Iraq’s ancient Mandean community close to extinction, says report

November 14th, 2007 - 1:54 am ICT by admin  
This extinction in the making has simply been another unfortunate and entirely unintended consequence of the invasion of Iraq, The International Herald Tribune reports.

The Mandeans are the only surviving Gnostics from antiquity, cousins of the people who produced the Nag Hammadi writings like the Gospel of Thomas, a work that sheds invaluable light on the many ways in which Jesus was perceived in the early Christian period.

The Mandeans have their own language (Mandaic, a form of Aramaic close to the dialect of the Babylonian Talmud), an impressive body of literature, and a treasury of cultural and religious traditions amassed over two millennia of living in the southern marshes of present-day Iraq and Iran.

Practitioners of a religion at least as old as Christianity, the Mandeans have witnessed the rise of Islam; the Mongol invasion; the arrival of Europeans, who mistakenly identified them as “Christians of St. John,” because of their veneration of John the Baptist; and, most recently, the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, who drained the marshes after the first gulf war, an ecological catastrophe equivalent to destroying the Everglades. They have withstood everything - until now.

Like their ancestors, contemporary Mandeans were able to survive as a community because of the delicate balance achieved among Iraq’s many peoples over centuries of cohabitation.

When American forces invaded in 2003, there were probably 60,000 Mandeans in Iraq; today, fewer than 5,000 remain. Like millions of other Iraqis, those who managed to escape have become refugees, primarily in Syria and Jordan, with smaller numbers in Australia, Indonesia, Sweden and Yemen.

Mandean activists have told the paper that the best hope for their ancient culture to survive is if a critical mass of Mandeans is allowed to settle in the United States, where they could rebuild their community and practice their traditions without fear of persecution.

Of the mere 500 Iraqi refugees who were allowed into the United States from April 2003 to April 2007, only a few were Mandeans. And despite the Bush administration’s commitment to let in 7,000 refugees in the fiscal year that ended last month, fewer than 2,000, including just three Iraqi Mandean families, entered the country. (ANI)

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