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What Iraq’s Christians want from the West is to say the plain truth: that there is ethnic cleansing of Christians in the region and it is ongoing, Dr Tim Stanley told a meeting at the UK’s parliament last Tuesday, 9 July.
“If we don’t say what is really happening in the region, which is ethnic cleansing of both Christians and Yazidis, we allow Islamic State and other perpetrators to get away with it,” Stanley told the audience at the event, ‘The Global Persecution of Christian Minorities’, organised by the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign-policy think tank.
Since Islamic State was pushed out of the region, displaced Iraqis have slowly started to return to their communities but continue to live in fear and they continue to be vulnerable. Pockets of IS fighters are still active and the group has said it started the fires that in recent weeks torched hundreds of acres of land and crops, “owned by infidels”, in northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias have moved into areas previously under IS-control, discouraging people to trade with Christians, Stanley said.
In January, a UN team started investigations in the country to collect evidence of genocide and war crimes committed by Islamic State fighters, in order to take the perpetrators to court in Iraq. The UN has been reluctant to recognise the violence against Christians and Yazidis as genocide, despite pressure from civil society groups and some of its own member states such as the Netherlands.
‘Instruments of the West’
Those who have returned to their communities and want to leave, face challenges such as the western visa application processes, according to Stanley.
The US, under the Trump administration, has taken fewer Iraqi refugees in than it did during the Obama administration. Instead, it sent an aid package of US$35 million to the region to support Iraqi Christians and Yazidis who had suffered under IS occupation. The UK also has been slow on the uptake.
Stanley acknowledged that it’s not always a simple matter of putting pressure on governments to treat Christians fairly. Christians often are considered to be instruments of Western governments, and as such are regarded as a threat to national identity or security. The challenge, then, is to help Christians without exposing them to undue risk, he said.
For the UK government, this could mean including the topic of religious freedom in future trade negotiations, said Dr Matthew Rees, Head of Advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland. It is one of the policy recommendations the Christian religious-freedom charity has made to the country’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the back of an independent review of how the government department supports persecuted Christians.
“Just like climate change, the topic of religious freedom is not a one-party or single-leader issue but something to grow consensus around”, Rees said.
(World Watch Monitor) Three years to the day since the Islamic State group took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul, a new report estimates that 50-80% of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
The arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”, according to the report, produced by Christian charities Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern.
The report also notes that for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several interviewees saying “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians”.
“There is little incentive to return, with several interviewees saying the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”
In a policy paper released alongside the report, the three charities call on the EU to help establish an “accountability mechanism” to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria.
“Creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities,” the charities write.
They urge the EU to “advocate for the establishment of the mechanism through its contacts with the Iraqi and Syrian governments” and to provide funding, technical support and monitoring. The mechanism, the charities add, “should be transparent and inclusive, ensuring all key stakeholders at all levels (government, community leaders, civil society and the public) are represented adequately”.
The report, ‘Understanding the recent movements of Christians leaving Syria and Iraq’, acknowledges the difficulty of producing definitive figures, as it estimates that the overall Christian population of Iraq has reduced from “well over 300,000” in 2014 to 200,000-250,000 today – “many” of whom are now displaced internally. In Syria, meanwhile, the charities estimate that the Christian population of around 2 million in 2011 has “roughly halved”.
“Factors for leaving included the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities,” the report notes. “While direct violence, such as the movements of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, was the tipping point for displacement, the ultimate decision to leave the countries was portrayed as an accumulation of factors over time.”
A greater number of Christians are thought to have left Syria, but only because the initial population was higher, according to the report, which adds that a greater proportion of Iraq’s Christians have left the country.
The Christians have emigrated via a range of routes, including resettlement programmes through churches, formal refugee registration and “illegal routes” – though the deaths of Christians trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have reportedly “dissuaded some”, while “the high price of these routes have made them unavailable for others”.
Lebanon has reportedly taken in the most Christians, while thousands more have resettled in Jordan and Turkey, and a smaller number in European countries such as Sweden and Germany. However, “recent policy changes, as well as living conditions, have made arrival or staying in many of these countries, such as Sweden, incredibly difficult”, the report concludes, adding: “There were reports of returns [home], but many expressed the sentiment that Christians have given up hope of returning.”
