Even if it has its own specific features, the history of the Christians in Iraq cannot be written without taking account of the neighbouring context, in which Christian communities have lived within societies that have always been ethnically and religiously composite. The ecclesial subject itself, on the other hand, is plural: the Christians in the Mesopotamian area have been subdivided into many Churches (Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Armenian) and these still express the ancient church’s different theological and cultural sensitivities, albeit in reconciled tones.
The author has made a precise methodological choice, favouring a mainly political and institutional perspective in his writing. One of the volume’s great virtues is, precisely, that it retraces the history of the Christians in Iraq, systematically presenting their situation in the context of the political developments that necessarily influenced their fate; developments that are analysed organically and in a wealth of detail. The attention to the political dimension is integrated with a detailed and data-rich analysis of the missions carried out by the Roman Catholic Church in this area of the Middle East, particularly between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Such analysis includes detailed references to the various Roman Catholic missionaries (belonging to great religious orders, including the Discalced Augustinians, the Carmelites, the Capuchins and the Dominicans) who were sent to the Mesopotamian area with the twofold intention of promoting Orthodox Christians’ communion with the Catholic Church and supporting those Christian communities, on an educational and cultural level above all. The complexity of the relations into which these missionaries characteristically entered emerges very clearly: their relationship with the pope, in the first place, but also their relations with the European states, especially France (which, during the period of the Capitulations, offered itself as “protector” of the Eastern Christians), and, naturally, their relations with the local political powers, which were always Muslim. What emerges is a painful history characterised from the seventh century onwards by Islamic political supremacy. This meant the beginning of a centuries-long period of discrimination and the legal pressurizing of Christians to convert to Islam and it often provoked situations of extensive economic and cultural poverty. Nevertheless, what also emerges is how such a painful history has tempered the Christian communities, rooting them in faith and testimony and making them capable, in actual fact, of surviving in the context of a historical journey in which the dramatic tones are the dominant ones. Dramatic tones that were intensified during the twentieth century and seem today, with the military success of ISIS (which has not been seriously impeded so far), to be prevailing once again, in a horrifying manner.