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2024-03-21 08:47:29 Views : 197 |

Iraq what became of the Garden of Eden

Ancient archaeological settlement of Ur, Iraq, birthplace of Abraham ©OSV

Ishtartv.com- omnesmag.com

Gerardo Ferrara-March 21, 2024


Our journey through some of the countries where Christianity was born and flourished takes us to one of the places where the "garden that God planted in the East" (Eden) is traditionally located: Iraq. Sadly, even here we have to note how another cradle of some of the greatest and most ancient civilizations (such as Egypt, Syria, Iran, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine) is today a theater of instability, suffering and uncertainty for all the peoples who inhabit it.


Some data

Iraq is located in the Middle East, has an area of 438,317 km² and a population of just over 40 million inhabitants, 75-80 % of whom are ethnic Arabs, 15-20 % ethnic Kurds (Kurdish is an Iranian language, therefore Indo-European), mostly in the area of Iraqi Kurdistan, in the northeast of the country. There are also ethnic minorities, such as the Assyrian (especially in Baghdad and in the north of the country, especially in Mosul and its surroundings: the famous "Nineveh Plain", predominantly Syriac-Christian and Aramaic-speaking, also Semitic) and Turkmen.

Islam is the predominant religion (95-98 % of the population is Muslim, 60 % Shia and 40 % Sunni). Non-Islamic minorities account for less than 2 %, notably Christians, Jews, Mandaeans and Yazidis.


Until 2003, however, Iraq was home to one of the largest Christian minorities in the Middle East, with 1.5 million faithful: they were 6 % of the population (12 % in 1947), but today less than 200,000 remain. The Jewish community was also very large (at least 150,000 individuals until the founding of the State of Israel and the mass exodus to it in 1950-51), today reduced to three people!


Ancient Mesopotamia

The name "Iraq" is of Akkadian origin, itself derived from Sumerian, and later merged with Arabic through Aramaic and Old Persian (Erak). This toponym has to do with ancient Uruk (Sumerian: Unug), the first real city in the history of mankind (founded in the fourth millennium BC). It is estimated, in fact, that it reached a population of 80,000 inhabitants three thousand years before Christ and that it was not only the first place in human history that could be defined as a city (due to two fundamental characteristics: social stratification and labor specialization), but also the home of the mythical Sumerian king Gilgamesh (hence the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, written in Akkadian, the Semitic language of the Assyrian and Babylonian peoples: the first epic poem in history).


However, before the Arab conquest (6th-7th centuries AD), the best known name of this region was Mesopotamia (Greek: "land between the rivers", referring to the Tigris and Euphrates), a land that saw the birth of ancient civilizations that have contributed greatly to the history of mankind. In fact, between the two best known (the Sumerians and the Assyro-Babylonians) there is a continuity, as is often the case with contiguous civilizations, and both received in any case a great influence from other peoples, from the west the Amorites, from the east the Persian (obviously, with a reciprocal influence).


The Sumerians were a non-Semitic people (Sumerian is a language isolate) and are considered the first urban civilization in history, along with the ancient Egyptians, as well as some of the first to practice agriculture and the inventors of beer, the school system, mankind's first form of writing (cuneiform), arithmetic and astronomy.


The continuators of the Sumerians (whose language, in its spoken form, had already become extinct more than two thousand years before Christ) were the Assyrians and the Babylonians (constituting a linguistic continuum, since the language spoken by both peoples was Akkadian, i.e., the oldest attested Semitic language, which later evolved into distinct dialects).


The Assyrians settled in the north of present-day Iraq and took their name from the first city they founded, Assur. Over the centuries (between 1950 and 612 BC), they expanded their territory to form a vast empire whose capital, Nineveh (now Mosul), is well known from the Bible (especially the book of Jonah) and historical documents for being a great city with 12 km perimeter walls and some 150,000 inhabitants at its peak, as well as for its architectural and cultural riches, including the great library of King Ashurbanipal, which contained 22,000 cuneiform tablets.


In 612 B.C., with the destruction of Nineveh by the Medes and Chaldeans, Assyrian civilization declined in favor of Persian civilization to the east and Babylonian civilization to the southeast along the Mesopotamian valley.


And the Babylonians were "cousins" of the Assyrians (they spoke practically the same language). They were called Babylonians after Babylon, one of their cities (along the Euphrates), famous for its hanging gardens and opulence, but also Akkadian (they spoke the Akkadian language) and became so important that they subjugated all of Mesopotamia. They are also known for their achievements in history, literature, astronomy, architecture and civilization. For example, the Code of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC), the first collection of laws in human history, even contains a code of conduct for physicians.


