8 August 2014
Two years ago, I wrote a piece on religious minorities in the Middle East. At the time the civil war in Syria brought the Alawites to the consciousness of the Western world. In my essay, I tried to cover briefly as many of the religious minorities as possible. Most people in the west had never heard of these groups and they were more curiosities than newsmakers.
But in the ongoing tragedy that is the contemporary Middle East, yesterday’s curiosities become today’s headlines. With the brutal onslaught of the forces of ISIS, Christians and other minorities have become targets for extermination. One of these minorities is the Yazidis. Though virtually unknown outside the Middle East, they are now front page news in the western media, as ISIS engages in an act of genocide against them. Who are these people? What do they believe?
Here’s a glimpse, from ONE magazine in 2012:
The Yazidis constitute one of the smallest and most interesting religious minorities in the Middle East. It is estimated that there are less than 100,000 of them living in parts of Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. They believe that they are not descended from the biblical Eve and, hence, hold themselves apart from non-believers.
Though they believe in one God, that deity is not interested in the running of the cosmos. That task has been handed over to Mal’ak Tus (“peacock angel”), who together with six other angels manages creation.
Yazidis do not believe in the existence of evil but believe that purification occurs through the transmigration of souls, similar to what is believed in the religions of India. Influences of Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be found in the practices of the Yazidis.
Who could possibly be the next targets of Sunni extremism in the Middle East? There are a number of minorities who could be at risk. Read more in Religious Minorities in the Middle East from the March 2012 edition of ONE.
6 August 2014
Tags: Iraq War Iraqi Refugees Yazidi religious freedom
A contact sent us the following message:
Date: August 6, 2014
Subject: Report from Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq
This report was sent to us by Ms. Christina Patto, VP Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq. Here what she wrote:
Here is our report and some of our testimony concerning the events happening now in North of Iraq.
It is a tragic situation, nobody can imagine how terrible it is, as much as I write to you and send you reports it will not be enough to describe the suffering of people.
For Zummar and Sinjar: they are under Da’esh control, thousands of Yazidis died in the last two days, they are facing a real genocide. Till yesterday (45) children died of thirst. Some families throw their children from the top of Sinjar mountain in order not to see them die from hunger or thirst, or not to be taken by the terrorists. (1500) men were killed in front of their wives and families, (50) old men died also from thirst and illness. More than (70) girl and women (including Christians) were taken, raped and being captured and sold. More than (100) families are captured in Tel afar airport.
There is about (50) Christian families in Sinjar. The terrorists were able to control the Syriac church there and cover the Cross with their black banner. Till now we do not know anything about those Christian families.
For Nineveh Plain:
As a reason to the continuous bombing on Telkeif, Deacon (Lujain Hikmat Nano) died, most of the families left their houses and would leave one member of the family in the house, but this tragic led to an exodus from Telkeif. the same thing happened in Shekhan and the surrounded villages (shekhan center, Karanjo, Dashqotan and Ein biqri).
Ba’ashiqa: an exodus from there because there was boming and battles near Ba’ashiqa as the terrorists are trying to control that area too. Ba’ashiqa Monastory is being evacuated from the inhabitants and from IDPs.
Ein Sifni: an exodus of the Yazidi families which forced the christian families to flee too.
Mosul Falls are now under the control of the terrorist, these fall are about (10-15 Km) from Ein sifni.
Batnaye and Tellisquf: also an exodus because of the threats and bad circumstances they are going through.
Our Dorm, the empty houses in the villages, the halls of the churches, school and mosques are full of IDPs and in very bad conditions. I cannot give you the exact number of those families. Also it is very hard to describe their needs in food baskets only, on one can imagine this tragedy, one may cry to see those people in this situation.
Concerning Zakho and Center Duhok: Till now they are under the KRG control.
pls excuse my chaotic writing and expression, we are all in a bad situation.
So, according to my above report, you can decide what kind of aid you can offer.
Please help us support these families suffering violence beyond comprehension, and please keep them in your prayers.
6 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Yazidi Iraqi
From the Daily Star:
Jihadists have launched fresh attacks on Christian areas in north Iraq, sparking a new wave of displacement, the country’s Chaldean patriarch and witnesses said Wednesday.
