The Nahrein Network


Transcript: A Conversation with Father Rami Simoun

Christian community in Iraq - A Conversation with Father Rami Simoun

Mehiyar 0:00 Welcome to the Nahrein Network podcast series. We're here in Baghdad with Father Rami Simone. The Dominicans convent, in Baghdad you've lived here most of your life. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Father Rami Simoun 0:11 Yes, I am Father Rami, from Dominican community in Baghdad, I am the superior of the community, and responsible of our project, called the academy Baghdad of human science. I am here from many years. I born in Iraq, and I have a part of my study in, in Paris, in France. I am actually teaching to the public college. And here, we have two little institution to teaching young Christian about their history about faith in Baghdad. And I work with many projects that directed covent with the full person, and we have a project with a person who coming from immigration. And we help them to go to the school, we pay the buses, etc. We have many activity in Baghdad. And as you see, the life is not easy. It's a political thing if you need to depend so many energy and...

Mehiyar 1:31 Then how long have you been involved in the convent in Iraq?

Father Rami Simoun 1:34 I finished my study and come to Baghdad in 2010. That's nine years ago. And from this time, I'm in Baghdad. I'm involved in the west of Iraq, and Sunni region province of Al Anbar because my father was working in the station, the petrol English company, but my family coming back in Baghdad, when my father, when we finish our work there. I come here and study in the institution. And other this one service military. And after this I, I enter in that community with dominican and go to France...

Mehiyar 2:21 your father wasn't a priest or religious man, no, this is something that you've decided to, to enter and immerse yourself in, based on what was it that made you be involved in the convent,

Father Rami Simoun 2:37 in the country we lived many, many problems, especially the war between Iraq, Iran, and the war of the Gulf and the embargo. We live the immigration of Christian people, my family. Most of them, they are not in Iraq. They are in United Utates, Canada, Australia. Well, it was not easy, but I think does give you an idea about the vocation, and was meaning to leave everything and have all my personal time to the Christ and the service of the church. And finally, for this young people on Iraq, and for all the Iraqi people

Mehiyar 3:27 From 2003, onwards, there's been been a decline in the community. One of the primary reasons, obviously, has been the insecurity in Baghdad in other parts of the country.

Father Rami Simoun 3:38 because you're the minority, like most of Iraqi was, good say, so happy that the region Iraq was changed in 2003. And the we hopes many things, a better future for the Iraq, the development of the democracy. And we have a big dream to see Iraq, redevelopment because you have everything to be this country. But unfortunately, the vision of the Iraq shows that no, we have any problems, especially that insecurity like that, whatsoever. The big frustration of the Christian minority was a stack up town, we see the density, the level of no security, was, very big problem, and the fanatic and the mafia, they use that this situation to attack the minority, especially the Christianity and they are both dealing with the ideology, or the idea that the American are christian or the English are Christian here, it was difficult to say to them then. That will cause the problem for us. Even all this army can get Iraq from Kuwait, he was not controlled and he can enter from Islamic Arabic country to Iraq. Well, but you know, the problem is, we come now to the mortality, that for them, all the Christians are have some friend or relationship automatically with the West . And this was used by the fanatic to justify their attack against the Christian community. And there was not always the religious reason, but there was a economical reason they use it to put up the Christian people throw their house, etc, or kidnapping them and have all their money. That was this mix. The two are the two religions,

Mehiyar 5:56 This was happening across the country was adjusting more recently, obviously, in Mosul, with Daash but this is happening happening from 2003 onwards.

Father Rami Simoun 6:06 Sure. The daash, is what is not something was daash exists from long years ago I think in Iraqi people in with that with the embargo. When when the Iraqi army was put out in Kuwait. With embargo, the Iraqi of Saddam Hussien they use religious ideology, because they understand they could not stay without us that religious idea. And four, have a power.

Mehiyar 6:49 Saddam was using religion for political purposes, the future of the Christian community in this country. I mean, the numbers are quite remarkable, prior to 2003 1.3 million, and now we have in Iraq 200,000 to 250,270,000 Christians left. So you have basically a massive decline in a whole group community, a group that has been critical to Iraqs, identity, how do you see the dwindling numbers of Iraq's minorities affecting the general identity of Iraq,

Father Rami Simoun 7:28 Into Europe, the history of Iraq was built it a building with a minority will pull the minority. If you will see the new Iraq and the modern Iraq the first government. And last century in 20. I think 28 or 30, something like this. And the first remark there was a Minister of Health was Christian. And Minister of Finance was Jewish. But to say that when people didn't live anywhere. It was a part of the politics of Iraq. And if we take the story of education, of health, of sport of cinema, but you will take everything you know, you will find always one of the minority was very important. People who have a big role in that this history of that country, like Dominican, we have the first printing

Mehiyar 8:40 printing press, yes.

