Iraqi Armenians: Minority on the Brink of Extinction

Saman Dawood
Iraqi Journalist
June 15, 2021
Having lived in Iraq for many centuries, today only 7,000 to 20,000 Armenians remain. They struggle for better political representation and recognition of the 2015 Armenian Genocide.

“My spiritual homeland is Iraq more than Armenia,” said Krikor Hagopian, who stems from an Armenian family that immigrated to Iraq following the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

Hagopian married a Syriac Christian woman. They settled in the predominantly Christian town of Ankawa near Erbil in the Kurdistan region, after he and his family were subjected to harassment and threats from armed militias in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

According to Hagopian, security-wise, his life has become more miserable since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. He does not deny, however, that many Iraqis have stood by him, especially his neighbors, who asked him not to leave. Hagopian hopes the security situation in Baghdad will soon stabilize, so he will be able to return.

The Armenians are one among many components that have long distinguished the Iraqi social fabric, which consists of many religions and ethnicities. Researchers trace the Armenian presence in Mesopotamia many centuries back. Waves traveled from Armenia through Iran, and initially settled in southern Iraq. An Armenian diocese was established in Basra as early as 1222.

Later many of them began to move to the capital Baghdad. The Armenians were officially recognized as a Christian sect in Iraq in 1638. Their oldest church, the Church of the Virgin Mary, is located in the Al-Midan area in Baghdad. It was built in 1639 under the rule of the Ottomans, at the request of a military commander of Armenian origin.

Their actual number in Iraq today does not exceed 20,000, according to unofficial statistics. In addition to Baghdad, there are Armenian churches and gatherings in such cities as Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Dohuk.

The Armenians do not have a political representation in Iraq. Their attempts to meet the quota and obtain one of the seats granted to minorities in the Iraqi parliament have so far failed. They were more successful in the Kurdistan Parliament, which granted them one seat.

Political Absence

According to Armenian activist Cesca Papazian the Chaldean and Assyrian Christians dominate the Christian quota, due to their large numbers.

“Voting has become a partisan affair, and Armenians are therefore absent from the Iraqi parliament,” he said. “The distribution of Christian quota seats should take place on a national basis or a special quota seat for Armenians should be established.”

The Armenians do not have a political representation in Iraq. Their attempts to meet the quota and obtain one of the seats granted to minorities in the Iraqi parliament have so far failed.

Iraqi diversity expert Saad Salloum confirmed the Armenians currently have one seat in the parliament of the Kurdistan region, while they do not have one in the Iraqi parliament. They do have a seat in the Dohuk Provincial Council, he added. There are also no ministers in the federal government, yet there are several Armenians at the level of general director.

One of the main demands of the Armenians is to see their representation raised to the level of minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government. They also wish to obtain a seat in the federal parliament. Another prominent demand is the recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Most Iraqis, according to the Armenians, know nothing about the Armenians and the suffering they were exposed to in 1915.

According to Anu Jawhar, Minister of Transport and Communications, and the only Christian minister, in the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Armenians in Iraq have characteristics different from Iraq’s other Christian sects in Iraq.

The number of Armenians in Iraq is between 20,000 and 30,000.

Firstly, they number very few in Iraq and Kurdistan. Secondly, most trace their origins back to survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide.

The number of Armenians in Iraq has sharply decreased since 2003, said Jawhar, who added that Armenians are not mentioned in the Iraqi constitution, like the Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac Christians.

He estimated the number of Armenians in Iraq between 20,000 and 30,000. The US State Department’s 2021 International Religious Freedom states the number of Armenians in Iraq amounts to some 7000 only.

It appears that the number of Armenians in Iraq is in a state of continuous decline. It is a minority on the brink of extinction, due to the troubles and calamities it faced in Iraq.

According diversity expert Salloum, the Armenians were dealt a severe blow after the 2003 US invasion, specifically in the civil war in 2006 and 2007, when with the rise of ISIS caused their living conditions to tragically worsen. Sabah Sabri Shamoun, representative of the Christian Endowment in the city of Sinjar in the north of Iraq, said the Christians used to have three churches in Sinjar. Today, only one remains.

The city of Zakho had a significant Armenian community as a result of the 1915 genocide. But they fell victim to another one, as did the Yazidis, after the invasion of ISIS. The Armenians fleeing the 2015 genocide were well received by all Iraqis. Yet there is a special bond with the Yazidis, who were the main victims of the genocide at the hands of ISIS a century after the Armenian genocide.

Sinjar contains the bones of both Yazidis and Armenians, as they all fled to the high mountains to protect themselves from the machine of destruction and extermination.

According to Armenian ambassador Hartia Poladian Iraqi officials are very well acquainted with the true story of the Armenian genocide and that Iraqis have known the Armenians since the Babylonian era. According to her, “political calculations” stand in the way of Iraq’s official recognition of the genocide.

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