Towns shelled in the past few days by Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militants include Tal Kayf, Bartella and Qaraqosh, according to Christian sources.
The towns are among many in the area where thousands of Christians who were forced to abandon their homes in the main northern city of Mosul last month had found refuge.
Some of them are less than 50 kilometers away from Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan.
Chaldean patriarch Louis Raphael I said at least one man had been killed by mortar fire, naming him as Lajin Hekmat, an employee of the main church in Tal Kayf, just north of Mosul.
Read the full story here.
4 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Iraqi
George Ayyad stands by his son, Jeries, of Gaza, in the intensive care unit of St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem on July. Since the death of his wife in an Israeli missile attack on their house in Gaza City in late July, Ayyad has been keeping vigil over his son, who is in critical condition. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Days of hope have given way to frustration and despair. We thought today we would see a ceasefire agreement take hold between the two sides, but after a few hours, a tentative truce very quickly broke down. Another escalation is underway in Gaza, each side blaming the other for breaking the ceasefire agreement.
On Friday, a group representing the main Christian organizations operating in the region visited St. Joseph Hospital and the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem to get an update about the injured who have been transferred from Gaza due to the lack of proper facilities there. One of the cases is Jeries Ayyad (whom I wrote about earlier this week) whose mother was the first Christian victim in Gaza.
What I saw in the two hospitals is beyond imagination, and one only wonders about the kind of life these people will have should they recover, with amputated legs and arms and many with brain damage from shrapnel. There may be thousands like them who are not fortunate enough to make it to Jerusalem for better treatment.
On a more positive note, I am pleased our appeals to Europe have been heard. A number of our friends — including Manos Unidas, Spain; Embrace the Middle East in England; Caritas Switzerland; the Archdiocese of Cologne; Kinderhilfe Bethlehem in Switzerland; Kindermissionswerk in Germany; Missio and Misereor of Germany; Secours Catholique in France; Church in Need and Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem — have all expressed interest and most have pledged support. All the contributions were made for CNEWA’s emergency phase, including medicines, fuel and medical treatments. Additionally, a few donors have urged us to submit specific proposals for the psychosocial intervention, which will be post-war.
This is an area where the need is great — and will only grow in the weeks ahead. Countless men, women and children will be suffering the after-effects of this conflict for a long time to come; for too many, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and a host of other problems will linger and need treatment. Some wounds are invisible and deep. We are asking our donors in North America to prayerfully consider whatever they can offer at this time to help these people heal.
It is important to point out that we are coordinating the activities of various Catholic and non-Catholic agencies on the ground, hosting regular meetings at our office in Jerusalem. We have distributed our relief activities as follows: CNEWA will concentrate on provision of medicines, fuel and medical treatments in this emergency phase; Caritas Jerusalem is providing food packages and cash assistance; and Catholic Relief Services is assisting with the provision of non-food, hygiene packages and medical supplies. Thus, we are complementing our works to benefit as many people as possible. And, as always, CNEWA’s activities are implemented through the local church and its institutions.
Thank you for your continued support, and please keep the injured in your prayers.
To donate to our emergency fund and help those families in need today, please visit this page.
1 August 2014
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Violence against Christians War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief
Sister Muna Totah, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, treats Karim Nofal, 15, of Gaza, at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem on 30 July. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
With close to a quarter of a million Palestinians rendered homeless by the continuing and intensifying fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, the Coordinating Catholic Aid Organizations met three times in as many days to organize action to confront the humanitarian crisis.
In addition to the current material needs — food, water, personal hygiene items, medicine and diesel fuel for generators — the Catholic aid associations from the Holy Land, U.S. and Europe are beginning to plan for the psychosocial needs of Gazans at the eventual end to the confrontation.
“We are talking about a massive number of people who will be in need of help, and of at least 200,000 children who will need intervention,” said Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Jerusalem Office of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
CNEWA ran such a program after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2012, he said.
In addition, he said, lack of drinking water has become a critical issue with the bombing of Gaza’s only electrical power plant, which has left the area largely without electricity for pumping water and sewage treatment. Diesel fuel is urgently needed for generators while milk for young children is also in short supply, he said.
