The Christians of Kurdistan

Thursday 31st October 2013

Royal Geographical Society, Kensington, London SW7 2AR

This event was one of a series that Gulan has organised to celebrate Kurdish religious minorities.

The origins of Christianity in Iraq go back to the apostolic age, well before the introduction of Christianity to Britain. It has been a significant cultural and religious force in Iraq and in the Kurdistan Region from then until today.

For most of this time Christians and Muslims have lived together in mutual respect and harmony. Recently, however, Christians in neighbouring areas have found themselves under threat.

Our speakers gave a historical perspective of their faith and talked about their personal experiences growing up and working in Kurdistan. This was a unique opportunity to hear about the life of the Christian community in Kurdistan Iraq at first hand.

Dr. Saadi Al Malih is of Assyrian origin.  He was born in 1951 in Ainkawa where his Chaldean Christian family have lived for generations. He studied in Iraq and obtained his PhD in philology in Moscow. Having lived in exile for some 30 years, he returned and is now the General Director of Syriac Culture and Art in the Ministry of Culture and Youth of the Kurdistan Regional Government.  He has published many books, the most recent on the Culture of Iraqi Minorities.

Father Nageeb Michaeel was born in Mosul in 1955 to a Christian family of the Chaldean Church. His first language was neo-Syriac. He studied in Mosul and later in France where he was ordained a priest in the Latin rite in 1987.   He then returned to Iraq and joined the Dominican communities in Mosul. Father Nageeb has combined a teaching career with his leading roles within the church and has a particular interest in the study and preservation of ancient manuscripts.

The evening opened with a hymn sung by Rayia Mato who is a deaconess of the Syrian Orthodox Church and ended with Father Nageeb singing the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic.

Gulan also organised an exhibition at the event. This featured:

    • a display of costumes including some from the Museum of Syriac Heritage in Ankawa in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and some provided by Dr Erica Hunter of SOAS
    • artworks by calligrapher Behnam Al-Agzeer, a deacon in the Syriac Catholic Church, depicting verses from both the Bible and the Qu’ran
    • a series of images from the archive of the Dominican community in Erbil; and
    • photographs by Anthony Kersting of Kurdistan in the 1940’s – these were made available by The Courtauld Institute of Art’s Conway Library.

Press Coverage

Gulan trustee Sarah Panizzo speaks to the Church Times, a global Anglican newspaper, about the Christians of Kurdistan.

Interview with Gulan in 6 Pillars, a radio show and online magazine for Contemporary Middle Eastern Art.

Coverage of the Christians of Kurdistan event by the Governorate of Erbil.

An “Appeal for Cross Faith Unity” – Our event on the Christians of Kurdistan covered in Rudaw.