Also speaking at the gathering of Eastern patriarchs in Erbil was Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II Karim of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who said that Mosul and the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain must be liberated with the aid of foreign powers and that Assyrians should be assisted in returning to their homes. He also called for an international protection force for the Assyrians and an autonomous region, the Nineveh Plain, to be administered by Assyrians and protected by an Assyrian force.
It’s not only Christians defending Christians, it turns out. Moderate Muslims have also been helping Christians, at the risk of reprisals by the Islamic State.
“In northern Iraq there is also a great inter-religious solidarity”, Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah toldMISNA, the Missionary International Service News Agency.
“In Sulaymaniyah, up to 50 people live in the same home, because many families, both Muslim and Christian, opened their doors to those fleeing from the violence”, the Archbishop explained. The majority of the displaced reached Kurdistan, Erbil or the districts on the border with Syria and Turkey. But 250 families also arrived in Kirkuk and 500 in Sulaymaniyah, near the border with Iran.
The majority are Christians, but there are also members of ethnic and religious minorities, such as the Turkoman, who for centuries have inhabited hundreds of cities and villages of Iraq, and the Shabak, considered “brothers” of the Yazidi, a marginalized ethnoreligious group whose beliefs contain elements from Islam and Christianity, or even the Shiites, a majority in southern Iraq, but increasingly threatened by the advance of the Islamic State.
“In Kirkuk, we are assisting around 500 Shiites, sheltering them in our churches and providing everything necessary”, said Archbishop Mirkis.
The help is reciprocal. Said Archbishop Mirkis: “Some Muslim families buy food, assist and hide Christians at the risk of their lives.”
John Burger is news editor of Aleteia’s English edition.