FOR the first time in nearly two millennia, the northern Iraqi
city of Mosul is without Christians, after a warning from Islamic
State militants that they faced death if they did not convert to
Islam or agree to pay a protection tax (jizya in
A statement to this effect was read out from mosques after noon
prayer on Friday, and Christians were given until midday on
Saturday to decide on what to do. "We offer them three choices:
Islam; the dhimma contract (for non-Muslims) involving
payment of jizya; if they refuse this, they will have
nothing but the sword," the Islamic State said.
All decided to leave. "Christian families are on their way to
Dohuk and Irbil," in the neighbouring autonomous region of
Kurdistan, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of
Baghdad, the Most Revd Louis Raphael Sako, told the AFP news agency
They crammed what possessions they could into cars and other
vehicles, and fled for their lives. Islamists have also seized
control of the fourth-century Syrian Catholic Mar Behnam monastery,
close to Mosul, expelling the monks and not allowing them to take
possessions with them.
Over preceding days, Islamist fighters had marked Christian
houses in Mosul with the Arab letter N, standing for
Nasrani (an Arabic word for Christian). Many social-media
users have since been using the Arabic letter N as a profile
picture in solidarity with the Christians of Iraq.
The Syrian Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the
Syrians, His Beatitude Ignace Joseph III Younan, told Vatican Radio
that the Islamists in Mosul had burned to the ground the Syriac
Bishop's office, residence, and library, destroying everything
inside. "It's terrible," he said. "This is a disgrace for the whole
international community." He said that the Christians in Iraq,
Syria, and Lebanon "weren't imported; we've been here for millennia
and, therefore, we have the right to be treated as human beings and
citizens of these countries".
A report in The New York Times said that the Islamists
removed the cross from St Ephrem's Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in
Mosul, and raised a black flag in its place. It said that they also
destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary in the city.
Mosul's Christian community totalled about 60,000 before the
US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many Christians subsequently fled
to Mosul from other parts of Iraq, believing it to be safe. But, by
June this year, the number had dropped to 35,000, and fell sharply
when the Islamic State took control. Some Christians had hoped that
they could carry on living in the city, keeping a low profile. But
last week's ultimatum made them think again.
The Islamic State's threat to Christians has been widely
denounced. "Our brothers and sisters are persecuted; they are
chased away," Pope Francis told pilgrims at the Vatican on Sunday.
He assured Christians in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole of his
constant prayers. "Violence isn't overcome with violence," he said.
"Violence is conquered with peace."
The British Ambassador to Iraq, Simon Collis, tweeted on Monday
that he had met Patriarch Sako "and shared our deep concern" about
the persecution of Christians and others by the Islamic State in
Mosul. The Islamist group, he said, "drove Mosul's Christians from
a city they had prayed in for 1800 years. Churches were burned and
houses marked with N."
The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, speaking on
Tuesday, said: "The determined will of ISIS to evict Christians
from Mosul and eradicate Christianity from the areas they seek to
control is deeply distressing and terrifyingly cruel.
"It is incumbent on us all to speak out against such injustice
and violence, to stand with Christians who are suffering in this
way and, in so doing, also to stand with Shiite Muslims and other
minority communities who are being persecuted in such terrifying
ways. All people of responsible faith must stand together to
protect each other: Muslim speaking for Christian, Christian
speaking for Muslim."
A prayer vigil for Christians in Iraq is to be held outside the
Houses of Parliament on Saturday, from 11.55 a.m. to 1 p.m.