CNEWA had been supplying the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital with fuel for the generator for intermittent power outages, but after the attack on the power plant in late July, the hospital was left without any fuel and had to shut down all operations, said El-Yousef, who received a phone call from the hospital in the middle of the night. The next day he was able to provide the hospital with funds to purchase more fuel. The hospital needs some 500-600 liters of fuel per day now because the generator is its only source of power, said El-Yousef.
The unsanitary conditions in the streets are also causing illnesses, and El-Yousef said many children are coming to the hospital with cases of malnutrition, diarrhea and fever. The hospital is also treating many of those injured, he said. Other clinics are located in dangerous areas and have been shut down almost from the start of the hostilities, he said.
“It is really desperate,” he said.
Though there are medicines available in Gaza, there is a shortage of medications in the hospitals because people and institutions have used up their credit lines, and cash to purchase them is not available, El-Yousef said. CNEWA has been able to give written financial assurances to the banks, enabling the hospital to make necessary purchases, he said.
“Every day the situation is getting worse and people are reluctant to move outside,” said El-Yousef.
Catholic Relief Services’ country representative in Jerusalem, Matthew McGarry, credited the “heroic” staffers in Gaza for their continued dedication in distributing aid kits to those most in need during lulls in the fighting. Several of the staff members have lost family members, and others are now homeless but have continued to work to provide for others, he said.
“They are a committed, selfless team,” he said. “They are doing God’s work.”
In the last week of July, CRS supplied 500 families with nonfood kits, which included things like cooking sets, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene kits, water storage buckets and solar powered lanterns. Staffers normally would have been able to distribute 500 packages per day but could not because of the precarious situation, McGarry said.
He said CRS was in the process of procuring and distributing another 2,500 such aid packages and was working to get medical relief supplies via the U.S. Agency for International Development.
McGarry said people were desperate, and on 30 July the staff halted distribution when dozens of people who had not been registered came to the distribution point demanding the packages. Their details were taken and CRS will look to see if they fit the CRS criteria: people whose homes have been destroyed and who are not receiving any other assistance, said McGarry.
He said staffers have been able to procure some of the supplies locally, which helps Palestinians, while other supplies came from USAID shipments through the Israeli border, in coordination with Israeli authorities, he said.
“The situation is increasingly desperate and catastrophic,” he said. “The numbers are so huge and the needs so enormous.”
To lend much-needed assistance to the suffering families of Gaza, click here.
29 July 2014
Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Health Care Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief
The Holy Family School, an institutional partner of CNEWA, has transformed its classrooms into living space for displaced families. (photo: CNEWA)
Here are some of the latest heartbreaking statistics from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) regarding the conflict in Gaza:
1,065 Palestinians killed — including at least 795 civilians, of whom 229 are children and 118 are women
44 Israeli soldiers and 3 Israeli civilians killed
6,233 Palestinians injured, of whom 1,949 are children and 1,160 are women
215,000 are displaced and in need of shelter, drinking water and food assistance
44 percent of the Gaza Strip, encompassing a 3-kilometer wide strip, is declared a no-go zone
The number of casualties is increasing daily and will increase even should hostilities end. It is estimated that hundreds more are buried under the rubble and it will take days or weeks to unearth the bodies.
The above statistics are appalling, but what is more difficult to comprehend are the personal stories from our friends and partners. The targeting of the Ayyad family home just yesterday was most disturbing. The first Christian victim was a 60-year-old woman, Jalileh Ayyad, who did not have enough time to flee; she was killed instantly when a missile hit her home.
Her 32-year-old son, Jeries, who was with her at the time, was critically wounded in the attack, suffering severe burns and shrapnel fragments on as much as 70 percent of his body. Doctors had to amputate both his legs to save his life. He will be brought to a Jerusalem hospital for extensive treatment so he will have a better chance of survival. His mother was buried in the Greek Orthodox cemetery in Gaza late yesterday afternoon.
The home of the Ayyad family, destroyed by an Israeli missile in the Shajaia neighborhood of Gaza City. (photo: CNEWA)
I received an urgent call two days ago from Suhaila Tarazi, director of the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, explaining the urgency for medicines, medical supplies and, more importantly, fuel to operate the hospital’s generator. She reported the hospital had to make a painful decision to shut down their generator for 4 hours that afternoon in order to ration fuel. She was very upset not knowing what impact it will have on the patients’ treatment and recovery.
