Christians flee Mosul as IS tightens grip

Christians have fled the city of Mosul after its takeover by the Islamic State.

al-monitor An Iraqi Christian woman fleeing the violence in Mosul sits inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif, near Mosul, July 20, 2014. Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

religion, mosul, islamic state, islamic caliphate, iraq, discrimination, christians

Jul 21, 2014

Mosul has never been as empty of the country’s original Christian inhabitants as it is today. Everything related to Christianity is at risk of being ruined and looted by the members of the Islamic caliphate who have used the second-largest Iraqi city as their headquarters. This city is considered one of the oldest residences of Iraqi Christians.

Thousands of Christians fled the city in the past few days, in the wake of the Islamic State (IS) warning. According to witnesses, messages were communicated to Christians through loudspeakers in mosques last Friday [July 18], demanding that they leave the city by Saturday noon and reminding them of the IS statement confirming that whoever does not leave will be killed. The Christian families left Mosul before the end of the time limit, leaving behind their properties and houses. They headed to safer Christian villages in Ninevah under the control of the peshmerga, and to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

According to photos published by activists from Mosul, no trace of Christians was left there. Crosses were replaced with IS banners, and all churches were either closed or burned down.

Mosul Archbishop Botros Moushi, who is in Qaraqosh close to Kurdistan, said that Mosul’s city center is almost completely empty. He told As-Safir that IS militants sent for them to discuss the matter before their departure, “but we did not go because we lost faith in everyone. They fooled us and told us at first that they don’t have a problem with us, then they accused us of apostasy.”

Leaving Mosul was not easy for Christians. Many of them were robbed, or their properties were confiscated by IS members. Abu Rayan, a Christian who had left the city, said that “the militants stole money and jewelry from some families at IS checkpoints while they were leaving Mosul.”

Another Christian person noted that “IS arrested his relatives at a checkpoint while they were fleeing. When they discovered that they were Christians, they stole everything they had, including their mobile phones. The IS members left them with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.”

Meanwhile, it seemed that some individuals took the personal decision of standing their ground. Agence France-Press mentioned that “despite threats, some of Mosul’s Christians decided to stay in their houses, including Abu Fadi, who is a teacher with one child. He refused to leave Mosul, even if staying would cost him his life.” AFP cited Abu Fadi saying, “We are already humanly dead, and we only have this spirit left. If they want to take that too, so be it. But, I will not leave the city where I was born and raised.”

With the IS tightening its grip on Mosul in June and declaring the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, the members of the radical organization started to clearly harass minorities. Extremists also ordered health institutions in Mosul to discontinue the work of hundreds of Christian doctors and nurses. They demanded the expulsion of Christians from their jobs in public institutions. Things went as far as issuing a document obliging Christians to either leave the city, pay a fine in cash, convert to Islam or die.

The document signed by IS and issued in Ninevah province last week stated that the organization wanted to meet with the Christian leaders to give them the choice between Islam or paying a fine and threatened them that “if they refuse, death will be their fate.”

The document, which As-Safir examined, stated that “Christians will be allowed to evacuate Mosul by Saturday, July 18 at noon at the latest. After this, the sword will be the only way of communication.” Activists and journalists told As-Safir that IS imposed a $450 fine on Christians in case they decided to stay.

Until about 10 years ago, various sects lived in Mosul, including about 100,000 Christians. But the number of Christians decreased following a wave of attacks against them following the US-led invasion in 2003 to topple then-President Saddam Hussein.

Mosul is located on the other side of the Tigris River facing [what was] the ancient city of Ninevah. The city flourished at a time when the region known as Iraq today was considered “the cradle of civilization” for centuries. Its inhabitants showed its importance as a crossroad for trade and culture. It's obvious how the Islamic and Christian faiths overlap in Mosul from the presence of the tomb of the Prophet Jonah, who is mentioned in the Bible and in the Quran, in one of the city’s mosques. This mosque, among others in Mosul, was at risk of being destroyed, as IS considers it a form of polytheism.

Christians in Iraq suffered the most violent attack when IS members invaded the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church during Mass on Oct. 31, 2010, in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood. The militants killed and wounded scores of people who were in church. Christianity has the biggest number of followers in Iraq after Islam. It is recognized by the Iraqi Constitution, which also recognizes 14 Christian confessions in Iraq whose followers are distributed among the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Kirkuk, Ninevah and Baghdad. A small percentage of Christians live in the south.

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