Iraqi Christians are made up of Chaldeans, Syriacs, Armenians, Assyrians, and Arab Christians, with Chaldeans representing the largest group at 80% of the worldwide number of Christians from Iraq. The majority of Iraqi Christians are Catholics, with a smaller percentage belonging to the Orthodox denomination and a small number of Protestants. A 1987 Iraq census placed the number of Christians in the country at 1.4 million. In 2003, there were between 1.5 – 1.8 million Iraqi Christians living throughout Iraq, from as far north as Zakho to as far south as Basra, Iraq. The current estimates of Christians remaining in Iraq, are between 250,000 – 300,000. Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians speak dialects of the Aramaic language, the language spoken by Jesus Christ, and the oldest continuously spoken language in the world. Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians were converted to Christianity around 37 A.D. by St. Thomas the Apostle.
Chaldeans (“Kaldanaya” in Aramaic):
- Chaldeans make up 80% of the worldwide population of Iraqi Christians.
- In 2003, ethnic Chaldeans were the 3rd largest ethnic group in Iraq, after Arabs and Kurds.
- Chaldeans are the natives of Iraq and descendants of the ancient Mesopotamians, with roots dating back to 5000 B.C.
- Chaldeans belong to the Eastern Rite Chaldean Catholic Church, headquartered in Baghdad. The Chaldean Catholic Church is led by Patriarch Louis Sako, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans.
- Chaldeans speak an Eastern dialect of Aramaic known as Chaldean Neo-Aramaic.
- Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Chaldeans lived throughout the country of Iraq, including Mosul, Erbil, Dohuk/Zakho area, Baghdad, and Basra.
- The most well-known Chaldean towns in Iraq are: Tel Keppe (Tel Kaif), Alqosh, Tesqopa (Teleskuf), Batnaya, Karemlash, Araden, Mangesh, Amadiya, Duhok (certain areas), and Zakho (certain areas).
- Chaldeans also have smaller populations which derive from Turkey and Syria.
- Tariq Aziz, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, is one of the more well-known Chaldeans.
- The largest populations of Chaldeans outside of Iraq are in Michigan, USA, where a population of over 200,000 Chaldeans live, and in Western USA (San Diego, California and Phoenix, Arizona) where another 100,000 Chaldeans live.
Syriacs (“Suryoye” in Aramaic):
- Syriacs makeup 10% of Iraqi Christians and have communities in Syria and Turkey.
- The Syriacs of Iraq are native to the country and descendants of the ancient Mesopotamians.
- Syriacs speak a Western dialect of Aramaic known as Suryoyo or Western Syriac.
- Syriac Christians belong to either the Syriac Catholic Church or the Syriac Orthodox Church.
- Patriarch Joseph III Yonan is the head of the Syriac Catholic Church and based in Lebanon. Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II is the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church and based in Syria.
- Historically, Syriacs had a larger community in Southern Turkey until the 1915 Christian Genocide in which hundreds of thousands were killed or forced off their native lands.
- Iraqi Syriacs predominantly inhabited Baghdad and Mosul, in Iraq.
- The most well-known Syriac towns in Iraq are Bartella and Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida), Iraq. The Syriac Christian town of Qaraqosh, Iraq was the largest Christian town in Iraq prior to the ISIS invasion in 2014, with a population of 50,000 Christians.
- Many Syriacs have migrated to Europe in recent years; additionally, Syriacs have a growing population in the New York, U.S.A. area.
Assyrians (“Athurnaya” in Aramaic):
- Assyrians make up about 5% of Iraqi Christians.
- Assyrian towns in Iraq are in certain areas of Dohuk and Zakho, with the most well-known towns being Sarsing, Nahla, and Baznaya.
- Assyrians speak an Eastern dialect of Aramaic known as Assyrian Neo-Aramaic.
- Assyrians belong to either the Assyrian Church of the East or the Ancient Church of the East; the two churches split off in the 1970s.
- Most of today’s Iraqi Assyrians originated from Turkey and Iran, but were forced off of their native lands after the 1915 Christian Genocide. A small population of these Genocide victims immigrated to Iraq post-WWI.
- While Assyrians are only 5% of Iraqi Christians, the largest population of today’s Assyrians (about 70%) are from Iran and remnants of the population of Assyrians who did not leave their native Iranian lands after the 1915 Christian Genocide.
- Assyrians began migrating out of the Middle East to the West around the turn of the 20th century; this number increased in the 1980s and 1990s due to the Iraq-Iran war.
- The largest population of Assyrians outside of the Middle East exists in the U.S., where an estimated 100,000 Assyrian Christians live. In the U.S., Assyrian Christians live predominantly in the Chicago area, with populations also in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Modesto.
- Armenians make up about 3% of Iraqi Christians. In 2003, there were 45,000 Armenians living in Iraq. Today, there are about 4,000 Armenians remaining in Iraq.
- Historically, Armenians predominantly inhabited Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra, in Iraq.
- Armenians immigrated to Mesopotamia Iraq due to facing persecution in other areas of the Middle East.
- Armenians speak the language known as Armenian and mostly belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church with a smaller population of Armenian Catholics.
- Armenians still reside in Baghdad and Basra, Iraq, but their numbers have been reduced greatly due to the Iraqi Christian Genocide.
- Arab Christians in Iraq make up about 2% of Iraqi Christians.
- Arab Christians lived throughout Iraq, but mostly inhabited Mosul and Baghdad.
- Arab Christians speak Arabic and belong to a variety of Christian churches in Iraq.
- As with other Christians, Iraq’s Arab Christians also began an exodus out of Iraq due to war and persecution.