Time runs out for Christian Iraq: Isis deadline passes with mass flight
Sunday July 20, 2014
(Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/ on September 11, 2014)
The last Christians in northern Iraq are fleeing from places where their communities have lived for almost 2,000 years, as a deadline passed for them to either convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) issued a decree last week offering Christians the three options accompanied by the ominous threat that, if they did not comply by midday on 19 July, “then there is nothing to give them but the sword”.
It is the greatest mass flight of Christians in the Middle East since the Armenian massacres and the expulsion of Christians from Turkey during and after the First World War. Isis, which now rules an area larger than Great Britain, has already eliminated many of the ancient Christian communities of eastern Syria, where those who had not escaped were given a similar choice between conversion, payment of a special tax or death.
Christians leaving Mosul – which was captured by Isis on 10 June – in order to seek refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan are being stripped of all their possessions.
A Christian man said: “The Islamic State [Isis] stopped my relatives at a checkpoint when they were fleeing and when they found out they were Christians, they took everything they were carrying, including their mobile phones. They left them only with the clothes they were wearing.”
Mosul is one of the most ancient centres of Christianity and on the east bank of the Tigris river that flows through the city is a mosque housing the tomb of the Biblical figure of Jonah. This is now in danger of being destroyed by Isis, whose puritan and iconoclastic version of Islam is opposed to the worship of tombs, shrines, statues and pictures.
Tens of thousands of Shabak and Shia Turkmen, demonised as polytheists and apostates by Isis, have fled their homes following raids by Isis gunmen.
The persecution of Christians, of whom there were over one million in Iraq before the US and British invasion of 2003, was slower to develop.
But a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that from 14 July a number of homes in Mosul were painted with the letter “N” for Nasrani (the Arabic word for Christian). Others were painted with the letter “R” for Rafidah, a word commonly used by Sunni to describe Shia.
Mosul previously had a great diversity of Muslim and Christian communities, all of which are vulnerable. The Christians are mostly Assyrians, known as the Church of the East, or Chaldeans, an Eastern rite of the Catholic Church.
The Yazidis are linked to the Kurds and have a 4,000-year-old religion that centres on the Peacock Angel.
The Shabak, also ethnically connected to the Kurds, are mostly Shia, though some are Sunni, while the Turkmen are majority Sunni with a Shia minority.
Christians were ordered by Isis to attend a meeting with them on 16 July, but they refused to go and a decree was issued the following day offering the three options of conversion, payment of jizia or special tax by non-Muslims or expulsion on pain of death.
The decree had the black logo of Isis and was issued by “Caliph Ibrahim”, who is otherwise known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader. But even before the decree was issued, the report says that money was demanded from Christians: one merchant with a mobile-phone shop was asked to pay between $200 (£117) and $250 a month.
Two Christian nuns and three orphans were kidnapped for 15 days when they stopped at a petrol station. Christian churches in Mosul have been progressively occupied and despoiled.
Chaldean Archbishop Nona told HRW that four cars had come to his archdiocese compound: “Each car carried three gunmen, most of them with masks. They broke open the doors and took some small statues from inside the property and broke them outside. They took control of the premises and placed their black banners on the roof and entrance.
“They told neighbours, ‘this is our property, don’t touch it’.”
Isis’s treatment of the Shia, or any Muslims they do not believe are orthodox Sunni, has been even more brutal than that of the Christians. A statue of the Virgin Mary was destroyed, but so were 13 Shia mosques and shrines. Some 28 Yazidi border guards were held captive for ransom for 25 days, repeatedly beaten with guns and sticks and denounced as “infidels”.
HRW says that “between 13 June and 10 July, Isis rounded up at least 83 Shia Shabak men from villages on the eastern outskirts of Mosul. Seven of the men were later found dead and the rest remain missing”.
Isis raiding parties have been plundering Shia villages, seizing men whose names are on lists, as well as driving off sheep and cattle and telling people to leave.
One man said that Isis told people in one village that the Shia “‘shouldn’t be living here, leave by Friday’. Before they left they tried to make people chant ‘Islamic State! Islamic State’.”
Isis may not be liked by the Sunni population, though there is not much they can do about it for the moment. But there is also deep fear about what government forces would do if they recaptured Mosul.
One woman says that Mosul University has been bombed, adding that she dreads the time when the army of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “will reach us in Mosul, killing its people or turning them into refugees”.