We immediately lobbied with our connections to ensure the hospital gets the fuel supply it needs to continue to save lives.
I will be remiss if I do not mention a member of our team in Gaza, George Anton, who leaves his young family on a daily basis and risks his own life to visit local institutions and individuals in order to assess the situation on the ground. He describes his personal experience and the stories of ordinary people affected by the war, the dozens of displaced families housed at the Holy Family Catholic Church, the hundreds of injured patients at the Anglican-run Al Ahli Arab Hospital and dozens of devout Muslim women and their children taking refuge at the ancient Greek Orthodox parish church of St. Porphyrios. Today, as he was describing to me the status of Jeries Ayyad, the building across the street from George’s home was shelled and he had to take cover immediately.
Our churches and church institutions in Gaza continue to be that beacon of hope despite all of the misery. Holy Family School, the Greek Orthodox parish and the Greek Orthodox Cultural Center have all opened up their facilities to hundreds of displaced families, giving them food, clean water and above all a safe roof over their heads. The Al Ahli Arab Hospital continues to open up its facilities in this emergency crisis to anyone needing medical treatment, free of charge. Incarnate Word Father Georges Hernandez continues to risk his life every day by making home and hospital visits. The Missionaries of Charity continue to call Gaza home despite the various offers for evacuation.
Despite all of the suffering, the Christian mission is certainly at its best. These brave souls — who are personally risking their lives — continue to comfort the injured and displaced, and provide assistance to the weak and marginalized with the Gospel in their hearts.
Thank you for your generous financial and moral support. Please know that your support and prayers for the people of Gaza, especially the women and children, are priceless and help to keep hope and faith alive.
29 July 2014
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Violence against Christians War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief
Smoke rises from Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike on 29 July. Violence escalated the previous night after an attempted unofficial truce for the three-day Eid ul-Fitr holiday crumbled. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
What is causing the wave of violence that seems to be overwhelming the Middle East right now? I explore that question and more this week in the pages of The Dialog, the newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington:
“The situation on the ground [in Gaza] is horrific. The attack on the Shajaia neighborhood yesterday [July 20] was very ugly and left 50 dead (including 17 children, 14 women and 4 senior citizens) as well as 210 wounded and 70,000 displaced. … “Those who visited the neighborhood during the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire yesterday reported bodies of women and children scattered in the narrow streets. …
“The Latin and Greek Orthodox parishes have opened facilities to receive those displaced mostly from Shajaia. There has not been any human loss affecting Christians, and property damage is limited to broken glass and minor damage. Let’s hope it remains this way. The most serious damage to the community is clearly psychological.
“We are continuously assessing the situation and continue to pray for an end to this madness.”
In just a few sentences, Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Palestine and Israel, describes the madness engulfing much of the Middle East, and the role of its Christian community as menders of the body and soul — even as some of its own members flee their homes.
What accounts for this wave of violence? Is there any hope?
The artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East, with its national borders drawn arbitrarily by the British and French after World War I, is collapsing. This is irrevocably and indiscriminately affecting the lives of millions ofpeople every day: Arab and Israeli, Jew and Christian, Muslim and Mandaean, young and old, male and female, urban dweller and shepherd, rich and poor.
In Iraq and Syria, the largest states created from the smoldering remains of the Ottoman Turkish Empire nearly a century ago, the powder kegs once controlled by strongmen have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even Al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq, once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves, is unraveling, its people exhausted by more than 30 years of constant war.
Syria, once the bedrock of regional stability, has disintegrated, its people maimed and displaced. Meanwhile, extremist Sunni Muslim militias have overrun vast swaths of territory and proclaimed a caliphate, an empire akin to those that once dominated the region for centuries. They have targeted minorities: As the extremists drive Christians from their homes and monasteries, they rob them of their few remaining possessions. If captured, members of the ancient Gnostic and synchretic sects of northern Iraq are executed.