Father Rami Simoun 8:41 was brought to you by by Dominican. And the first journal and books was by us. No, I give you a little example. Then the modern theater was entered Iraq by Dominican. They printed in Arabic, it was very important as Syria to say I give you an example, for the education. The fifth school to the Catholic girls was by was by religious I think the Dominican was from the first week of the system. The sisters who opened this school for the girls, it was revealed she did start to say that the minority in Iraq have an important role in the development of the country. Not only particularly believers because Iraq is very rich country. But our ideas our contact with the other culture, have this exchange and the benefit is for all the country because the school you open the hospital, and that print books wasnt developed for the Christian only was for all the people, all the people. Well, that's when you are we have

Mehiyar 10:00 Strong roots.

Father Rami Simoun 10:00 Yes, yes. And it's it's not very comfortable to think that in the Jewish have the same in Iraq, but 50 years ago, that persecution from the Jewish started Iraq. And of course, we must think about this. There are in Iraq from that so 500 years before Christ or more, they are entered before Christianity. and 50 years ago, this community and all our community have this possibility to pull them out that now we have

Mehiyar 10:43 That worries you, isn't it, it worries the Christian community, because it happened before in Iraq, a whole group was group forced to leave. And now it could potentially happen,

Father Rami Simoun 10:52 It was Jewish. It was during the 15 years or 20 years, there was no one left in Iraq for some families. And they, we don't give them a choice. Most of them, the government or the people forced them to leave Iraq have this capacity. But for them, they have that protects. Well, we see they go to the country, anyway, it was difficult, not for the Christian and other minorities what they could go, they have no country to go and then West with the time they lost everything. They lost their culture lost their language, but learned of the Christ and the first Bible and the Christ speak this language now. You know, when you go to the Iraq village in the north, then all you could see many villages, they speak only this language

Mehiyar 11:53 In Nineveh

Father Rami Simoun 11:53 In Nineveh and up there, because of the plane of Nineveh, there's many villages was I don't know how, because after the daash, there's some change that in theDuhook that that's in this country, we are an important party from the history and the existence of this country. Yes, he could live without us. Sure. Alpha and Omega, but this will be another country. And we see this well. We speak with our brothers and neighbors, Muslims they say, We need to want you to stay the problem. The majority, we could say, I don't know difficult to say that we like that we stay, the problem How many parts? There is mentality? There is this division, political situation and the security, the political situation. That's why when we speak about daash, daash was a movement, that problem. It's in our society and our planet. We have a problem. If we could resolve our problem, how could we now resolve the problem? We have a big challenge now. And we live it every day.

Mehiyar 13:19 You have seen a dwindling in numbers in the Christian community, you still continue to communicate with the Christian community who have left the country, what are their perspectives about the country?

Father Rami Simoun 13:29 You know, the immigration, we have very proud of them. And we have a community with the Iraq 100 years ago and some of them they've left a few years ago. And you know, the way they have nostalgic of Iraq, and they they try to have that goes about. They feel sad about what happened to them, except the likes. But the me absolutely majority, they don't think to come back to live in Iraq. Even not visiting. There was a minority. They would like to visit Baghdad to. Well, but the majority that they are agree that they have no future for them. And they think the same thing for that, as many of them say, Why do I remember Baghdad? There's no future. This country refuse us the refuse not only this day, but essentially 100 years ago, or there was the persecution of the Kurdish to against all the Christian and Armenian Genocide what we say but it's not in the work that the genocide was a senior fellow Dr. Celiac was victim in this migrant. He left his village in the south of Turkey. And he ran off. He was. And my brother, he had to leave his house, because they want to kill him and they said, we left north of Iraq, and we came to Baghdad, and we start from zero. And after this is we're over war with Iran, and he's been alive to serve military for this country, b ut at last, they say to them, for us, our Christian, the people, they want to recognize you as other people. And the last thing they say is that you are Christian when they say if I after all these years, some of them have their children was killed in the war with Iran, etc.

Mehiyar 15:52 No part of the Iraqi army and yes, hello, Iraqs institutions. Yes.

Father Rami Simoun 15:56 After all this they set your Christians this year, with a religious Christian became more of. That's when Iraq is not in the first religious, then you are Iraqi. But I am Iraqi, like you, I have a right like you. Strange. When I have that culture, it's enough to have a small problem. They will tell you Yes, you are infidel that you are Kafir, and you lost everything. You lost your house, your car, your future, your education, because you have a little problem, we count to two source of problem, a society of the religious problem, and no justice, and the Can we did you have a government? And the central power? That's the problem, justice, civil justice not exist or so weak, then the minority who attack them? And you're not actually you have a trible system that you always are reserved by that tribes?

