The world has watched with increasing dismay and horror as the remaining Iraqi Christian minorities have been forced out of their homes, most recently in Mosul and the surrounding area, in the latest wave of persecution and destruction rained down by the Islamic State formerly known as “ISIS”. Houses have been looted and robbed. Graves and shrines have been demolished. Crosses smashed and removed from churches.
Elie Essa Kas Hanna, DHI analyst on Human Dignity and Religious Freedom, said: “Iraqi Christians are the original residents of Mesopotamia – descendants of the ancient Babylonians, Chaldeans, Assyrians and a large number of Arabs tribes: Mudar, Rabia and Tay etc. Christianity has been present in Iraq since the First Century AD, when most of the population of Mesopotamia converted to Christianity, though leaving others to continue in their traditional beliefs in Judaism, Manichaeism and Parsee. Today, 2,000 years later, the descendants of these original Christians are being driven out as though guests in a home whose welcome they have overstayed – ironically by a religion that didn’t even appear on the scene for another five centuries.
DHI Chairman Luca Volontè added: “The whole situation is clearly out of all control. There is tension between the government and the opposition forces, as well as the tension that still exists between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. It is in this space of uncertainty and mistrust that the Islamic State has moved deftly to occupy a large part of Iraqi territory that is now almost two-thirds the size of the Great Britain.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool, who launched the DHI-affiliated Cross-Party Working Group on Human Dignity in the Palace of Westminster, and one of the British Parliament’s most respected authorities on religious persecution around the world, said: “In 2003, the Christian presence in Iraq was 1.5 million. After the end of the Second Gulf War, the Christian presence was reduced to 400,000 people – and most of these lived in the north. Now a staggering 90% of those Christians who remained have now fled from Mosul to surrounding areas, especially onto the plains of the Biblical city of Nineveh, on the border of the Kurdistan region.”
Lord Alton illustrated the current situation with a recent example: “The DHI notes with alarm the destruction of the Biblical Tomb of Jonah – which dates from the 8th Century BC – smashed by sledgehammer blows which have echoed around the world. We can only hope that last week’s rumour of the similar destruction of the tomb of the Prophet Daniel turns out to be false.”
Indicating the difficulty regarding the authentication of reports that are emerging from the Islamic State, Lord Alton added: “Also unverified, the UN and the BBC have reported that ISIS forces in Mosul have ordered all girls and women to undergo female genital mutilation. This is an outrage. More than 130 million girls and women have already been subjected to this barbaric practice worldwide – and it has to stop. In the Islamic State today we see a historically recurring meme sadly replaying itself: an orgy of destruction of culture and heritage sooner or later leads to attacks on human beings, their freedom and dignity.”
Volontè concluded: “The DHI believes that Iraqi Christians are a vital part of Iraqi society, and that they have an irreplaceable role to play in rebuilding together – with other citizens of goodwill – a future for their country. The DHI appeals to the international community to do everything possible to come to the aid of the few Christians left in Iraq. We add our prayers to those of His Holiness Pope Francis, who follows the suffering of Christians in Iraq with great closeness.”
population before 2003 32.200.000
population after 2013 29.000.000
Christians before 2003 1,500,000
Christians after 2003 400,000
Christians after Isis 2014 100,000 – 200,000
Source: Central Statistical Organisation, Ministry of Planning, Republic of Iraq