information in his lectures in the Institute of Arabic Studies attached to the Arab League in Cairo. Those lectures were printed later on in Cairo in 1967 and were titled “Al-Masrahiya Al-Arabia fe Al-Iraq” (Arabic theatrical plays in Iraq). He explained that those schools were used to holding religious, social and historical theatrical plays, and teacher Naoum Fathalla Sahhar used to participate and supervise those plays. He wrote the play “Latif and Khoshaba” which was performed on the stage many times then he printed it in the Dominican press in 1893. Thus it was the first Iraqi theatrical play to be printed in Iraq.
It appears that Dr. Al-Zubaidi did not actually read the play but have only heard of it. This had prompted Dr Saleh Jawad Al-Tua’ma to investigate this play while he was in Washington. He found it in the American congress library and wrote a treatise on this subject, criticizing and analysing the play. He published it in “Al-Adeeb” magazine of Beirut. He arrived at the fact that this play is actually the first Iraqi theatrical play to be printed in Iraq and it was a play of social and critical nature. After that Saleem Hassoun wrote a religious play by the name of “Istishhad Mar Tersiyos” (Martyrdom of St Tersiyos) printed in Mosul in 1902. After this period, a new theatrical writer entered the scene, his name was Hanna Rassam and was known for writing social and religious plays, most of which were acted on stage and printed. Dr Omar Al-Talib mentioned all of those plays in an article he wrote on the play writer and his role in the theatre. The same thing happened in the Christian schools in Baghdad, where they performed on stage many of the literal, historic and religious plays early.
As for Mosul, it witnessed the revival of a noticeable theatrical awareness in the late forties of last century - and I was contemporary to it – whereby the Chaldean and the Syriac Catholics and Orthodox communities became theatrically active. The earnings of these plays were donated to charitable societies. It saw, and may be for the first time, the acting on stage of plays for writers such as the French Mollier. His plays “Al-Bakheel” (Miser), “Al-Muthree Al-Nabeel” (The Wealthy Noble Man) and “Al-Tabeeb Raghman A’nho” (A doctor, reluctantly). The play “Genevieve” which represented purity and faithfulness was acted on stage. Historical plays for its writer Bishop Souleyman Sayegh were acted on stage such as “Horas wal Zabba” also the “Al-Ameeran Al-Shaheedan” (Two martyred princes) for its writer Fr Georges Kandela (Bishop later on) and “Burhan Al-Shaja’a” (Proof of Courage) translated from French. This noticeable activity, which was performed by a chosen few educated young men and women, and the plays were directed by people specialized in the field, as well as the stage décor and costume design. All that great and excellent work happened at a time when very simple and primitive means were available.
In the field of Archaeology and Archaeological Excavations :
The early attempts to discover the treasures and antiquities of Iraq were made by the French Consul Emile Poota and later by Englishman Henry Layard in mid nineteenth century and to be exact in 1840. Those expeditions relied on people from Mosul assisting them in their endeavours. Layard relied on a man from Mosul by the name of Hermoz Bin Al-Kass Antwan Rassam. Who in due course became very interested in this field, and later participated very actively in the excavations and in time became an authority in archaeological excavations. He wrote four books in English and were printed in England and the United States. Its first was printed in London in 1879, under the title “Al-Iktishafat Al-Athariya fe Bilad Ashur” (Archaeological Discoveries in the Land of Ashur). All the books were discussing the treasures and antiquities found in the “Ardh Al- Rafidain” (The Land of Two Tributaries) and “Ma Bayn Al-Nahrain” (Between the Two Rivers) and especially in Nineveh , Nimrod and Paradise of Aden, which gave a clear picture of the pioneer culture in the world. Hermoz Rassam later resided in London and died there in 1910. His obituary was published in Al-Muktataf Egyptian magazine being a prominent researcher of archaeology and listed his work and books in detail.
