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They are often confused, in the metro Detroit area, as being part of the over 400,000 Arab or Palestinian American community members located here. Yet Chaldeans, part of a tight-knit community who are neither Arab, nor Muslim, actually have little in common with those who come from a similar part of the world as themselves.
Chaldeans are Iraqi Christians, descendants of a people who once lived in the northern Tigris-Euphrates Valley, which is today in northern Iraq. For centuries, they have lived in peaceful coexistence with their Arab neighbors. That is, until recently. Until the violent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) erupted and overran the north of Iraq, forcing Chaldeans to label themselves by wearing an Arabic letter "N", for Christian, and placing it on their property as well. Then, ISIS seized their property as belonging to the Islamic State.
"Christians have been given 24 hours and three choices," said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce in Bingham Farms. "They could convert (to Islam), leave Mosul, or be killed. All of our community fled, and as they fled, all of their belongings, including cars, wedding rings and other valuables, were taken. We currently have about one million Chaldean people outside of Iraq, and about 250,000 are displaced within Iraq."
If it's reminiscent of what happened to the Jews in Europe during the 1930s and '40s during the Holocaust, the harrowing similarities resonate with Manna, as well. And while the faiths are different, he recognizes other similarities between the Jewish community in metro Detroit and the family-focused Chaldean community. Often, new immigrants from Iraq have settled in similar areas to Jewish immigrants, and as members of the community have become established, their migration pattern throughout Oakland County have paralleled that of the Jews.
"When immigrants come here, we teach them English and get them a job through our Refugee Acculturation program," Manna said. "We modeled it after how the Jewish community has done it. With all of our programs, the goal is to get them independent and off government subsidies."
Christians, as we know, have been in the Middle East for 2,014 years. Here in the Detroit area, Chaldeans first arrived in numbers in the early years of the 20th century, following the slaughter of the Armenian, Chaldean and Assyrian people (all Christians) by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in 1915-1920. Like other immigrant groups, they fled to the shores of North and South America, seeking new opportunities following political and social unrest....continued on page 2