However, the charities note that “many” of those who remain “want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria. They want to be seen as Iraqi or Syrian citizens, enjoying the full rights of citizenship, such as equality before the law and full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship, practise, teach, choose and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority.”
Christians in 17th century Japan were given this choice, and it’s the same for Christians in many parts of the world today.
Throughout the film, the audience is shown Christians being told to step on – or, in one case, spit on – an image of Jesus or Mary. Some do; others can’t.
This same choice was given to Zarefa, an elderly Iraqi Christian woman, when the Islamic State captured her town in 2014. During a raid on the house where she was staying, IS fighters found a few crucifixes and other Christian images – strictly illegal under IS rule.
“They forced me to spit on the Cross,” Zarefa recalls. “I told them that it was not appropriate, that it was a sin. He said that I must spit. ‘Don’t you see that I have a gun?’ he asked me. I said to myself, (more…)
(World Watch Monitor) It’s been two years since thousands of Christians fled their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plains to run away from the advancing armies of the so-called Islamic State. But now, as Iraqi forces plan to retake Mosul, the Christians are praying they will soon be able to return home.
Iraqi Christians in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps across the country held prayer services and other memorial events throughout the weekend to mark the “Black Day” on 6-7 August, 2014, when IS took several towns surrounding Mosul, such as Qaraqosh.
In the Karamles camp (named after a village still occupied by IS) in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, just 50 miles from Mosul, the central square was filled with people carrying candles, symbolising the light of Christ. The flames lit the words on the posters they were holding: “Liberate Mosul!”
Martin was a young assistant to his priest as a new IDP from Karamles, whose story World Watch Monitor reported in 2015.
In a video-interview at that time, Martin said how he’d had the chance to leave for the US but chose to stay to serve his community.
“This situation has proved my calling,” he said. “I am needed here at this moment to feed my people with charity and with hope.”
Now, about to become one of the two official priests of the Karamles camp, Martin had the idea to suggest that his fellow IDPs gather in their families for “Pesach” meals. This meal, first eaten by the Israelites the night they fled Egypt after all Egyptian first-born sons were killed in the last of the plagues, has become the weekly Jewish “Seder”. It commemorates the way that the spirit of death “passed over” every Israelite home because its doorpost was daubed with a sacrificed lamb’s blood, as well as God’s provision while the Jews wandered in exile. The parallel with the way the Christians had to flee the Nineveh plain, amidst the arrival of “N” signs daubed on their doorways two years ago, was not lost.
“God has been with us all the time, He has protected us from direct violence and led us out just in time,” said Martin.
“Even if we don’t live in our own village, we can live out our faith here, be a loving community and a light for our surroundings. Of course we want to go back to our houses, unlock the doors and start rebuilding.
“Jesus tells us to forgive, not to forget. We can stand up for our rights and ask to be respected as Christians in the Iraqi society, ask for the liberation of our village and the rest of the Nineveh Plains and Mosul.”
Martin and his fellow IDPs have started a campaign. On every door surrounding the square, there’s a sign – “Liberate Mosul” – and there are many more throughout the city, as other Christians have followed his lead. They are encouraging others to make their own “Liberate Mosul” posters and to share them via social media, using the hashtag #Liberate_Mosul.
Martin said the campaign isn’t only a tool to raise awareness for the outside world; “It is also a motivator for us to not just sit around and be sad, but to become active and start rebuilding here, change our lives according to God’s will and show society where our hope comes from”.
Other commemorations took place across Iraq’s many IDP camps, including one where young people performed their own poetry, made music and danced in remembrance of how good life was “at home”, while another event included a photo exhibition of the first six months away from their homes.
Meanwhile, the European Syriac Union (ESU) said IS’s “massacre” of Christians in the Nineveh Plains was a repeat of a massacre, 81 years earlier, to the day, of the 7 August, 1933 Simele Massacre at the hands of Iraqi forces. On that day, it says, 3,000 civilians were killed.
Eighty-one years later, noted the ESU, history was repeated as “IS took control of the historical homeland of Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian[s] in [the] Nineveh Plains”.
The ESU called it a “massive genocidal destruction of Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people [and] their millennial cultural, historical and religious heritage … by demolishing churches, monasteries and historical sites”.
