Islamic State Group Inflicts Heavy Damage to 10th Century Monastery

Terrorists' campaign of cultural cleansing contines

Islamic State Group Inflicts Heavy Damage to 10th Century Monastery

Mustafa Khayat

The Islamic State group’s attempt to erase any culture but its own continues apace. The jihadists have damaged the façade of the ancient monastery of St. George, or Mar Gorgis, in Mosul.

But the church has not been destroyed, contrary to rumors in the media that spoke of its total demolition, said the Fides News Agency. A photo published exclusively on website shows the church with a destroyed facade.

"IS destroyed the front wall of St. George monastery to remove the big built in cross," Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, a member of the Assyrian Church of the East who runs a humanitarian aid effort out of Dohuk in northern Iraq, told Aleteia.

The crosses that stood on the dome and roof of the monastery had been removed by jihadists in December, similarl to what happened to the other churches in the territories controlled by the Islamic State. Local sources and the photo published by the Iraqi website confirms that the cemetery adjacent to the church, where the bodies of many Iraqi Christian soldiers killed during the Iraq-Iran war are buried, was destroyed.

In recent times, according to news confirmed by various sources, the monastery of St. George had been used by jihadists as a place of detention. In December, there were at least 150 prisoners who were transferred blindfolded and handcuffed, including some chief tribal Sunni opponents of the Islamic State and former members of the security apparatus, previously held in the prison in Badush. Previously, local sources had reported to Fides that groups of women were brought to the same monastery.

Erica Hunter, senior lecturer in Eastern Christianity at the University of London, explained in an email to Aleteia that Mar Gorgis was one of the oldest churches in Mosul.

"Daesh (I do not use the term ISIS/ISIL since it conveys some concept of a quasi-state) have destroyed mosques, tombs and other medieval sites, as well as the recent destruction of Nimrud, so regrettably I see the medieval churches of Mosul as being ‘on their list’ of cultural destruction, which of course undermines the morale of the local inhabitants," she said. 

Nineveh Yakou, Assyrian Archaeologist and Director of Cultural Heritage and Indigenous Affairs at A Demand for Action, told IBTimes UK that the monastery was founded by the Assyrian Church of the East in the 10th century but rebuilt as a seminary by the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1846.

"The current monastery was built on an archeological site containing ancient Assyrian ruins. It was an important show of continuity from the Assyrian to our culture," Yakou said.

"Isis is wiping out the cultural heritage of Iraq. The monastery was classified as cultural heritage. It’s a cultural and ethnic cleansing."

Between killing Christian hostages and defending Tikrit from the Iraqi army’s attempt to retake it, ISIS has been busy. But the terrorist organization still finds time to cleanse the territory it controls of cultural and religious heritage sites. Last week its militants reportedly bulldozed the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra and the Nimrud archaeological site near Mosul. Two weeks ago, the jihadist group published a video showing militants destroying artefacts in a Mosul museum and at the Nergal Gate to ancient Nineveh, taking a sledgehammer to artifacts. UNESCO director general Irina Bokova has described the actions as a “war crime.”

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition. Fides contributed to this report.