Ancient enemies, modern friends

Israeli and Iraqi Christians are not as different as they once seemed

Israeli woman meets the greek patriach 521 (photo credit: JIM FLETCHER)
Israeli woman meets the greek patriach 521
(photo credit: JIM FLETCHER)
Only steps from the Temple Mount, surrounded by the ancient high walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, Juliana Taimoorazy thoughtfully contemplates the comparison between Israelis and Iraqi Christians.
“I personally think our cause is very similar; the [Israelis] are surrounded by Muslims who are bloodthirsty for Jews and Israel. Israelis went back to their country; our dream is to be able to call Nineveh home again.”
Taimoorazy is descended from the Assyrians and Babylonians, a modern Iraqi Christian. Now an advocate for persecuted Christians, she was in Israel last year to network with other people of faith.
Front and center was her admiration for the Jewish state: “My support for Israel comes because I see similarities in the struggles of our people. It’s a Judeo- Christian issue.”
Taimoorazy, the founder and president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, advocates for her people still trapped in oppressive regimes in the Middle East.
Just as Jews remember their history, so too do Iraqi Christians like Taimoorazy – the people of that biblical civilization have lived under cruel overlords since the fall of the Assyrian empire in 612 BCE.
“I’m an Assyrian,” Taimoorazy says proudly. “Assyrians were the first people who converted to Christianity through St.
Thomas. We speak Aramaic, the language of Christ. Our ancestral homeland is in the northern part of Iraq, in Mosul [ancient Nineveh].”
In order to retain her faith, Taimoorazy, born in Iran, fled that country after the fall of the shah. Smuggled to Switzerland and then Germany, her family eventually made its way to the United States, where she is based today.
“I came to the US in 1990, after having been harassed and persecuted for my faith. In Tehran, I was told I couldn’t play with other girls; they said I would burn in hell for my Catholic faith. I was cornered each morning, because the kids were lined up for morning prayers. They would try to force me to recite a verse from the Koran.”
Her father knew she would not have a future in Iran, so he quietly began making plans to leave. Fake visas and a six-month stay in a Tehran hotel provided the family with an escape.
Locals thought the family was having a home built, but Taimoorazy knew flight was imminent.
“When they said ‘go’ we had to go immediately – no saying goodbyes to anyone.”
Today, in America, Taimoorazy sees nothing but possibilities. She loves her adopted country, and has also fallen in love with Israel.
“I was a little bit nervous [when I visited Israel] because the Babylonians destroyed the first temple and I didn’t know how I’d be received!” she said.
“The entire trip home I was crying, because I was being uprooted. I never felt that way when I left Iran. When I left Jerusalem, I felt my roots were being pulled up. The love the Jews gave me... I was overwhelmed.”
Taimoorazy has a heart for refugees, and she also has ambitious plans for helping the persecuted. The example of Israel, thriving only decades after the Holocaust, is a powerful impetus.
“In Iraq, there are approximately four million Chaldeans,” she says.
“Wherever we are, we are one big family and will help each other. When I heard what they were doing to the Assyrians in Iraq after the fall of Saddam, I had to act.”
Taimoorazy, never lacking chutzpah, approached Cardinal Francis George in Chicago.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you start an organization!’” Taimoorazy remembers.
In 2007, she did, and the ICR Council was born. Today, thousands of grateful refugees are glad for the cardinal’s advice. Taimoorazy and her team work tirelessly to help refugees acclimate by finding jobs, medical care and opportunities.
“I am not an advocate of handouts,” she says. “I believe in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”
Yet Taimoorazy and the ICR Council team help provide the bootstraps.
“When we started the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, we were mainly helping people in Iraq. But with the influx of refugees coming into America, I see what great needs there are here in the States. Since then, with donations that come in, we help people with food and medicine, pay rent, and help them find schools and jobs.
“In 2013, we will continue helping refugees find employment in the US; we are also working with groups in northern Iraq to start a factory for women [whose husbands were killed by] Islamic extremists. They can become empowered economically by making purses, jewelry or shawls.”
The ICR team is also busy finding retail experts and distribution channels for factory products.
American Christians have long been generous in helping oppressed people around the globe. Taimoorazy is grateful for the help given thus far, since the brutality of past and present regimes continues to torment the refugees.
One only has to look at persecution under Saddam Hussein to realize that, as Taimoorazy explains: “From time to time in Iraq, churches would be burned down, or if someone rose up against Saddam, there were quite a few martyrs. His sons would go into an Assyrian wedding, take girls they wanted, rape them and kill them. Or they would make the fathers engage in sex with daughters, at which time the daughters and fathers would kill themselves.”
Dictators come and go in history, but so do humanitarians like Taimoorazy.
“My dream,” she says wistfully, “in my ideal world, is that Christians and Jews would come together.”