Will world leaders speak out in face of ethnic cleansing of Christians?
As the deadline approached today for Christians in Mosul to convert, agree to live as “dhimmi” or become martyrs, reports indicate that an “ethnic cleansing” of the city has been accomplished by the Islamic State.
"Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Irbil," in the neighboring autonomous region of Kurdistan," Patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I Sako told the Agence France-Presse news agency. "For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”
In an interview with Vatican Radio today, the patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church, Ignace Joseph III Younan, confirmed that the seat of the Syrian Catholic Archeparchy of Mosul was completely burned down by the Islamic State overnight.
The patriarch, who met this morning in the Vatican with Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States, said that everything was lost, including a library and manuscripts.
Archbishop Younan said there were only a dozen families left in Mosul yesterday, but all of them have fled. As they left the city, guards “stole everything, they insulted them, left them so, in the desert.”
He said that Christians from Mosul have found refuge in Kurdistan, “where they were welcomed, but the Prime Minister of Kurdistan said that Kurdistan can no longer receive refugees because other minorities, such as Yazidi, are also pouring in.”
“We Christians are not imported, we are here for thousands of years and, therefore, we have the right to be treated like human beings and citizens of these countries,” Archbishop Younan said.
Yesterday, Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Sirop of Baghdad confirmed that the Islamic State—the Sunni fundamentalists who have taken over large areas of northern Iraq in their attempt to establish an Islamic caliphate—has given Christians in Mosul a harsh choice: convert to Islam, agree to live under restrictive dhimmitude, a special arrangement in which non-Muslims pay a special tax, or be killed.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States “condemns in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of ethnic and religious minorities by the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)."
"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," Psaki said in a statement. "We have also seen photos of reportedly Christian houses in Mosul marked with pejorative terms for Christians, as well as reports that Shia and Shabak houses have been similarly marked. ISIL also continues to target Sunni clerics and tribal sheikhs who disagree with its dark vision for Iraq.”
The statement said the threat the Islamic State represents needs to be met by Iraqis. “This growing threat exemplifies the need for Iraqis from all communities to work together to confront this common enemy and to take all possible steps to isolate these militant groups from the broader population,” it said.”We encourage government officials in Baghdad and Erbil to take every possible effort to assist Iraq’s vulnerable populations and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions in a manner consistent with the rule of law.”
As the Christian community in Mosul learned of the Islamic State’s new decree, Patriarch Sako issued an appeal for reconciliation, saying, “With all due respect to belief and dogmas, there has been a fraternal life between Christians and Muslims. How much the Christians have shared here in our East specifically from the beginnings of Islam. They shared every sweet and bitter circumstance of life; Christian and Muslim blood has been mixed as it was shed in the defense of their rights and lands. Together they built a civilization, cities, and a heritage. It is truly unjust now to treat Christians by rejecting them and throwing them away, considering them as nothing.”
The patriarch’s July 17 statement said that the Quran urges believers to “respect the innocent and has never called them to seize the belongings, the possessions, the properties of others by force.” The Muslim holy book, he noted, commands “refuge for the widow, the orphaned, the poor, and the weaponless.”
Patriarch Sako and others have noted that the Islamic State has been marking the homes of Christians in Mosul with the Arabic letter N for "Nassarah," a term used for Christians in the Quran.
According to the Assyrian International News Agency, the Islamic State also removed the cross on top of the dome of St. Ephrem Cathedral in the Shoorta neighborhood in Mosul, a week after the church was seized by the Islamic State on July 1. St. Ephrem Cathedral is the seat of Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese in Mosul.
The organization Human Rights Watch said today that the Islamic State is “killing, kidnapping, and threatening religious and ethnic minorities in and around” Mosul. “Since capturing Mosul on June 10, 2014, the armed Sunni extremist group has seized at least 200 Turkmen, Shabaks, and Yazidis, killed at least 11 of them, and ordered all Christians to convert to Islam, pay ‘tribute’ money, or leave Mosul by July 19.”
The group seized the buildings of the Chaldean Catholic archdiocese and the Assyrian Orthodox diocese in Mosul on June 29, several residents, government officials, and religious leaders told Human Rights Watch. They said that the Islamic State took down or destroyed six religious and cultural monuments in the city, including a statue of the Virgin Mary and an Islamic grave site.
Human Rights Watch said it spoke with about 40 regional government and religious officials, residents, witnesses, survivors of ISIS targeting, local human rights activists, and journalists during a two-week trip to northeast Iraq in June and July. Many of the interviews took place in Yazidi and Christian communities or areas where displaced Shia Turkmen and Shabaks were receiving shelter. Others spoke with Human Rights Watch by telephone.
An excerpt of the report is reprinted below.
