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IS destroys more Christian antiquities in Iraq

27 March 2015

"Possibly genocide": Hanny Megally, head of the UN Human rights office for Asia, Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, speaks during a press conference about the current human rights situation in Iraq, at the UN European headquarters, in Geneva, last week AP

"Possibly genocide": Hanny Megally, head of the UN Human rights office for Asia, Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, speaks during a press ...

JIHADISTS belonging to Islamic State (IS) have extended their campaign of targeting ancient Christian sites by badly damaging the Syriac Catholic Mar Behnam Monastery at Hamdaniya, in Nineveh Province, in northern Iraq. The complex dates back to the fourth century, and had one of the most valuable Syriac libraries in existence. IS released pictures last week, showing the destruction of monastery tombs.

An expert on Assyrian monasteries from the University of Melbourne, Dr Nicholas al-Jeloo, was shocked when he was shown the images. "I didn't want to see [them]," he told the International Business Times. "This is terrible. I'm in shock. It was one of the most richly carved monastery complexes in northern Mesopotamia."

Speaking to The Guardian, the Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, Ignatius Joseph III Younan, expressed outrage at the IS action. "We are not imported into our lands in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. We call on the world that calls itself civilised to help us stay in our land, and defend our rights as citizens. Condemnation is not enough. Our destiny is in great danger - the Christians and the other minorities in Iraq."

Most Christians living in northern Iraq fled last summer when IS forces expanded their control over vast areas. During their advance and their consolidation of territory, they frequently destroyed Christian and Shia Muslim sacred sites. The latest IS pictures show that Shia mosques and shrines in the Hamdaniya district have been destroyed.

Earlier this month, IS used bulldozers and other heavy equipment to damage or destroy several treasured archaeological sites in northern Iraq, including the remains of the ancient Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Khorsabad, and the 2000-year-old Hatra fortress (News, 13 March). They had already been seen on video looting and wrecking priceless antiquities in Mosul Museum.

During the IS takeover of northern Iraq, the UN Human Rights Office says in a recent report, IS forces may have committed genocide in trying to wipe out the Yazidi minority, as well as war crimes against civilians, including children. It is urging the UN Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute perpetrators, including foreigners fighting alongside IS.

"International war crimes, and crimes against humanity - and possibly genocide - appear to have been committed during this conflict. The genocide part relates particularly to the Yazidis," Hanny Megally, of the UN Human Rights Office, told a news briefing in Geneva. "We are very keen to ensure that, even as the conflict continues, evidence is preserved . . . because that will be important for future accountability."

The report identified a "manifest pattern of attacks" by IS on Yazidis, viewed as pagans by the jihadists, as well as Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities, as its forces laid siege to towns and villages. The Chief UN Investigator Suki Nagra said: "Essentially, the rich ethnic and religious diversity in Iraq has been shattered completely."

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