“There is a historical and moral responsibility,” ESU added, “for Iraq, [the] regional and international community … to stand with the vulnerable groups, recognize genocides against them and support them by accelerating the liberation of [the] Nineveh Plain and supporting safe zone, autonomy in the region which will open the way to self-administration.
“In these tumultuous times, Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people dispersed in different regions should stand with their brethren in the homeland in Iraq and Syria and raise their voices for the existential demands on the historical homeland.”
(AINA) — The European Parliament has passed a non-binding resolution calling for the establishment of an Assyrian safe haven in north Iraq. Citing the attacks by ISIS on Assyrians in Iraq and Syria, including the abduction of nearly 300 Assyrians, the killing of dozens of Assyrians in the attacks on their villages in Syria, the destruction of Assyrian cultural heritage such as the city of Nimrud, the resolution “is shocked and saddened at the brutal actions by ISIS/Da’esh extremists against the Assyrians in Syria…” and “Strongly condemns ISIS/Da’esh and its egregious human rights abuses that amount to crimes against humanity…”
The resolution “Calls upon the international coalition to do more to prevent abductions of minorities, such as the abduction of hundreds of Assyrian Christians in northern Syria; underlines the importance of ensuring a safe haven for the Chaldeans/Assyrians/Syriacs and others at risk in the Nineveh Plains, Iraq…”
Here is the full text of the resolution:
The European Parliament,– having regard to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948,
— having regard to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) of 1950,
— having regard to Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966,
— having regard to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion and Belief of 1981,
— having regard to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities of 1992,
— having regard to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance,
— having regard to its previous resolutions on Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt, in particular that of 10 October 2013 on recent cases of violence and persecution against Christians, notably in Maaloula (Syria) and Peshawar (Pakistan) and the case of Pastor Saeed Abedini (Iran)(1), that of 18 September 2014 on the situation in Iraq and Syria, and the IS offensive, including the persecution of minorities(2), and that of 12 February 2015 on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria, in particular in the IS context(3),
— having regard to the EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief,
— having regard to the statements by the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (VP/HR) on violence and persecution against Christians and other communities in the Middle East, in particular that of 16 February 2015 on the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya,
— having regard to the Joint Communication from the Commission and the VP/HR to the European Parliament and the Council on elements for an EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da’esh threat,
— having regard to the statement by the UN Security Council of 25 February 2015 condemning the abduction of more than 100 Assyrians by ISIL,
— having regard to the UN Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic entitled ‘Rule of Terror: Living under ISIS in Syria’, of 14 November 2014,
— having regard to the annual reports and interim reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief,
— having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,
A. whereas the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights and civil liberties are fundamental principles and aims of the European Union and constitute common ground for its relations with third countries;
B. whereas, according to international human rights law and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in particular, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; whereas this right includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching,; whereas according to the UN Human Rights Committee, the freedom of religion or belief protects all beliefs, including theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs;
C. whereas the European Union has repeatedly expressed its commitment to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion or belief and has stressed that governments have a duty to guarantee these freedoms all over the world;
D. whereas the United Nations and other international organisations have reported widespread serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by ISIS/Da’esh and associated groups in Syria and Iraq, in particular against minority ethnic and religious groups, including through targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, selling of women, slavery of women and children, recruitment of children for suicide bombings, sexual and physical abuse and torture; whereas there are serious concerns for the welfare of those still trapped in areas controlled by ISIS/Da’esh forces, as almost no international humanitarian assistance reaches those areas;
E. whereas ISIS/Da’esh has embarked upon a campaign to eradicate all traces of religious and faith communities other than those representing its own interpretation of Islam, by killing or expelling its adherents and destroying their holy places, historical sites and artefacts, including unique and irreplaceable heritage recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage and described as ‘cultural cleansing’ by this organisation;