Mehiyar 17:07 By the tribes? Yeah,

Father Rami Simoun 17:09 yes. by the tribes but the minority are the Christian and the Yazidis. You don't have tribes we are so small, for I said, for a little problem. You could lose anything.

Mehiyar 17:21 you feel unprotected.

Father Rami Simoun 17:23 Yes, exactly. And you are under the mercy of a little problem, a little problem became very big, and you lost everything. That's the big problem. Many of the Christian, they face, they lost many things, what can we think? Because it's a problem.

Mehiyar 17:42 Wasn't the idea in 2003, under the CPA under the Coalition Provisional Authority? Wasn't the idea to create Muhasasa or so which is called a system we have a political quality system where money and power is allocated to different groups, minorities? I think the Christian minority has a five five seats in parliament in Baghdad and also in parliament in Erbil, has that not protected? Father Rami Simoun 18:04 You know, I think this system have very negative result of Iraqi because this system of separation between the majority or the majority excetera is becoming the idea that everyone has a voice sort of represented, but practically speaking, that everyone have the possibility to participate to the corruption and half his part, from the big battle of Iraq, money, not to serve the people, if they want to serve a little part of their groups, but even not, because if we see now, the south of Iraq, the Shia, the sheath, control a big party from the reserves of Iraq, they don't have releases, very much sales, no watermarks, etc. To say, that's particularly another problem. That, you know, the system of elections in Iraq is very bad, because this fight placed in permanent for the represent the minority. The problem that the system gives you the power for everybody to vote, not only to that first year. That's why they're represented many of them, they mean, because they were supported by then how could this person represent the community? Christian or Yazidi? The problem in the law. When when a Christian say is Christian, when he take all his voice from some tribals in the north or, South of Iraq, they are not just here would say why they vote for him. They don't know that us here represents to ...

Mehiyar 20:00 The church that you represent, you mentioned to me before that there is Sunday service that continues. And this is something that is positive. Obviously,

Father Rami Simoun 20:07 I think the most of church in Baghdad, at least I think that they continue their service, should we have less than people, and this effect our service. Surely the capacity of the people to support the church, become so weak and the church and try to have a support from the, from the other church in the West, from our minority in the party in the context of immigration. And while we try to support them in their life, in many ways, but not only by the money, but by dedication, by the culture, by teaching and choose to support the project of charity, but we like Dominican. As I say, we have the Baghdad Academy, yes, private school, but it's what we could say it's there was not the regular studies that we offer. we offer our place for the NGO, They don't pay anything to have their activity. And we teach English and French and music. The student pay something, but it looks very expensive. And we try to have many seminars for the in philosophy, and psychology, sociology, and etc. We invite many personality to have a conference, and we try to have some education, this this party of, because we think they are very important. At the same time, we have a review, semester review the, Christian thoughts. It is not only religious, there's many things about culture and an art etc. And we we do this for more than 20 years. And it's one of the results from other community.

Mehiyar 20:15 These magazines?

Father Rami Simoun 21:06 Yes these magazines. and we receive it in the 1995, I think, and we continue to

Mehiyar 22:37 publish it

Father Rami Simoun 22:39 publish it

Mehiyar 22:39 you publish this here and right here,

Father Rami Simoun 22:41 Yes. In Bagdad You know, the house of the river is here beside us, and displayed in Baghdad.

Mehiyar 22:49 Okay.

Father Rami Simoun 22:49 And we will there's a number for the adults and for the children, and we send many of them to our audience, send it by the post.

Mehiyar 23:01 This is one way they can keep in touch. Yes.

Father Rami Simoun 23:03 Yes. And here we say we remark a lot of Christian Iraqi because before we have five or 10,000 number of printed, now it's 2500 or something like this. See this effect our project here economically. You asked me a little bit problem of the part of this year and Daash but I think it was very important to mention that when we speak about the people, and there are security. That's the problem of discrimination. We could see it. But you know, discrimination when he continued he became persecution, I think, because we speak about the discrimination in the country who could go and ask about your rights. But here is difficult. I'd like to speak about the law that's taken by the government either our Parliament's against the minority it's about the articulate thing, or the personal statue law an article two of the law paragraph 37 adopted by Iraqi parliament in its well as the last thing it was four years ago

Mehiyar 24:28 And it changes to an old law.

