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Rudaw

Iraq

No End to Christian Suffering as Iraq Staggers in Turmoil

By Rudaw 21/7/2014
Amid threats by the Islamic State in Mosul, many Christians have fled to the shelter of the Kurdistan Region. Photo: Rudaw
Amid threats by the Islamic State in Mosul, many Christians have fled to the shelter of the Kurdistan Region. Photo: Rudaw

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – For around 100 Christian refugees forced into making an Assyrian church in Tel Kaif their home, there was no question of staying behind in Mosul after an ultimatum by the city’s new Islamic State (IS) rulers.

"They stormed into our home in the middle of the night and ordered us to leave with only our clothes,” said one homeless Christian at the Mashriq Assyrian Church in Tel Kaif, where many from the faith have fled since the fall of Mosul last month.

“They said, ‘if you convert to Islam you can stay in your home, otherwise get out of here,’” recounted an elderly Christian man, one of the 105 people being cared for by church priests who said they are expecting more refugees to arrive.

They took everything: the television, computer, money, gold. I had a chicken I wanted to take for food, but even that they did not let me take,” the elder told Rudaw in a weak, trembling voice.

All of the Christians -- who include Chaldeans and Assyrians or Kurds and Arabs – told similar tales of first being ordered to either convert to Islam or pay a special tax, and then being warned to convert or die.

"No one was allowed to bring money or gold,” said a refugee. “They took it all.”

On Saturday, there were reports of the IS torching centuries-old Churches. There were unconfirmed reports the extremists had been marking Christian homes in Mosul with red paint, adding greater terror among the Christians and swelling their fleeing numbers.

Thousands of Christian families have fled to the Kurdistan Region, adding to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have found sanctuary in the autonomous enclave, the only portion of Iraq where peace still prevails.

According to information obtained from sources by Rudaw, only 200 of Mosul’s 5,000 Christians still remain in the city.

“There is a systematic campaign to expel an entire people of this country from their ancestral land,” raged Salim Toma, a Christian and former MP in the Kurdistan Region

He said that providing food and water alone cannot resolve the problem, and that a diplomatic and political solution was urgently needed.

“First the massacre of the Christians must be stopped, and then like other people we should have a place to live, said Toma, complaining that Iraq’s dithering government and the international community were not taking the issue seriously.

Unfortunately, there has not been a serious position (toward the Christians). Only the Kurdistan Regional Government has opened the door and embraced them,” Toma said, explaining that the KRG had provided food, water and electricity for Mosul to alleviate suffering.

Amid political indecision in Baghdad, Toma complained there was no government in Iraq, and that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had not bothered to seriously address what was happening to the Christians.

By contrast, he said, Kurdish officials had tried to help in every way, and had tried to raise international concern. “Checkpoints are open for them; schools have become shelters for the Christians; many local NGOs are assisting, too, Toma said.

Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has appealed to his people and the world to help. "After the terrorists armed groups seized control of Mosul, the Christians in the city face mass murder,” Barzani said in a statement.

There have been reports of looting and theft: IS militants raided a church in eastern Mosul and looted what was inside; they stormed several poultry farms owned by Christians, kidnapping seven people.

The former MP said that Christian communities are contacting the UN, the United States and international NGOs for assistance, because refugee numbers exceed the KRG’s capacity to deal with them.

Omid Sabah, spokesperson of the Kurdish presidency, said that “acts have caused a number of deaths among Christians,” and that many had fled to the Kurdistan Region for shelter.

Meanwhile, the KRG’s religious affairs minister, Kamal Muslim, visited refugees in Tel Kaif: “KRG is prepared to do whatever it can, and the Kurdistan Region is a shelter for affected people from anywhere,” he told the homeless Christians.

Christians in Iraq have been leaving their ancestral lands since the upheaval unleashed by the 2003 US-led invasion. They have been especially targeted by the sectarian violence that has buffeted Iraq since then.

According to unofficial figures nearly two million Christians lived in Iraq before the invasion. Now, the number has dwindled to an estimated 600,000.

Over the past decade, 61 attacks have been launched against Churches across Iraq’s Arab-populated lands, and thousands of Christians have been killed or vanished.

Toma said that the majority of Christian refugees would choose to live in Kurdistan and the Nineveh plains that have been their ancestral home, should Kurdistan declare independence.

"Most of them are with us,” he said.

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Gerdi | 21/7/2014
Wast of effort, we are saving them and helping them while their assyrian brothers in West are busy spreading propaganda about Kurds, this is 2003 all over again, they were were massacred and ethnically cleansed in Arab controlled Iraq yet assyrians would whine and complain about Kurds. They are an extremely stupid people, the only place left for them is Kurdistan yet they are doing what ever they can to destroy that buy spreading lies and hatred against Kurds, more and more Kurds are waking up and realizing who they are, if they keep it up they will literally be history in the Middle East.
Tawana | 21/7/2014
Unfortunately, Islam throughout the history have systematically targeted non-Muslim ethnics by imposing this poll tax or "jezia" as a mean to force them to convert to Islam, not to mention the religious wars or "fotwohat" which are ethnic cleansing and atrocities to say the least. But as Kurds, I hope that we could welcome Christians and any other non-arab ethnics with an open heart into Kurdistan to show the world that we're different to those savages. After all, Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Jews, Shabaks, Aizdies and pretty much every non-arab ethnicity share similar stories of never ending sufferings on the hands of Arabs, hence it only makes sense for us to unite against this persecution.
David | 21/7/2014
As a Kurd, our thoughts and prayers go out for our Christian brothers and sisters. I hope Kurdistan will be a home for you.
Sweden | 21/7/2014
Tawana, Shabaks and Yezidies are not an ethnician cause they are kurds. So you all (media, people etc) stopp divide kurds. STOPP. The assyrians have no place in Kurdistan. Open the gate to Turkey so they can make their way up to Europe and Södertälje in Sweden. Here in Europe they are doing what ever they can to spread lies and hatred against Kurds. Shame on them. They even call Southern Kurdistan for iraqi Assyria, LOL.
AssyrianKing | 21/7/2014
Hey gerdi learn how to spell you dumb Kurd. You Kurds are gypsies and have no business in Assyria. What help? You guys are pretending to help just so you can take our land.. If not for the USA saddam would of killed you all. Everything you have was handed to you. But it won't last. You Kurds are too greedy and will be destroyed. Go back to Afghanistan. Assyria shall rise!
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