The following comes from a Nov. 15 story in the Sacramento Bee.
….An estimated 70,000 Iraqis, mostly Chaldean Catholics, live in the San Diego region, the second-largest Iraqi population in the nation, after Detroit. The U.S. government has resettled several thousand Iraqis in San Diego since 2007. Many have settled about 15 miles east of the city in El Cajon, home to St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral.
Chaldeans first settled in ancient Mesopotamia, the country now called Iraq, in the first and second centuries. They still speak Aramaic, the language believed to have been spoken by Jesus. There are an estimated 600,000 Chaldean Catholics worldwide – a number that has dwindled considerably in the last decade since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the rise of attacks by groups like Islamic State, said Rico Monge, an assistant professor of comparative theology at the University of San Diego.
The tumult of the last decade makes estimates on the current number of Chaldeans in Iraq difficult, but “the fear is Christianity in Iraq will cease to exist,” Monge said.
Persecution of Chaldean Christians in Iraq is not new, but today’s violence is approaching genocide, said Chaldean Catholic Bishop Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, whose diocese covers the nation’s western region. He is based in San Diego.
….The bishop and Mark Arabo, a 31-year-old Chaldean American activist in San Diego, delivered to administration officials the names of about 70,000 family members still in Iraq, Turkey or Lebanon, and the names of their sponsors.
“The number one concern is how can we save them? How can we get them over here?” Arabo said.
….Ben Kalasho, who came to San Diego from his native Iraq when he was 8 years old, disagrees with legislative efforts to bring Iraqi Chaldeans to America. Poverty awaits many war refugees in the U.S., he said. Kalasho believes the ultimate goal should be to allow Chaldeans to stay in Iraq by creating a safe haven. Otherwise, an ancient culture and its history will die, he said.
“(Islamic State) wins,” Kalasho said. “That’s the problem.”
After reports that a former San Diego man died in Syria while fighting for Islamic State, Kalasho wanted to help stop the terrorists’ online recruiting efforts in the U.S. Kalasho and volunteers began monitoring sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for clues, such as a Facebook profile promoting Islamic State’s black flag. Then through email blasts and social media, the volunteers alert people in their network about what they have found. The purpose is to get the accounts, which appear to be Islamic State recruitment tools, shut down.
“We have … thousands of people we can reach in a few seconds,” Kalasho said.
Kalasho reports discoveries to Facebook and other companies and informs the FBI and local law enforcement of any local online activity.
Some Chaldean Americans, like 21-year-old Allen Theweny, who was born and raised in the U.S., are angry that they may never see the place where their parents grew up – cities now ravaged by war.
Nonetheless, Theweny, whose parents emigrated from Baghdad to El Cajon in 1991, says he does not see people fleeing Iraq as the death of Chaldean heritage and identity.
“Just because something is gone doesn’t mean the culture is gone,” said Theweny, who helped organize a recent peace walk in El Cajon. “America is our new Babylon.”
To read the entire story, click here.
Chaldeans march on Main Street, El Cajon in August (photo by Susan Murphy, KPBS)