In reports that sound eerily similar to the death marches of Armenians and Assyro-Chaldeans by Turkish soldiers 100 years ago, residents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul describe an exodus of Christians walking on foot in the summer heat, among them the elderly and the disabled.
“We’re providing people with shelter, food and water; people don’t have anything left and they can’t travel without the money to buy tickets,” Chorbishop Yosip Benjamin told the Telegraph as Mosul’s last remaining Christians gathered in the town of Tel Keif.
Read more about all this in The Dialog And to learn how you can help those who are so much in need right now, especially in Gaza, please visit our giving page.
28 July 2014
Tags: Syrian Civil War Middle East War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Iraqi Refugees
Catholic Near East Welfare Association has launched a campaign to rush emergency assistance to tens of thousands of Christians forced to flee their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Ordered by ISIS extremists of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate to convert, pay a special tax or die, Mosul’s Christians have instead fled to the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain — some just a few miles from Mosul — or to the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
“These Christian families have arrived with only their clothes, having fled the city on foot, forced to leave everything behind in Mosul,” said CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, Ra’ed Bahou. “At ISIS checkpoints, militants then stole whatever dollars they had in their pockets, even their passports and identification papers.”
Christian families have found refuge in churches, convents and monasteries, he added. With Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul and the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena — who themselves are homeless — the clergy, religious and villagers are trying to provide the basics. But the refuge, especially in the villages of Alqosh, Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Bartella and Tel Kaif is tenuous at best, as ISIS has cut the electricity and water supply, and has announced its intentions to overrun the region. “These villages are in the hands of God,” Mr. Bahou said, “as ISIS says their next ‘gift’ will be the villages of the Nineveh Plain.”
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, announced CNEWA will rush support to the bishops, clergy and religious, “who in the frenzy are courageously providing water, food, mattresses and medicines to their flock,” wherever their flight takes them.
“We are witnessing, at the hands of extremist thugs, the eradication of a cradle of Christianity in the cradle of civilization,” Msgr. Kozar said. CNEWA’s emergency support will provide the “shepherds of this flock to tend their sheep, with the basics they need for survival now,” he continued. “We will help them even if their flock is dispersed, providing for their well-being, body and soul.”
Fewer than 150,000 Christians remain in Iraq from a high of more than a million before 1991.
An agency of the Holy See, Catholic Near East Welfare Association works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to religious caring for orphaned and abandoned children; caring for displaced or refugee families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; offering formation and catechetical programs for children and young adults; supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders; and assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the elderly and disabled.
CNEWA has been active in Iraq for more than 50 years, but redoubled its efforts among the vulnerable Christian population in 1991.
A religious charity registered in the State of New York, all contributions are tax deductible. Donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org, by phone at 800.442.6392, or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195.
24 July 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks outside the northern Gaza Strip on 22 July. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
This week in Our Sunday Visitor, CNEWA’s Communications Director Michael J.L. La Civita offers some thoughts on the explosive crisis of the Middle East:
The artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East — with its national borders drawn arbitrarily by the Western Allied powers after World War I — is collapsing. In an article for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a French seminarian working with the patriarchate writes that a number of factors have contributed to the latest conflicts.
“Recently we witnessed the end and the failure of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, in particular because of the refusal of Palestine to recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, which led to a new wave of pessimism and despair,” Pierre Loup de Raucourt wrote. “The discovery of the three dead Israeli teenagers and the revenge that followed, leading to the horrific death of a young Palestinian, were sufficient to ignite a wick. And one does not know how big the powder keg is to which this wick is attached.”
That powder keg is huge.
In Iraq and Syria — by far the largest states created from the smoldering remains of the Ottoman Turkish Empire — the powder kegs have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq, once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves, has collapsed — its people exhausted by more than 30 years of constant war. Syria, once the bedrock of regional stability, has disintegrated — its people maimed and displaced. Meanwhile, extremist militias have overrun vast swaths of devastated territory and proclaimed an Islamist caliphate, an empire akin to those that dominated the region for centuries.
In Israel and Palestine, (as of this writing) leaders on both sides remain unyielding.
Read more in the current edition of Our Sunday Visitor.
