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
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
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."