5 Questions: Sinan Hanna

Sinan Hanna

Sinan Hanna is chief administrator of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Baghdad and a project manager for Stand with Iraqi Christians. He and the Rev. Faiz Jerjes will speak at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (May 24) at St. Philip’s Church in Garrison.

What is the history of Christians in Iraq?
Iraq was originally a Christian country. In the first century, St. Thomas, one of Jesus’ apostles, came to the area to evangelize before he went to India. Christians began sharing the country with Islam in the seventh century. In the 1980s, we had 2.5 million Christians. By 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, we had 1.5 million Christians. Today we have fewer than 150,000. Many are in the Nineveh Plains, northwest of Baghdad. In the Old Testament, God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and call on people to repent.

Why did so many Christians leave after the U.S. invasion?
The invasion left the country in chaos. It’s not that the dictatorship was good, but what we have now is much worse. Christianity cannot survive in a place where there is no law. The government is not protecting all people. Christians are leaving because they can’t survive here. We’re not harassed — we’re ignored. 

How are they ignored?
We’re second-class citizens. We can’t get jobs in the government. Even if a Christian is the most qualified, he doesn’t get the job, so many emigrate to the West. There also is a law requiring Islamization of minors. If a parent converts to Islam, the government will convert the children to Islam. It’s unjust. We have approached the parliament many times trying to amend this law, but no one responds.

How did the 2014 invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS impact Christians?
At the time, in that area, there were around 100,000 Christians. ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] forced Christians to leave their houses, their belongings, everything. It said either you will be killed or you will leave. There were checkpoints to see if you had money or gold. Many Christians stayed as refugees until the area was liberated in 2017. I went there shortly after ISIS was defeated. The majority of our houses were burned. All our businesses were damaged. On the farms, the wells were poisoned. It was like a war zone. About 50 percent of the Christian community returned but many had already emigrated to the West.

What is the mission of Stand with Iraqi Christians?
We are working to rebuild businesses and develop the economy. We have a saying in Iraq: “A man follows his job.” So we help them raise money and rebuild. Let me tell you about a bakery project that started in November in Erbil, about five hours north of Baghdad. This woman was from Nineveh. Before the ISIS invasion, she was a homemaker. After her husband died, she wanted to start a bakery selling bread and cookies, but she didn’t know how to get the capital to buy the ovens and mixers. We did a feasibility study. Projects like this typically cost $2,000 to $9,000. She contributed as well. We don’t give money to people unless they share the responsibility. Her business is doing very well.

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