In the field of Tourism and Travel
The art of writing on journeys and tourism is an important art of prose. This art was practiced by some Christian clergymen due to their many travels and trips to Jerusalem, Bilad Al-Sham(Syria and Lebanon), Rome and some other European capitols. This was due to their profession and contacts with their superiors. And later, due to their studies in Theological Universities. The first Iraqi to stand out in this art was Fr Elias ibn Hanna al Mawsili who travelled to Europe then to America at a time when travel was not easy. He began his journey in 1668 and completed it in 1683. The manuscript of this journey, written by Fr Elias himself, describing his journey in detail and the events and countries that he encountered, was found by Fr Antoon Rabbat El-Yasooa’i (the Jesuit), who investigated and published it in “Al-Mashriq”(The Orient) magazine in Beirut in 1905 and in seven consecutive issues . He called it “Rihlat Awal Sa’ih Sharqi to America” (The first eastern tourist to America). Indeed this journey was the first of its kind, and we can say that it was an adventure. Rabbat later on published the manuscript in a book with the same title he chose before and in 91 pages. He printed it in 1906 in Al-Yaso’iyeen (the Jesuits) press in Beirut. Thus Fr Elias was not only the first Iraqi, but the first eastern man to reach America.
Of those distinguished journeys we also mention the journey by Fr Khidir Bin Al-Kass Hermoz(Died in 1755) from Mosul via Aleppo and Beirut to Rome. This journey lasted one year. He recorded his notes and his agenda on this journey and described the countries and places he visited or passed in his way in his own handwriting. Later it was found by Fr Lewis Shekho El-Yassoa’i (the Jesuit), who investigated and published it in “Al-Mashriq”(The Orient) magazine in 1910 in four consecutive issues. It appears that the journey was missing some parts that is why we find Fr Shekho asking his people of Mosul to come forward with any information that they have on this journey. We found many manuscripts in the book shelves of old monasteries and churches, written by priests describing their journeys and tours. We especially mention here, the writings of Bishop of Baghdad, Athanase Ignace Nuri, describing his voyage to India also what many others wrote on their journeys to Jerusalem for benediction.
In the Political Arena
Christians had an active presence in the political life after Christian denominations and their leaders were formally recognized by the Ottoman Sultans. In 1887 Sultan Abdul Hameed granted the Chaldean community in the days of Patriarch Eliya Abulyonan, “Al-Turra Al-Taghra” which is a distinguished decoration granted to persons or organizations making contributions to the country and signed by the Sultan himself. It arrived in Mosul on the 14th September of the same year. It was welcomed by the public as well as officials, and was displayed on the foremost wall of the Patriarchate main hall which later was named after this decoration in a grand ceremony. Since then Christians became members of the “Ottoman Mab a’othan Majlis” (Ottoman Parliament) although in small numbers. We mention one of them from the Yousifani family of Mosul and Dr. Sulaiman Ghazala, the medical and literary man.
However, during the First World War, savage and brutal persecutions of Christians living in Mardeen, Sa’irt and Al-Jizeera and especially Armenians were carried out. The first of those martyred in 1916 was the scholar Bishop Addai Scher, head of Seert clergy. Great number of Christians who survived the onslaught emigrated to Aleppo, Mosul and some other parts. In this respect, and from a historical documentary, it is worth mentioning that King Faisal the first, who was the Commander of the Arab Front, ordered the acceptance and good treatment of the emigrants.
Fr Ishak Armmalla, who witnessed those events in his youth documented the history of it in a book titled “Al-Kussara Fe Nakbat Al-Nassara” ( The Utmost of Christian Disasters) printed in Beirut. This book describes the cruelty and brutality of those persecutions.
At the end of the First World War, we see an active presence of Christians in Versailles Convention in 1919 which was attended by Patriarch Efrem Barsauma and other Arab nationalistic personalities who were known for their nationalistic aspirations.
After the establishment of nationalistic rule in Iraq in 1921, the Iraqi constitution guaranteed a Christian representation in parliament in accordance with their numbers. The first of those Christians who were elected to parliament we mention Dr Sulaiman Ghazzala, Raouf Shamas Allos and Fr Yousif Khayat. This participation was crowned by the appointment of Patriarch Yousef VI Emmanuel II Thomas a member of the senate. He was followed by Patriarch Yousef VII Ghanima in the same position until the latter’s death few days before the 14th of July 1958 revolution, when both houses of parliament were incapacitated.
As for the Christian role in Turkey’s annexation demand of the district of Mosul and later when Iraq joined the League of Nations, it was a very important and honourable role, where the Patriarch and his deputy Bishop Yousef Ghanima and Fr Souleyman Sayegh participated. Especially when Bishop Ghanima spoke in French to the League of Nations’ fact finding delegation which came to Mosul. Bishop Ghanima presented the wish of the people of Mosul to be under the nationalistic rule and their attachment to Iraq.
