Some Christians around the world have been unable to freely celebrate the festival of Christ's birth. In Iraq, it has been tedious and dangerous for Christians, many of whom live mainly in the north of Iraq, and other ethnic and religious minorities. They have been under siege for a long time.
Iraqi Christians celebrate Jesus' birth behind blast walls, in a siege situation. A Reuters news report laid out the stark conditions in the Christmas season 2013 for Christians
The radical islamic groups seem to have the approach of conquer or destroy, convert or die. This has not always the dominant viewpoint. It seems to depend on who is in power and who has the guns at a particular item in a particular locale.
The neighboring Assad regime in Syria was cruel and repressive, and the revolutionaries there were first hailed by US and European leaders. But the government's opponents are revealing themselves to likely be similarly unprincipled and uncompromising ideologues who will be as repressive, not along the lines of a liberal democracy originally touted.
Syrian Christians in have been driven from their homes in recent disruptions in that country. Not just because of general disturbance, but because they are Christians. This does not bode well for that situation. Minorities are in a vulnerable position there.
The US made the mistake once of supporting Saddam Hussein against an "enemy" just because he was also against the same enemy, even if for nefarious purposes. Without questioning Saddam's reasons for propogating his raw aggression on Iran and what the outcome would be, the US rushed weapons and materiel to the vicious dictator over a long period. Let's hope more careful thought goes into the Syrian situation.
Meanwhile the Iraqi Christian communities were ignored and persecution increased. They thought European arrival in military force would be a deliverance, but it has not turned out that way.
Christians in the east have suffered under pagan, then islamic regimes of various kinds. The early Arab Empires were generally benevolent, but Christians are always by definition second-class and experience official limitations. They flourished the most under the Ottoman Empire and subsequent colonial western protectorates before WWI and between the two world wars.
Three ancient Syrian or Syriac Aramaic (Aramaean) churches survive from the early centuries of Christian faith in Syria-Persia. Non-Christian and non-Islamic traditional groups also struggle to survive, like the Yazidis, with a strong advocacy community in Canada.
Mandeans are another ancient non-Christian sect, the only remaining organized Gnostic church. They are a pre-Arab sect that honors various biblical characters as prophets, the last of which is John the Baptist. Augustine of Hippo ("St Augustine") was a member of a similar very famous Gnostic religion called Manicheanism, before his conversion to Christ. The last instance of the latter died out in about the 14th century in China, where it had migrated under missionaries.
Seasonal celebrations from the common ancient eastern calendar are still celebrated by many peoples of the region. One of these is the celebration of Navroze, the ancient Medo-Persian New Year.
Since modern Turkey, even with its current more reactionary traditional Muslim orientation, is a long-time ally of the USA and Europe, the ancient connection may be of further interest: My article Yezidis, Kurds and Zoroastrianism discusses the relationships of the Yezidi and Kurds in regard to Navroze.
Updated 4 February 2014
Read further about these peoples and the cultural setting on my website:
The Yazidis – An Angelic Sect
Yezidis, Kurds and Zoroastrianism
Greek and Aramaic Among 1st Century Jews
Textual Themes and Language Variations in the late Prophets
Christians in Syria Driven from their Homes
Another Dark Christmas for Iraqi Christians - Reuters
Read more about the dangers to Christians in Iraq
Will the Middle East’s Aramaic language survive?
[OBJ note: There are several varieties of Aramaic. The traditional family groupings of Aramaic languages in north-south or east-west variations of the Aramaic family were in existence at the time of Jesus. Aramaic was the Greek of the east from ancient times, so had many varieties.]
The Mandeans - the last remaining Gnostic organized church