F. whereas in the areas under its control, ISIS/Da’esh is extracting an unacceptable and irreparable price from millenarian civilisations; whereas, notably in Iraq and Syria, but also in other parts of the wider Middle East, the situation facing Christian communities is such as to endanger their very existence, and if they were to disappear, this would entail the loss of a significant part of the religious heritage of the countries concerned;
G. whereas ISIS/Da’esh targets Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shi’ites, Shabak, Sabeans, Kaka’e and Sunnis who do not agree with their interpretation of Islam, and other ethnic and religious minorities, but whereas some of these communities were already targeted by extremists well before the advance of ISIS/Da’esh; whereas Christians in particular have been deliberately targeted by various extremist or jihadist groups for many years, forcing more than 70 % of Iraqi Christians and more than 700 000 Syrian Christians to flee their countries;
H. whereas in Iraq the 250 000 Chaldeans/Assyrians/Syriacs comprise a distinct ethno-religious group and it is estimated that up to 40 000 Assyrians lived in Syria before the country’s civil war broke out in 2011;
I. whereas on 15 February 2015 ISIS/Da’esh released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya; whereas the Copts, who were migrant workers from an impoverished part of Egypt, had been kidnapped in Sirte, Libya;
J. whereas on 23 February 2015 an estimated 220 Assyrians were abducted by ISIS/Da’esh near Tell Tamer on the southern Khabur River bank in north-east Syria; whereas during the same campaign the extremists also destroyed properties and holy places of the Christians; whereas dozens of Assyrians were killed during the IS assault; whereas IS reportedly issued a declaration in February 2015 requesting Assyrian villages in the Syrian Hasaka Province to pay the jizya, a tax on non-Muslims dating to early Islamic rule and abolished in 1856 across the Ottoman empire, to convert to Islam or else be killed; whereas major ISIS/Da’esh attacks have been reported on Assyrian Christian towns in the Khabur River area since 9 March 2015;;
K. whereas since 1 March 2015 ISIS/Da’esh has released several dozen Assyrians, mostly infants and elderly people, following negotiations with tribal leaders, but most Assyrians are still held captive and the terrorists have threatened to kill them if the coalition bombings do not stop;
L. whereas as part of a deliberate policy of cultural and religious cleansing, IS has reportedly destroyed more than 100 churches in Iraq, and at least 6 churches in Syria, as well as a number of Shia mosques in Iraq; whereas in February 2015, IS fighters deliberately publicised their destruction of statues and other artefacts in the Mosul Museum dating back to the ancient Assyrian and Akkadian empires; whereas IS subsequently bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and, most recently, it reportedly destroyed the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hatra; whereas the Syrian regime has reportedly shelled churches in opposition neighbourhoods, for example in Homs in 2012 and Idlib in 2013;
M. whereas ISIS/Da’esh continues to persecute, maim and murder, sometimes in extremely cruel and unimaginable ways, members of ethnic and religious minorities, journalists, prisoners of war, activists and others; whereas war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law continue to be perpetrated on a daily basis and on a massive scale by other conflict parties as well, including notably by the Assad regime;
N. whereas one of the roots of the ISIS/Da’esh violence is Salafism, notably the extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam;
1. Is shocked and saddened at the brutal actions by ISIS/Da’esh extremists against the Assyrians in Syria and the Copts in Libya, and condemns them in the strongest terms; expresses its solidarity with the families of the victims and with the Assyrian Christian community in Syria and Coptic Christian community in Egypt, as well as all other groups and individuals affected by ISIS/Da’esh violence;
2. Strongly condemns ISIS/Da’esh and its egregious human rights abuses that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and which could be called genocide; is extremely concerned at this terrorist group’s deliberate targeting of Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shi’ites, Shabak, Sabeans, Kaka’e and Sunnis who do not agree with their interpretation of Islam, as part of its attempts to exterminate any religious minorities from the areas under its control; underlines that there must be no impunity for the perpetrators of these acts and that those responsible should be referred to the ICC; recalls, in this context, the unresolved kidnapping of Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi by armed rebels in Aleppo Province, Syria, on 22 April 2013;
3. Condemns, furthermore, the attempts by ISIS/Da’esh to export their extremist totalitarian ideology and violence to other countries in the region and beyond;
4. Supports the international efforts against ISIS/Da’esh, including the military actions of the international coalition, coordinated by the United States, and encourages the EU Member States who have not already done so to consider ways of contributing to these efforts, including tracing and interdicting ISIS secret funds held overseas;
5. Calls upon the international coalition to do more to prevent abductions of minorities, such as the abduction of hundreds of Assyrian Christians in northern Syria; underlines the importance of ensuring a safe haven for the Chaldeans/Assyrians/Syriacs and others at risk in the Nineveh Plains, Iraq, an area where many ethnic and religious minorities have historically had a strong presence and lived peacefully alongside each other;