This was followed by a lengthy letter sent by Patriarch Yousef Emmanuel to the League of Nations in Geneva indicating the support of Christians to the nationalistic rule and independence.
Then came the visit by King Faisal the first to Mosul in 1931 in response to Patriarch Yousef Emmanuel’s invitation to St Oraha’s monastery near Mosul. This historical visit supported Christians and was perpetuated by Fr Souleyman Sayegh in a lengthy poem to the festival. The visit by the king and the historical photograph of the king together with the patriarch and the clergy was stuck to people’s memories and was circulated amongst them.
All those pleasant stances did not stop some of the reckless fanatics slaughtering Christian Assyrians especially in the village of “Smell” near Duhok. King Faisal, who was outside the country at the time for treatment, returned hastily to the country, to try and quell the disturbance. Dr Naji Shawkat, a former prime minister, admits in his memoirs that the King was upset of what took place and reprimanded those responsible.
During the monarchy era, Christians continued to occupy seats in the House of Representatives. They occupied six seats. Three for Mosul, two for Baghdad and one for Basra, in addition to one seat in the Senate which was occupied by the Patriarch up to the July 1958 revolution.
As for ministerial positions, Christians occupied some of them with ability. Since Dr Hanna Khayat took his ministerial portfolio as the first Iraqi Minister of Health and Yousef Ghanima as Minister of Finance and rationing in many governments. Also Rafael Butti, the author and brilliant journalist, who accepted a ministerial portfolio in 1953 in Al-Jamali government as a minister of propaganda and journalism. In the sphere of political parties, few Christians worked actively in them, although some became leaders of those parties.
In the Field of Public Service
From the time when Iraq was under the Ottoman rule, Christians participated in building the Iraqi society. They practiced many kinds of professions and especially the scientific and technical ones, in addition to commerce. They were known for their honesty and loyalty, which made some of them take up very important administrative and monetary positions. Others followed their ambitions in learning and studying in Iraqi institutions.
Many went outside Iraq to study and especially men of religion. Later they returned to their country to practice their professions in various fields. During the nationalistic rule of Iraq and before, we find shining names as doctors of medicine, engineers, professors and lawyers, who became well known because of their knowledge and integrity.
In the field of architecture, building and ornamentation we find a distinct recognition especially in church, temple and monastery building, as from the middle ages, which kept its distinct and original oriental style. It suffices to mention here that “Sham’oon Al-Safa” church in Mosul , which was built in the fourteenth century, as stated by Lady Drawer and confirmed by many archaeologists and historians, is the best example of authentic architecture and ornamentation. This church was renovated many times the last of which was in 1972.The “Maskinta” Chaldean church, which was built in the sixteenth century, is another example. Also “Al-Tahira” church which was built on the ruins of an old monastery, where Patriarch Isho Yahb (or Yabh) I and Caliph Al-Ma’mun, once resided.
In 1889 , “Um-Al-Ahzan” (Mother of Sorrows) church was built in Baghdad. Marble from Mosul was used in its construction, and its style was that of pillars. Similarly, the Syriac Catholic church was built in Baghdad, and the Latin Church which was built in 1870, and was a wonder of splendour and magnificence.
The aforementioned also applies to many other churches and monasteries spread all over Mosul and its suburbs. The most prominent of which are the Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox churches and “Mar Behnam Al-Shaheed”(St Behnam the Martyr) monastery, and “Al-Sheikh Matti” monastery. Also “Al-Sayida” monastery and “Raban Hermoz” in Al-Qoush village, and Qaraqosh and Telkaif churches and others in Christian villages. All of those are a proof of the stylish, magnificent and distinguished architecture.
As in the field of education, we find the first teachers in Christian schools founded in Mosul and Baghdad and others, Also the first school books were printed in “Al-Dominican Fathers” press, the majority of which were written by the scholar Fr Yousif Dawood (Bishop Iklimees Yousif Dawood, later on). He was the author of a book in Arithmetic which he wrote in 1865 and called it “Ta’alat Al-Roghab fe Ilm Al-Hissab”
(Justification of Wishers in the Science of Arithmetic). It was the first scientific and curriculum book printed in Iraq. He also wrote a book in geography in 1863. Before that he wrote a book in the grammar of the Arabic language, which was printed in 1859 in the stone press. It was the first book in Arabic grammar to be printed in Iraq. He followed that with another grammar book in 1869 titled “Al-Tamrinah fe Al-Isool Al-Nahawiya” (Practice in the basics of grammar). When this book became a success he printed it again in 1875 and was certified by four well known Moslem scholars in Mosul, all of which praised the book and its author.
