—they had nothing to do with this fight or battles or political positions. They are normal people living normal lives, so we hope that prominent Arab tribal leaders can be a channel for us, to help.
But these issues are very sensitive. We should be very careful in handling them, or coming out with public statements.
Are you hearing reports from people living under ISIS control? What are they saying?
In all ISIS controlled areas in Iraq and Syria, you can’t say there are Christian communities living under ISIS. They all escaped. The only ones left are the people who failed to flee. The advance of IS was so fast, or some individuals lacked the means to flee. So there are no Christians living in IS regions willingly.
So the sources of information are very limited. But speaking for the captives, the only source we have are the tribal leaders who are confirming that they are not harmed, so far, and what we have witnessed from the 23 who were released, they all gave the testimony that they were not harmed, they were not tortured.
But speaking again to the question of Christians under IS, you see what happened in Mosul: they were given the ultimatum either to convert to Islam or to flee or to pay the jizya. So what kind of life, even if you manage to stay?
Is the jizya a very heavy tax?
They are using the so-called Sharia, and according to Sharia there are categories for wealthy people, for young people, for children. But the idea is not how much you owe, it’s the principle: why do I have to pay? And are you going to survive and live as a Christian even if you pay? You see the crosses are being removed from all the churches, in Mosul, for example. In many cases the cross has been built into the facade of the building. Now in the case of the St. George monastery, which was founded more than 1000 years ago, the cross has been removed from the dome of the church and two days ago they bombed the front wall because there was a built-in cross.
So even if you pay the jizya,… If moderate Muslims are not willing and not happy to live under IS, how can a Christian live?
One of the freed hostages, in an interview with the Assyrian International News Agency, said that he and the others feel that they can not go back to their homes now, that they will go to Lebanon. How widespread is this feeling among Christians in the region?
There is an extra factor pushing our people to flee. Migration is something normal for all countries, all communities. But what’s harming us—not only Assyrian Christians but all Christians under Islam in these countries—is that the diaspora is becoming bigger and stronger than in the homeland. The church parishes are more than what is left in the homeland—the academic-elite people, the financial capacity of our people. But we should keep in mind that a diaspora is a diaspora when there is a homeland. Otherwise, it’s meaningless.
Migration is an outcome of two groups of factors: one, pushing factors—security, unclear future, unemployment, poverty, etc., and the other group of factors are attracting factors—a better economic situation, living in dignity, living in organized countries, etc.
So in our case, we have a lot of attracting factors because of 100 years of diaspora, every family has more than half of their family in the diaspora, so they are attracting. And we have pushing factors with what’s going on in Iraq and Syria. So the outcome is that the tendency of our people is to migrate, and now what happened in Khabur, especially with the captives, it is very understandable.
But I myself strongly believe that the diaspora cannot be a homeland. The diaspora can be an individual solution for individual cases. You may offer the solution for several families, but what about 300,000-plus Christians in Iraq? What about a million Christians in Syria? Should they all leave? It is our commitment