6. Urges the EU and its Member States to take a proactive and preventive approach towards the threat of ISIS/Da’esh expansion into countries and regions beyond Iraq and Syria; in this light, is extremely concerned about the situation in Libya, not least because of its geographical proximity to the EU as well as to conflict areas in Africa;
7. Urges the EU and its Member States, as well as NATO partners, to address the issue of certain countries’ ambivalent roles in the conflict, in particular where they contributed, or still contribute, actively or passively, to the rise of ISIS/Da’esh and other extremist groups; is very concerned, in this context, about the financing of the dissemination of the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam by public and private entities of countries from the Gulf region and calls upon these countries to stop this financing; furthermore, urges these countries to stop the financing of terrorist organisations from within their territories; calls upon Turkey to play a positive role in the fight against ISIS/Da’esh and without delay allow Christian minorities and other persecuted people fleeing from Syria to cross the border into Turkey and seek safety;
8. Encourages the cooperation with newly emerging regional and local forces, such as the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, Kurdish groups elsewhere, such as the role of YPG in the liberation of Kobane, and the Syriac Military Council, as well as local self-governing entities in the region which have shown more commitment to human rights and democracy than their countries’ rulers; salutes, in particular, the courage of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces who have done so much to protect endangered minorities;
9. Is concerned about reports of Christian minorities not having access to refugee camps in the region because they would be too dangerous for them; requests that the EU make sure its development assistance targets all minority groups displaced by the conflict; encourages the EU to use the experience and well-established networks of local and regional churches, as well as international relief organisations of churches, to provide financial and other assistance, in order to ensure that all minority groups can benefit from the protection and support of European aid;
10. Considers it imperative that the Council and the European External Action Service (EEAS) start working with international and regional partners on a post-ISIS/Da’esh scenario, taking into account the urgent need for cultural and religious dialogue and reconciliation;
11. Denounces the destruction of cultural sites and artefacts by ISIS/Da’esh in Syria and Iraq, which constitutes an attack against the cultural heritage of all inhabitants of these countries and of humanity at large;
12. Urges the EU and its Member States to cooperate with international and local partners to safeguard as much Assyrian and other cultural and religious heritage as possible from the territories occupied by ISIS/Da’esh; furthermore, urges the Council to take action against the illicit trade in ancient artefacts coming from these territories;
13. Confirms and supports the inalienable right of all religious and ethnic minorities living in Iraq and Syria to continue to live in their historical and traditional homelands in dignity, equality and safety, and to practice their religion freely; in this light, urges all UN member states to clearly speak out against the violence and in particular in favour of the rights of minorities; believes that in order to stem the suffering and the mass exodus of Christians and other indigenous populations of the region, a clear and unequivocal statement by regional political and religious leaders, in support of their continued presence and full and equal rights as citizens of their countries, is necessary;
14. Rejects without reservation and considers illegitimate the announcement by ISIS/Da’esh leadership that it has established a caliphate in the areas it now controls; emphasises that the creation and expansion of the ‘Islamic caliphate’, and the activities of other extremist groups in the Middle East, is a direct threat to the security of the region, as well as European countries;
15. Confirms its commitment to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief as a fundamental human right guaranteed by international legal instruments to which most countries in the world have committed and which are recognised as holding universal value;
16. Supports all initiatives, including in the EU, aimed at promoting dialogue and mutual respect between communities; calls on all religious authorities to promote tolerance and to take initiatives against hatred and violent and extremist radicalisation;
17. Urges the EU to further explore counter-terrorism policies, within the human rights framework, other than those already in place, and to continue to work with Member States to enhance policies that counter radicalisation on EU soil, the spreading of hate speech and incitement to violence online; urges EU Member States, furthermore, to work together with the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly to stop the spread of extremist and jihadist ideology worldwide;
18. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Syrian National Coalition, the Government and Parliament of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Council of Deputies in Tobruk, Libya, and the Libyan Government, the League of Arab States, the UN Secretary-General and the UN Human Rights Council.