I've been thinking a lot about the Christians I knew in Iraq. A few Christian families lived in our east Baghdad neighborhood. One of the Christian kids, a boy named Raad, was around my age and we became good friends. When my sister was hospitalized in the summer of 1982, my mother stayed with her at the hospital and my father had to work. Although I did not need a babysitter at the age of 13, my parents did not want to leave me and my brothers home alone. Raad's mother offered to watch me and my brothers while my mother stayed at the hospital with my sister. Raad's parents were most kind. I always remembered Raad as the one who played a good game of chess. After we fled Iraq in 1982, I often wondered how Raad and his family were doing. A few months ago Raad found me on facebook. I was so happy to hear from him! He and his parents had fled to Canada, presumably after the 1991 war. In an email he reminded me that as kids we also played Monopoly and Stratego. He said that my parents and I were lucky to have fled Iraq when we did. He said for him it wasn't fun being there. This is not to say that Christians were persecuted under Saddam - they were not. "Christians numbered approximately 800,000 before the war, and while prohibited from building new churches, enjoyed relative safety under Saddam Hussein." Life was just very difficult for all ordinary Iraqis during the 80s and 90s.
Across the street from us lived an Armenian Christian family. They had two boys. One of those boys, Shant, was around my age and was sometimes an arrogant punk (they were rich), and his little brother, who was around my little brother's age, seemed to enjoy practicing his karate skills on my little brother. Shant's parents were much nicer. Shant's mother baked a cake for us after we moved into our house. Overall they were great neighbors. They had always wanted to move to Miami. I wonder if they are there now.
Shant was a good friend of Ammar, the son of Palestinian Christians who were close friends of my parents and also lived in the neighborhood. My father visited them in 2005 and said they were doing well.
There were a few Christians in my junior high school. Qur'an class was the last class of the day at that school and the Christian students were allowed to skip it. I befriended one of those students, who seemed to be poor unlike the other Iraqi Christians I knew. He loved everything American and he admired my ability to speak and write English so easily. He wanted to see America. Sometimes after school he and I went to my house to listen to the western music I'd brought with me from the US. Abba and the Bee Gees were big hits among Iraqi youth in 1981. I remember how difficult it was trying to translate "Tragedy" into Arabic. We also listened to an instrumental version of Pink Floyd's "Us and Them". I had no idea at the time that the song is about war.
Since 2003, Iraq's Christians have been fleeing their homes in fear of the terrorism that's been aimed at them. Today, 82% of the students at St. Elia's Catholic school in east Baghdad are Muslim. I often wonder what happened to the Christians I knew in Baghdad. The poor Iraqi Christians are no doubt stuck in Iraq. I feel guilty that I, a Muslim, fled the tyranny of Iraq and ended up in America while Iraqi Christians stayed in Iraq until the bitter end and many still cannot leave. God help Iraq's Christians.