In pictures: Syriac Heritage Museum showcases Iraq’s rich Christian past
By A.C. Robinson
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Just across the street from the oldest church in Ainkawa, a Christian neighborhood of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, sits the Syriac Heritage Museum, showcasing snippets of history from the different Christian denominations of Iraq.
“This museum is one of the most important museums in the Middle East because the Iraqi Christians are a minority and their history is being lost,” the museum’s director, David Nadhir Dinkhan, told Rudaw English. “We must try to preserve our history.”
The three main Christian denominations in Iraq are Chaldean, Catholic and Orthodox.
After receiving permission from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s Ministry of Culture to open the museum and collect remnants from across Iraq and Kurdistan, construction began on the Syriac Heritage Museum in 2009. It opened its doors in October 2015.
“The Christian people were very happy to share these artifacts as many things were in people’s homes before they were donated to be displayed in the museum,” Dinkham said. Up to 70 percent of the items showcased here are donations.
One item on display near the museum entrance is a large clay model of Ainkawa as it appeared from the 1920s through to the 1950s. The only church included in the clay model is St. George’s Church, which is located just across the street from the museum. It is the oldest church in Ainkawa – now more than 1,100 years old.
“Before 2003, Ainkawa only had two churches,” he said. These were St. George’s and St. Joseph’s Church. There are now eight in the neighborhood.
“Every Iraqi Christian and non-Christian has history in this museum and we work together as one family,” he added.
When the museum first opened, Dinkhan and its founders did not expect it to be such a success. Schools, government officials from Iraq and Kurdistan, and many foreigners visit the attraction.
“Christians have deep roots in this country,” Dinkhan said. “We feel happy when people visit us and see this beautiful side of Iraq.”
He encouraged local and international organizations to come and view the artifacts on display to learn about the different Christian denominations.
“The language for all Christians in Iraq, regardless of denomination, is the Syriac language, (a more modernized form of Aramaic that Jesus spoke),” Dinkhan explained. “All of them speak it from Basra to Baghdad.”
The museum is open Sunday to Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Admission is free.
Photos: A.C. Robinson