Iraq: Christians endure severe persecution

August 13, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

ISISIraq, July 23, 2014: “What is happening today in Mosul brings horror, fear and bad memories to the Christians of Iraq and leads us to question; is this happening in 21st century and in front of the civilized world where innocent Christian civilians are forced to convert, be treated as Dhimmi*, or slaughtered?”- Senior Iraqi church leader

The last remaining Christians of Mosul have been running for their lives after the Islamist militants who control the Iraqi city threatened to kill them if they did not convert to Islam or pay the jizya tax. Barnabas has sent an emergency grant to provide aid for those driven from their homes and left destitute.The ultimatum was issued by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) last week, giving Christians until noon on Saturday (19 July)  either to comply or leave Mosul without taking any of their possessions with them.

Those fleeing were robbed at checkpoints set up by ISIS; the militants stole the Christians’ cars, money, food, jewellery, mobile phones and anything else they were carrying, even medicines. Over 85 families reported having all their possessions taken; hundreds of Christians had to walk over 40 miles (70kms) to reach safety after ISIS stole their cars, arriving at Tel Afar exhausted and dehydrated.

One Christian man, Salwan Noel Miskouni (35), said the militants demanded money and gold, threatening to abduct his four-year-old son if the family did not hand over what they had. He said:

If [ISIS] leaves we will probably go back but if they stay it’s impossible – because they will slaughter us.

Many of Mosul’s Christians had already fled, after the city fell to ISIS (who now wish to be called the Islamic State) on 10 June. Barnabas sent aid for them and on Friday (18 July) sent a second grant to help those escaping after the terrifying decree was published. The Christians have mostly gone to the Kurdish north and many are staying in churches and schools.

A few days before issuing the ultimatum, ISIS started marking properties belonging to Christians in Mosul with the Arabic letter N that stands for “Nisrani” (Nazarene i.e. Christian) along with the statement, “Property of the Islamic State of Iraq”. Several Christian-owned poultry farms were raided and seven people kidnapped.

The threat to Christians has been intensifying as ISIS has expanded its territory in Iraq. Church property has been seized and Christian symbols destroyed. On Saturday (19 July), a photo was released showing a 1,800-year-old Mosul church ablaze. A video had previously been posted on YouTube showing a tomb being smashed up with a sledgehammer; according to government officials, it was “almost certainly” that of the Old Testament prophet Jonah.

On 29 June, ISIS kidnapped two nuns and three Christian orphans in Mosul; they were released on 14 July. Other religious and ethnic minorities are also being targeted by the Sunni militants; over 200 Turkmen, Shabaks and Yazidis have been kidnapped and at least 11 of them killed.

The UN and US have condemned what they both described as the “systematic persecution” of Christians and other minorities in Iraq by ISIS.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:

The last few days have been among the very worst in the long history of Iraq’s Christians. The impossible ultimatum from the merciless Islamists has forced those who had tried to stay in Mosul after it was taken over last month to flee. And as if that was not bad enough, the militants took everything from them, leaving them destitute. They are in great need of our support and prayers at this distressing time.

*“Dhimma” is the status given to Christians and Jews in an Islamic state. It affords them a degree of protection and allows them to keep their own faith, provided they adhere to various demeaning regulations intended to mark them out as inferior to Muslims, and pay the jizya, a humiliating tax or tribute that the Quran commands is paid “with willing submission and while feeling themselves subdued”

– barnabas team

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