In the medical field, Christian clergymen practiced medicine due to their being educated in western universities at a time when there was not a single legally licensed doctor. At the establishment of the monastic order, nuns used to serve as nurses in hospitals. Some long-lived people told us that the Royal Hospital in Baghdad was managed and run by the offertory nuns most of which were French and Italian, until such a time when the medical personnel were available. It is reported that King Faisal the first admired the vitality and compassion of the nuns and their human behaviour with the sick, and as a reward he offered them a plot of land to build a monastery for their worship.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, we find a bright selected group of doctors who studied in European universities and returned to practice their profession in their homeland. Of those we mention Dr Suleiman Ghazala (1854 – 1929) who studied medicine in France and on his return was appointed a doctor in Istanbul, and a supervisor of all Iraqi states in 1912, Later he was appointed a doctor in the Council of All Nations Health. He later settled in Basra where he practiced his profession together with his great talent in literature and art. He left us fifteen books in different intellectual fields.
Dr Hanna Khayat (Died 1959) was also a prominent personality who became the first Iraqi minister of health. He wrote a book in 1914 titled “Lamha Ikhtibaria Fe Al-humma Al-Taifoidia” (An Testing Glimpse of Typhoid Fever), thus making it the first medical book printed in Iraq.
During the previous century we can refer to the encyclopedia of “A’alaam Al-Iraq fe Al-Qarn Al-I’shreen”( Iraq’s Distinguished Personalities in the Twentieth Century) published by the Iraqi Ministry of Information in the late nineties, mentioning many bright Iraqi Christian names who participated in building and advancement of modern Iraq.
It pleases me to conclude this brief treatise with an honest and pleasant statement made by Prince Hassan Bin Talal in his book “Al-Massiehiya Fe Al-A’alam Al-Arabi” (Christianity in the Arab World) published in 1995 by the Royal Institute for Religious Studies in Amman. He said “It remains a fact that Christians are not strangers in any way to the Islamic community in their homeland. The community that they participated in and contributed to its culture and civilization both materially and morally fourteen centuries ago non-stop up to this day. Their participation was outstanding and skilful all the time and gained the trust of their Moslem compatriots, who often have asked them to talk on their behalf when dealing with the outside world”.
While we are proud of our ancestors achievements, we wish that the journey will continue in its track and endeavour always to serve humanity and the whole world, surging from the great biblical verse the day Christ was born “ Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and joy to the world”.
Behnam Fadheel Afas
Biography of Behnam Fadheel Afas
Born in Mosul in 1934 where he completed his secondary school education in 1951. He was granted a degree in literature from University of Baghdad in 1955.
He later completed his post-graduate studies in Sorbonne University in Paris and obtained the degree of D.E.A. in literature in 1977.
He worked in Iraq teaching for thirty years in many secondary schools , Institutes of Teacher Training, Al-Mustansiriya University and Babel College of Theology. He wrote and published many articles for some Iraqi and Arabic magazines and newspapers. Attended some local and international conferences, last of which was held in Belgium in 1988 under the title of “International Conference on Arab and Christian Syriac Literature”.
He came to New Zealand end of 1997 and still resides there.
He is author of the following:
“Cultural status in Iraq in the nineteenth century” in French – University Dissertation.
“The best working fields for Iraqi Women”- A study printed by The Iraqi Women Federation.
“Iklemees Yousif Dawood” – A pioneer of intellect in Iraq – Baghdad 1985
“History of Iraqi Printing and Printed Matter” – Two sections in one volume- Baghdad 1985.
“Iraqi Intellect in 100 Years” – A study to be printed.
It was mentioned in the “Encyclopedia of Iraqi Prominent People in the Twentieth Century” Page 32, Volume 1.
Translated from Arabic into English by Jalal S. Naoum, CEng, MIEE, MNZSTI, NAATI.
Behnam Afas holding one of his book published in 1985 on "The History of Printing and Publications in Iraq"