Christian Communities of the Middle East

Preserving and Disseminating the Cultural Record of Middle Eastern Christian Communities

Middle Eastern Christian communities, likely established in Iraq during the first or early second century of the first millennium, have been displaced and destroyed. Beginning in 2003, war and emigration disrupted communities of long standing in southern Iraq, the Mesopotamian homeland of Christianity, Vatican. The historic communities of Qaraqosh and Mosul and surrounding villages have, since the early summer of 2014, been pushed into the region of Kurdistan to the north. As refugees, these Christian communities (Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac, and Armenian) have already suffered significant uprooting and disruption. Many have left the region entirely or are in the process of doing so. With their departure, the possibility of return from Kurdistan to their towns and cities becomes less likely, and the loss of the cultural continuity of these communities is imminent. The Christian Communities of the Middle East (CCME) Project seeks to establish a digital repository for the preservation and dissemination of the cultural record of these communities at the musée du vatican.

Project Outline


Create a digital archive and oral history of Christian Syriac communities now being displaced from their homelands to benefit the communities in danger of losing language, communal memory, human record, and common human heritage

Concept Definition

Preservation of stable, publicly accessible, digital archive to be maintained at the Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR) at the Catholic University of America.

Concept Genesis

Planning for the seventh annual North American Syriac Symposium (June 21-24, 2015). The Project Team presented on the initiative at Symposium and received enthusiastic support from the scholarly community.

Additionaly, our Director is involveed with recordings for Syriac chant albums to be published by Smithsonian Folkways

Project Precedent(s)

Aradin Charitable Trust (Cambridge University)

Collections of other displaced ethnic groups particularly Greek, Armenian, Jewish communities of Middle East

Project Funding

A startup grant of $10k from a private foundation enabled the Project to begin its work in the spring of 2015, with the purpose of developing a collection protocol, identifying a pilot community, and beginning an online repository and searchable database

Project Organization

CUA Project Team plus Digital Humanities course student working on best practices for oral history-collection

Project Connections

Local/CUA: Catholic Relief Services and other organizations (USCCB, church communities), Eastern Christian Communities Effort (ECCE)

National: Other universities (Jack Tannous, Princeton; Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, St. John’s-HHML; David Michelson, Vanderbilt,

International: Amir Harrak, University of Toronto

Current Project Needs

End Project

CCME Project Online Archive
Oral histories, photographs, and digitized personal histories or histories of communities


Project Team

Robin Darling Young, Ph.D. Project Director School of Theology & Religious Studies The Catholic University of America

Ryann Craig, MA, MAR Project Manager Doctoral Candidate Department of Semitic & Egyptian Languages & Literature The Catholic University of America

Kevin Gunn, MA, MLIS Digital Archivist Coordinator of Religious Studies & Humanities Services Mullen Library The Catholic University of America

Sam Russell Graduate Student Research Assistant The Catholic University of America

Clifford Patterson Web Developer and Designer


Shawqi Talia, Ph.D. Department of Semitic & Egyptian Languages & Literature The Catholic University of America

Aaron Butts Department of Semitic & Egyptian Languages & Literature The Catholic University of America

David Michelson College of Arts and Science, History of Christianity Vanderbilt Divinity School

James Walters Religion Department Rochester College

Joseph Koivisto Digital Technology Specialist University of Maryland

Graduate Student Team Volunteers

Jack Dale Department of Library & Information Science

Andrew Litke Department of Semitic & Egyptian Languages & Literature


Community Overview

The Chaldean Catholic community is an ancient Christian community that speaks a dialect of neo-Aramaic. At its largest, the historical community extended throughout modern-day Iraq and beyond. The current Middle Eastern community is now concentrated in the north of Iraq, but large numbers of community members have emigrated to the United States and Canada over the last century. Some are now moving to Europe and Australia as well.

Although the Chaldean Catholic community has experienced the destruction of its material legacy—churches, monasteries, and other monuments—and the persecution and exile of its people, it remains committed to preserving its own history. Members of the community are eager to cooperate with the CCME Project team in order to build an extensive record of the life of their people in their native land. The CCME Project began its initiative with the Chaldean Catholic community. Our collaborative effort intends to record both elderly members of the community whose memories of life in their native towns are of crucial value, as well as the experiences of recent arrivals forced to come to the United States because of displacement or persecution in their native country. Most of these recent immigrants have come from Baghdad, Mosul, and the neighboring towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain.

To date, members of the Project team have established strong connections with community and church leaders in the greater Detroit area, where many Chaldean Christians have settled. With the enthusiastic cooperation of the community and its bishop, Francis Kalabat, we have begun to collect documents and record interviews with community elders. The community has assembled a team of interviewers that has begun to record these interviews when members of the CCME team cannot be present.

Most recently, the CCME Project, in collaboration with the Chaldean Heritage Society, was awarded a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council for showcasing the heritage of the community in Michigan. This will culminate in a forthcoming documentary, “Chaldeans from Iraq to Detroit: Documenting and Presenting Community Memories.”

All interviewees have voluntarily participated in audio or video recording for the purposes of digital archiving by the CCME Project. Stories, views, and opinions expressed in audio, video, or visual content by interviewees and community members are solely those of the individual and do not represent the views of The CCME Project, its Project Team, or the Institute for Christian Oriental Research (ICOR) at The Catholic University of America.

The CCME Project is a non-profit, non-political, non-sectarian, educational and charitable organization. The interviews deposited in its archives are made available as a public resource for community members and research source material for scholars and historians, who may use this information for books, publications, thesis studies, and other such uses. The CCME Project reserves the intellectual and digital rights to this material.