“Caliphate” expels Christians from the Nineveh Plain

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After capturing Mosul, jihadist Islamic State militants have now also taken hold of the villages in the Nineveh Plain which had been historical strongholds of local Christian communities in ancient Mesopotamia since time immemorial. Last night in Qaraqosh, Kramles, Talkief, Bartalla and other central areas, the Islamic Caliphate offensive crushed all resistance from the Peshmerga Kurds and the regular army serving the Kurdistan Regional Government.

When the jihadist militia arrived – Cardinal Filoni said in an appeal launched through Catholic news agency Fides – “Christians had to abandon everything, even their shoes, heading towards the Kurdistan Region barefoot.” The last twenty Christian families that have stayed behind in Qaraqosh have been told to leave by this evening if they wish to live. The effects of this exodus risk becoming more far-reaching because Erbil - the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan – “is not prepared to take them in as they have nowhere to put one thousand people,” the Prefect of Propaganda Fide said. Speaking to Fides, the cardinal called on the international community to take responsibility for these Christians in what he defined as “a serious humanitarian situation. These people are left to their own devices, the border is closed and they don’t know where to go. Some have already died, three or four young people have lost their lives. Immediate intervention is needed.”

n the past two months, since Mosul was taken over by Sunni rebels led by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), on 9 June, most of the Christians living in Iraq’s second major city had sought refuge in villages in the Nineveh Plain.

In Mosul, militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate had gone on to occupy churches and convents, destroy Marian statues, pull down crosses, burn the Syro-Catholic archbishopric and impose an ultimatum on Christians; either you go, leaving your homes and property behind, or you pay the “protection tax” or you convert to Islam, or you die.

Up until now, Kurdish Pashmerga militia had acted as a buffer, protecting the villages in the Nineveh Plain from Islamist raids. In June they managed to hold off an offensive which jihadists attempted to launch against the city of Qaraqosh. “We will all die together or we will all continue to live together with dignity,” this is what Masud Barzani, President of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, told the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphael I Sako and other representatives of other churches in northern Iraq. During his meeting with the Patriarch and bishops, the Kurdish leader had also underlined the autonomous region’s willingness to welcome and save refugees and protect “their lives and their land” against those whom he called “terrorists”.

The Chaldean Patriarch and the bishops of the Christian in northern Iraq, had proposed the creation of a “joint committee made up of members of the regional government and representatives of our people, in order to help suffering refugee families and improve their living conditions.” At the end of June, however, Marzio Babille, the head of UNICEF in Iraq, outlined the political plan behind the jihadist offensive: “The areas that are attacked are “cleansed” of ethnic and religious minority groups. This does not just happen to Christians but also to Turkmens who have had to flee south-eastern areas of Iraqi Kurdistan and are victims of targeted attacks in Kirkuk too. It is quite clear that the aim is to split the region into “areas”, where the various groups can or cannot live.”

Now, the Caliphate’s new offensive seems to be snuffing out any flicker of hope that the Nineveh Plain’s fragile situation could be stabilised thanks to the protection offered by the Peshmerga Kurds,” Nizar Semaan – a Syro-Catholic priest who assists the Archbishop of Mosul of the Syrians, Yohanna Petros Moshe – told Vatican Insider. Some sections of the Iraqi Christian community had dreamed for a long time of transforming the Nineveh Plain into an autonomous region to be assigned to Christians. They hoped to make the ancestral dream of an independent home for Assyrian and Syrian Chaldean communities within Iraq, a reality. “It has not become clear that there is no future for Christians in that part of Iraq, which was home to the Christian faith since the very beginning. Western governments are also partly to blame for this because they have kept silent and have engaged in thoughtless policies in Iraq and across the Middle East, their only interest being to defend their own economic interests. I hope national and international community leaders will at least spare us from the ridiculous spectacle of their declarations of solidarity and their hollow indignation. With this passive attitude, they have allowed crimes to be perpetrated against Christians in Iraq, right under everyone’s noses and history will be the judge of this passivity.”

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By Gianni Valente/ Vatican Insider