According to the BBC, the Islamic State issued an ultimatum similar to the one that took effect today in Mosul, in the Syrian city of Raqqa in February, calling on Christians to pay about half an ounce of pure gold in exchange for their safety.
A spokesman for the Chicago-based Assyrian Church of the East, David Arkis, told Aleteia that he had also heard “very similar threats in the past 10 years from Muslim extremist in Iraq against Christians.
“Our people back home don’t have many choices, they are really powerless and unable to defend themselves especially in big cities,” Arkis said. “The country is in chaos, and the government is not strong enough and equal toward everyone to be able to defend them. International protection to minorities is minimum to non-existant, to say the least. Almighty God is the only hope out of this misery to our Assyrian Christian people in Iraq and the Middle East.”
John Burgeris news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.
Christians Threatened, Kidnapped; Properties Marked, Seized
From Human Rights Watch, July 19, 2004
Starting July 14, two local Christian authorities told Human Rights Watch that ISIS had painted a number of homes in Mosul with the letter “N” for Nasrani (Arabic for Christian), as well as the phrase, “Properties of the Islamic State.” In some cases ISIS took over the homes, they said. Christian websites posted photos of two of the properties. ISIS painted some homes of Shia Turkmen and Shabak during the same period with the letter “R” for Rafidah, they said. At the same time, ISIS members began telling local Christian merchants they would have to convert or pay a “jihad tax” to remain in Mosul.
ISIS also ordered Christians to attend a meeting with them on July 16 in Mosul to discuss the “status” of Christians, but Christians refused, an Assyrian party leader from the city told Human Rights Watch.
The following day, ISIS circulated a decree in Mosul that noted the failure of Christians to attend the meeting. The decree formalized three options for Christians in the “Caliphate of Nineveh” (ISIS’s name for Mosul): convert to Islam; pay a “jizia,” a special tax paid by non-Muslims to an Islamic state; or leave by noon on July 19. If Christians fail to comply, “then there is nothing to give them but the sword,” said the decree, which was shared with Human Rights Watch by local Christians and
posted on Christian websites.
The decree bore ISIS’s black logo and said the expulsion date was set by “Caliph Ibrahim” – a reference to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed leader of ISIS.
On July 17 and 18, some Christians fleeing Mosul reported that ISIS stole their gold, jewelry, or other valuables at checkpoints, two local Christian authorities told Human Rights Watch.
Long before taking Mosul, ISIS and other Sunni extremist groups were taxing many government and private businesses, including those of Sunnis as well as Shias, Yazidis, and Christians. However local priests and government officials said the new taxation appeared to specifically target Christians.
Human Rights Watch spoke with one Christian merchant who said two men who identified themselves as “Islamic State” came to his cellphone shop on July 14 and told him he would have to pay US$200 to $250 a month to keep open his store, “because you are not a believer.” The merchant said he initially tried to argue with the two men, although one was armed:
I told them, “I already have permission to run this shop.” They said, “Your permission expired—that was Maliki’s permission.” One of them took my hand and said, “Take my advice, pay the tax or do not open your shop after today.” I told them, “Okay, let me check with my father on that.” Later that day I took all of my mobile phones and accessories out of the store and I left town.
On June 29, ISIS kidnapped two nuns, ages about 40 and 60, three Christian orphans, including a 12-year-old boy, and two 20-year-old women, three Christian religious authorities and two acquaintances of the nuns told Human Rights Watch. ISIS released the nuns and orphans on July 14.
A priest from the region, who was briefed by local Catholic authorities on the case, told Human Rights Watch that ISIS seized the nuns and orphans as they were buying gasoline in Mosul. He said the nuns and orphans were about to drive to Talkaif, a town eight kilometers northeast of the city that has sheltered Christians and other minorities since the ISIS takeover.
The priest said the elder nun, who ran the Maskanta Chaldean Church orphanage in Mosul, was on the phone when ISIS fighters kidnapped her from s al-Sa`a neighborhood:
On June 29, the day the nuns and orphans were kidnapped, ISIS seized the Mosul properties of the Iraqi Chaldean Catholic archdiocese, the priest and Emil Shimoun Nona, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, told Human Rights Watch. The same day, ISIS also occupied Mosul’s Church of St. Ephrem, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox archbishopric, Christian religious officials said. Archbishop Nona said that the gunmen arrived at the Chaldean archdiocese compound in the morning:
ISIS also removed a statue of the Virgin Mary from the grounds of al-Tahira church near Imam Mohsen mosque, one of the mosques that ISIS has been using for Muslim “repentance” ceremonies, one religious and one civil society source told Human Rights Watch. The statue is one of five symbols of Mosul’s cultural and religious heritage that ISIS has desecrated, according to residents, regional government and religious officials, and photos posted on social media.