Father Rami Simoun 24:30 Yes, but it's the same while you know, they started all of this. So it's very complicated here. We start in 76 and he have many changes many times. But last time he it was in 2015. During that time, Daash was invasion.

Mehiyar 24:49 Strange has happened in Parliament to the personal status law looking at minorities in Iraq

Father Rami Simoun 24:54 Yes, you know when you're when they try to regulate it personal statute statute and they what they do? They tick some article, and what we call Article Two of the law, paragraph 37. And this rating the community of reject them, to convert to Islam, once the wife mother has converted to Islam, and all non adult children joint here, and there has been chose between Islam and separation, this text is completely publishes the rights of the other religions, especially the Christian who was known in Islam lack of official religion and also is against the articular I think, to 37 and in the Iraqi constitution, which guarantees the protection of the individual rights etc. Well, this problem became when the Daash was very strong, and the parliament take this decision. There's Christian to Christian person are married wife and husband all of the Christian or Yazidi. But anyway, when one of them convert to Islam, for whatever that is, all the minority children who have a couple, one of them becomes muslim. All the minority children became automatically and they don't have the choice became muslims because in the Iraqi law, the Christian could not married with Muslim. He don't have a choice he must become Muslim automatically. We don't enter on this details. But we start we say the law say exactly. When there's a Christian couple or Yezidi. Well, all the minority non Muslim, even Jews, they live a normal life like Christian they have a children when one of them because became Muslim that is assigned to him as a Muslim. For whatever reason, they don't care. When he officially became he left his religious became Muslim, all the children, minority children. All of them even they have 17 years. You know, Sebastian, he has 17 years old and he lives like Cristiano Yazidi they automatically become Muslim. They don't ask him about his and these become the paper. And we see the result in Iraqi parliament. This person represent the Iraqi people. And they take this decision, and the time was daash control. Important, and and the wars and then back then moving the christians near the minority it asked to change a little thing to have, they taught us to teach everything we thought that was impossible. We say okay, you say this the Sharia respect. Give a little and a little save way that the children could have a choice. We represent many to, suggestions, but that they refuse of them. That's mean. It was not only we take our old law but no there was the affinities and his Is he here and what who was there? There was a Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia are very good people as was there well sure over was not agree. But in the last the law has pass, let's say a big party of our parliament. They will be so happy that there was no Christian state in Iraq. And I say we prove this diversity. And 50, 50 years ago, when we put out all the Jews from Iraq. That's the big problem.

Mehiyar 29:09 What happened before?

Father Rami Simoun 29:09 Yes, you must deal with this.

Mehiyar 29:11 You must deal with this now.

Father Rami Simoun 29:12 We must yeah.

Mehiyar 29:13 So but it seems as if there are so many pressures and attacks so many factors undermining the Christian community. How would you actually respond to any of this? Do you just do what you do and do civil society work that you do and the help that you offer? The magazine's work advice? Probably the charitable work do you do? The convent? The churches that you work with? You speak to mosques? Do you speak to politicians, parliamentarians, you go out and speak and tell them your case? You do that?

Father Rami Simoun 29:43 Yes. Not not personally, because you know, one person could not to rethink but sure. We have a group or in civil society. They work with them they have a contact they visit So, when we ask them, they answer kindly and very, very kindly. But the problem is, with the result that's sure. There's many contacts was talking with the Iraqi Parliament's with big religious referrals and excetera. And many of them, many of them, some of them, they say, That's against Islam, because in the Islam, you must be muslim free way. And you must say the shahada, and you could not tell someone you are not and you're muslims. And he's don't say the shahada you have excetera. There was persons on it and refuse this. But the problem of the last, the law was passed, and, and what we I tried to do what we try to, I think it's very important. We try to be positive with our activity. And we have a very big relationship with the cyber society or religious society. And he spoke with them about this. And every time we hear the positive reports, and they say we'll try to do but the reality is they difficult with all the difficulty. I think the minority, especially the Christian, are very positive people. The last number who say the minority, we are really a minority, but we are very positive by our activity. I think we continue to do many beautiful things in our society. Many of our private schools especially they are directed by sisters, school and hospitals are very, have very good reputation. And the majority of people like to have their their children in this schools we do in Baghdad, and we are not so known. But we are three brothers in Baghdad, like Dominican, and three in north of Iraq, we think to open school for the youth student in Baghdad, has asked, but we try to do it because it's very important and we feel personally that Iraq is our country.

Mehiyar 32:17 On that note, thank you, Father Rami for taking the time to speak with me and Nahrein Network. I wish you peace and good luck with the work that you do. Okay, thank you very much.

Father Rami Simoun 32:28 Thank you Mehiyar.