Another famous Babylonian ruler is Nebuchadnezzar, the famous destroyer of Jerusalem and its Temple (587 B.C.) and of the Jewish deportation to Babylon (for which he is also remembered in Verdi's opera "Nabucco").


Mesopotamia was conquered by the Persians before being annexed by the Roman Empire. It then fell back into the hands of the Persians, starting in the 4th century A.D., and re-entered the Byzantine orbit in the 7th century, shortly before the final Islamic conquest.


The advent of islam and the present day.

It was in 636 that Arab troops arrived, while in 750 Iraq became the center of the Abbasid caliphate (the previous Umayyad dynasty was based in Damascus), especially after the foundation of Baghdad in 762, a city that soon became a world metropolis, a cultural and intellectual center for the whole world (rivaling Cordoba), in what is known as the Islamic Golden Age, until the Mongol invasion of 1258, which marked its decline, when the country first fell under the rule of Turco-Mongol dynasties, and then was disputed between the Persian Empire (ruled by the Shiite Safavid dynasty, Turkic-Azeri in language and culture) and the Sunni Ottoman Empire, which finally incorporated it in 1638 (Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin).


Ottoman rule did not end until World War I, at the end of which the British Empire (again!) obtained the Mandate over the country (in other articles we have mentioned the various agreements that Great Britain made at that time to gain control of the Middle East and to procure allies against the Ottoman Empire and Germany during the war), which nominally governed itself through the Hashemite monarchy of King Faisal I. However, Iraq gained full independence in 1932, following the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty signed by British High Commissioner Francis Humphrys and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said.


The following period was marked by instability (the Farhoud of 1941, a pogrom that marked the end of the harmonious coexistence of Jews, Christians and Muslims and involved the massacre of hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand Jews), until a coup d'état in 1958 put an end to the monarchy and another (February 8, 1963) brought Saddam Hussein to power.


Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Partyz

Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) was an exponent of the Baath party (Arabic: "resurrection"), of Arab nationalist and socialist tendency, formed after World War II by the Syrian Christian Michel Aflaq and his Muslim compatriot Salah al-Din al-Bitar. Unlike Marxism, Arab socialism does not have a materialistic view of life; on the contrary, the Baath advocates a kind of "spiritual" Marxism that repudiates all forms of class struggle (but also religion), considered a "factor of internal division and conflict," since "all differences between the sons [of the Arab nation] are fortuitous and false." Without contemplating atheism, the Baʿthist ideology protects free private initiative in the economic sphere as a legacy of Islam, which would consider it the best activity of man ("al-kāsib ḥabīb Allāh", i.e., 'he who earns is loved by God').


The Baath, as a form of pan-Arab socialist nationalism, also dominated for decades in Syria (the current President Asad is an exponent of it) and, with other parties of the same extraction, much of the Arab world in the second half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.


Under Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq became a dictatorship (where, paradoxically, the rights of non-Muslim minorities were, however, much more guaranteed and protected than today) marked by bloody wars (Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988; invasion of Kuwait and First Gulf War, 1991; conflict with the Kurds; Second Gulf War, 2003).


The last few years

The last of these, the Second Gulf War, resulted in the invasion of the country by a coalition led by the United States of America, under the pretext (later revealed to be false) of Hussein's alleged support for Islamist terrorism and the manufacture and concealment of weapons of mass destruction.


In 2011, the United States withdrew from the country, leaving it, like Afghanistan today, in a state of collapse (before 2003, thanks also to its immense oil reserves, Iraq was one of the most prosperous Arab countries and boasted an excellent healthcare system and an excellent level of public education, including university education).


Strong tribal and sectarian divisions, the incapacity of Iraqi governments, corruption and protests led to a resurgence of violence, especially after the Arab Spring (2011) and the arrival of the notorious Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which invaded the country in 2013-14, plundering entire provinces, especially in the north, and committing horrendous crimes, especially against the Yazidi and Christian minorities, but also against Shiites and Sunnis themselves, until 2017, when ISIS was defeated by government troops allied with the Kurds.


Since then, the country, which since 2005 has become a parliamentary, federal and democratic republic (the civil code contemplates Islamic law as the source of law and the three main state offices are distributed among the main ethno-religious communities: the presidency of the Republic to the Kurds, the government to the Shiites and the Parliament to the Sunnis), continues to be in very bad economic conditions, with increasing inequalities and religious intolerance, especially towards the Christian minority.

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