The Sunni majority has not been targeted by Isis, whose members, a source living in the city said, are mostly non-Iraqis. He added that people “sense that the locals (Baathists, ex-army and tribes) are biding their time.
“There is no sympathy for Isis. The shops have been told to get rid of ‘unsuitable merchandise’ (eg women’s wear, sportswear, etc) and they are complying’.”
The draconian measures are coming from foreign fighters from Libya, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. Their language is barely intelligible, so here is no attempt to communicate. Money is very tight, so it seems it is going into buying arms.
ISIS in Mosul Marks Christian Homes, Patriarch Issues Urgent Appeal
Posted 2014-07-19 15:52 GMT
(AINA) -- ISIS has begun marking Christian homes with the Arabic letter "n" which stands for the word "Nasrani" which means Christian in Arabic. The word comes from the name "Nestorian," historically attributed to the the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, though it is incorrect. In addition, properties marked by ISIS have also been marked as "property of the Islamic State."
ISIS has also marked Shiite homes with the letter "r", signifying "rwafidh" (rejecters).
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako issued an urgent appeal in a letter on Thursday. The following is the full text of the letter.
Mosul Christians: Whither?
To all who have a living conscience in Iraq and all the world
To the voice of moderate brother Muslims who have a voice in Iraq and all the world
To all who have a concern that Iraq could remain a country for all His Children
To all leaders of thought and opinion
To all who announce the freedom of the human being
To all protectors of the dignity of human beings and of religion
PEACE AND MERCY FROM GOD!
The control exercised by the Islamist Jehadists upon the city of Mosul, and their proclamation of it as an Islamic State, after several days of calm and expectant watching of events, has now come to reflect negatively upon the Christian population of the city and its environs.
The initial sign was in the kidnapping of the two nuns and 3 orphans who were released after 17 days. At the time, we experienced it as a flash of hope and as a clearing of the sky after the appearance of storm clouds.
Suddenly we have been surprised by the more recent outcomes which are the proclamation of an Islamic state and the announcement calling all Christians and clearly asking them to convert to Islam or to pay the jizya (the tax all non- Muslims must pay while living in the land of Islam) -- without specifying the exact amount. The only alternative is to abandon the city and their houses with only the clothes they are wearing, taking nothing else. Moreover, by Islamic law, upon their departure, their houses are no longer their properties but are instantly confiscated as property of the Islamic state.
In recent days, there has been written the letter 'N' in Arabic on the front wall of Christian homes, signifying 'Nazara' (Christian), and on the front wall of Shiite homes, the letter 'R' signifying 'Rwafidh' (Protestants or rejecters). We do not know what will happen in future days because in an Islamic state the Al -- sharia or Islamic code of law is powerful and has been interpreted to require the issuance of new I.Ds for the population based on religious or sectarian affiliation.
This categorization based upon religion or sect afflicts the Muslims as well and contravenes the regulation of Islamic thought which is expressed in the Quran which says, "You have your religion and I have my religion" and yet another place in Quran states, "There is no compulsion in religion". This is exactly the contradiction in the life and history of the Islamic world for more than 1400 years and in the co -- existence with other different religions and nations in the East and in the West.
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.
It is clear that the result of all this discrimination legally enforced will be the very dangerous elimination of the possibility of co -- existence between majorities and minorities. It will be very harmful to Muslims themselves both in the near and the distant future.
Should this direction continue to be pursued, Iraq will come face to face with human, civil, and historic catastrophe.
We call with all the force available to us; we call to you fraternally, in a spirit of human brotherhood; we call to you urgently; we call to you impelled by risk and in spite of the risk. We implore in particular our Iraqi brothers asking them to reconsider and reflect upon the strategy they have adopted and demanding that they must respect innocent and weaponless people of all nationalities, religions, and sects.
The Holy Quran has ordered believers to respect the innocent and has never called them to seize the belongings, the possessions, the properties of others by force. The Quran commands refuge for the widow, the orphaned, the poor, and the weaponless and respect "to the seventh neighbor."
We call Christians in the region to act with reason and prudence and to consider and to plan everything in the best way possible. Let them understand what is planned for this region, to practice solidarity in love, to examine the realities together and so be able together to find the paths to build trust in themselves and in their neighbors. Let them stay close to their own Church and surround it; endure the time of trial and pray until the storm will be over.
Louis Raphael Sako
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad
July 17, 2014