ISIS' Persecution of Iraq's Christians Intensifies
Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East
International Christian Concern
Facing the promise of execution if they do not embrace Islam or pay tribute for being Christians, the remaining Christians in Mosul, Iraq fled before the deadline of noon on Saturday, July 19.The aim of the militant group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, now shortened to Islamic State) to create an Islamic state emptied of all Christians has moved closer to a reality.
"Nothing for Them But the Sword"
In the last week, ISIS began marking Christian homes throughout the city. The Arabic letter "N," standing for the Arabic word "Nasrani," a name for Christians, was painted on Christians' homes around Mosul, the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports.
"We do not know what will happen in future days," Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said. "It is clear that the result of all this discrimination legally enforced will be the very dangerous elimination of the possibility of co-existence between majorities and minorities," he lamented.
Patriarch Sako's fears would be quickly realized. On Friday, July 18, an 1,800-year-old church was set aflame, even as the remaining Christians attempted to evacuate the city before the deadline set for them to flee or face death expired.
On Thursday, July 17, ISIS released a statement in Mosul laying out the only three options for Christians who had remained in the city following its takeover last month.
Below is an excerpt of the statement, translated by AINA, which was said to come from the "Office of the Judiciary" of the Islamic State:
"It was decided to offer them one of the three:
1. Islam (to become Muslim).
2. Pay Jizya (which is taking tribute for being Christians).
3. If they refuse, there is nothing for them but the sword.
The Prince of the Faithful Caliph Ibrahim -- God Glorify him -- will allow them to evacuate themselves only from the borders of the state Alkhalafah by Saturday, Ramadan 21, 1435 [July 19, 2014] noon hour, and after this date, the only thing between us and them is the sword."
The deadline was reportedly set by Caliph Ibrahim, the title claimed by ISIS' leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi when declaring the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate. The offer of "Islam, tribute, or sword" was the same offer that ISIS made in Raqqa, Syria, a city that has now become its base of operations. ISIS controls a large swath of territory across northern Syria and into Iraq. They are moving to set up an Islamic state and driving out all Christians, along with Shi'a Muslims, and other religious minorities.
Mosul Emptied of Its Christians
According to Tera Dahl, writing from Erbil, "The last Christian reportedly left Iraq's second largest city of Mosul at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, ending over 6,000 years of Assyrian history in the city. Assyrians have lived in Mosul for over 6,000 years, converting to Christianity over 2,000 years ago. This all came to an end on Saturday, when the last Assyrian Christian left the city."
The Christians who fled said that under ISIS they were being forced to comply with puritanical laws that were now causing many Muslims, who had stayed, to try to leave. "It is like the Taliban in Afghanistan," one Mosul resident said.
"Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Arbil [in Kurdistan]. For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians," Patriarch Sako said in an interview.
As hundreds of families were trying to flee before the deadline, ISIS reportedly set up checkpoints and was robbing them of their possessions, AINA reported. "ISIS took money from the Assyrians, as well as cars, cell phones, food, money, gold, fake jewelry, electronic items and even medicines. Over 85 families who had fled Baghdede (Qarawosh/Hamdaniya) reported being robbed of all of their possessions."
Dispossessed of their cars, hundreds of Christians were forced to continue their march of nearly 50 miles on foot. This latest stream of refugees joins the hundreds of thousands who fled when ISIS first took Mosul in early June.
"It looks like the history is repeating itself when in June 1941 in Baghdad, Iraq thousands of innocent prosperous Iraqi Jews were dispossessed and fully stripped from their belongings and properties and then attacked by the Arab Islamists,' Joseph Kessab, president of Iraqi Christians and Advocacy and Empowerment Institute (ICAE) told ICC.
"Now the ISIS Islamists are doing just that to thousands of Christians in Mosul, where they are asked to convert to Islam or face the sword, or they are forced to flee with only some clothes on their backs while their churches are burned and their monasteries attacked and seized," Kessab continued.
What will be the Response?
As the world witnesses the mass exodus of Mosul's Christian population, adding to the nearly one million Christians who have already left Iraq, some are labeling it "a Christian version of the Holocaust and nothing less."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon issued a statement strongly condemning the persecution of religious minorities. "Any systematic attack on the civilian population, or segments of the civilian population, because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable," Moon said.
The U.S. State Department also condemned the persecution of Christians in a statement released on Friday. "We are outraged by ISIL's recent announcement that Christians in Mosul must either convert, pay a tax, leave, or face execution in the coming days. [...] It should be clear that ISIL is not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region."
While there have been statements of support for the Iraqi people and condemnation of ISIS, no clear plan of action has been outlined. The first steps are being taken to secure the immediate needs of the thousands displaced from their homes, but as for the future of Iraq's Christian community, that is entirely unclear.
For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org
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ICC has launched a campaign to provide aid to the Iraqi church to assist those in need who have fled from the attacks. Go here to find out more and donate: Iraqi Crisis Response
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