Chants of Allahu Akbar, “Allah is Great” in Arabic, could be heard in the distance as a small group of Iraqi Christians gathered in Lafayette Park just outside of the White House today. The Arabic chanting continued, growing slightly louder as the group laid 68 roses atop an Assyrian flag—the flag of modern day Iraqi Christians—on a small stage.
Juliana Taimoorazy, the president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, stepped on stage.
“We’re here because we want the American government to wake up,” Taimoorazy said. “They need to make policies to protect Iraqi Christians and give them a chance to live without persecution.”
The 68 roses represented the 68 people allegedly killed on October 31 during an attack on a Christian church in Iraq, Taimoorazy explained.
The Jakarta Post, one of the few media outlets to cover the attack, claims the number killed was closer to 20. Despite conflicting numbers on the attack, the depletion of Iraq’s Christian population is undisputed.
Since 2003, Iraq’s Christian population has dropped by 30 percent, according to The Jakarta Post article. The minority group is fleeing the country to avoid persecution and to find economic opportunity they say has been torn from them since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Struggling to be Heard
Twenty minutes into the rally, Lawrence Mansour, director of Ishtar Cultural Center in Michigan, stepped onto the stage. A student at Oakland University, Mansour’s booming voice rose above the chants in the background, which stopped shortly after.
“When you give every person a voice, that’s when you have a truly free and democratic society,” Mansour said.
Mansour was one of many young Iraqi-Americans at the event who struggle with the lack of coverage of the Iraqi Christian plight in the media. They hope that events like today’s rally, and a rally planned for May in front of the Capitol building, will draw more attention to the issue.
“Islamic media dominates the Arab world’s media,” said Valerie Mnayarji, an American University student and Iraqi-American. “I think this administration is not recognizing that they’ve invaded a country and they haven’t looked at the minorities that are being depleted.”
Amidst the crowd, Ohara Aivaz, a young Iranian-American and a Christian, wrapped herself in an American flag to keep warm.
“Assyrians are grateful for being in America,” said Aivaz. “We have no country anymore.”
As the rally ended, the group marched toward the gates of the White House, each carrying a rose. They set the roses down on the sidewalk one-by-one. Behind them, a lone man began chanting Allahu Akbar again.
Reverend Patrick J. Mahoney speaks to a crowd of onlookers before laying flowers on the sidewalk in front of the White House in memory of those killed.