23 July 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Middle East Israeli-Palestinian conflict Middle East Peace Process
An Iraqi Christian woman fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul sits inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif, Iraq, on 20 July. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Editors’ note: We received the following report this morning from Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana, an Iraqi-born priest of the Assyrian Church of the East now based in Germany. His report, which he has given us permission to post, provides a wide-ranging and comprehensive view of the tragedy now unfolding in northern Iraq, with some details that have gone largely unreported. It makes for sobering, heartbreaking reading.
We can only echo his words at the conclusion: Please keep Iraq’s suffering church and people in your prayers. The needs now are greater than ever. To learn what you can do for our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq, visit this link.
- - -
Greetings from Duhok, Iraq.
I enclose for your information the attached report, which I hope will help bring a deeper understanding of the current crisis in Iraq.
I would like to share with you the following information/points:
First: All Mosul churches and monasteries — about 30 — have been seized by ISIS. The cross has been removed from all of them. Many of them are burned, destroyed and looted. Many others are being used as ISIS centers. The following are a few examples:
Mar Ephraim Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Al Shurta district (east side of Mosul): ISIS installed loudspeakers and is converted to mosque for prayers.
Syriac Catholic church in the old part of Mosul was looted and set on fire.
Mar Gewargis (St. George) monastery is looted.
Mar Thomas (St. Thomas) Syriac Catholic historical and old church was looted after the doors were broken. Now it is guarded by ISIS.
In addition, Mar Behnam (St. Behnam) Syriac Catholic monastery in the ancient Assyrian town of Nimrod is been controlled by ISIS.
For more information about Mar Behnam monastery, visit this link.
The religious Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs in Mosul have been destroyed. This is according to the ISIS Sharia. This destruction is endangering very ancient sites, such as the prophet Jonah’s tomb, which, according to many reports, was looted last week. The Shiite mosques (named “Hussayniya” in Arabic) are being demolished as well.
Second: All non-Sunni communities are being targeted by ISIS. In addition to Christians, this includes Yazidi (a very ancient religion) and Shiites.
Indeed, Yazidi had fled Mosul a couple of years ago (starting 2004 — 2010). They fled to Yazidi towns/townships/villages in Nineveh Plain, Duhok and Erbil. I doubt there were any Yazidi left in Mosul before 10 June. The Shiites in Mosul city and Nineveh governorate can be categorized as follows:
Turkman Shiites who were in Mosul city, Mosul west suburbs (Rashidiya, Gubba and Sherkhan) and in the big city of Telafar (North East of Mosul towards Syrian borders). Turkman Shiites were targeted and forced to flee. Their houses have been seized and many of them destroyed. In Talafar, Turkman Sunnis joined ISIS to persecute their fellow Turkman Shiites. Hundreds of Turkman Shiite families from the above-mentioned places, where they lived for centuries, fled towards Erbil in their way to be evacuated to Shiite provinces south of Iraq. The Iraqi central government (headed by Shiite and a Shiite Prime Minister Al Maliki) is facilitating this evacuation. A governmental flights program is ongoing to fly from Erbil airport to Najaf (Major Shiite city in the south of Baghdad) airport to evacuate these families and to be resettled in Shiite provinces. Another route is ongoing for the same purpose where convoys of buses and vehicles are evacuating these families through Erbil to Kirkuk to Sulemaniya and down to Khaniqin and then to southern provinces. This long route is because the road from Kirkuk to Baghdad is blocked.
Shabak Shiites are in Nineveh Plain, mainly from Mosul to Bartilla. Most of their townships are under Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] protection but there are few of their villages (between Bartilla and Mosul), which are under ISIS control or in the front line to ISIS. The Shabak Shiites of these ISIS-controlled villages fled. The Shabak Shiites who were living in Mosul fled as well. They fled to Shabak towns in Nineveh Plain and dozens of them fled seeking settlement in Shiite provinces south of Iraq. The same like Shiite Turkmans. The Turkman and Shabak Sunnis are not targeted.
This reflects how deep the sectarian conflict is and how long it will take to recover — if any recovery is to come. Can anyone really expect the Turkman and Shabak Shiites who are fleeing to Shiite provinces in southern Iraq — leaving their roots, existence and economy of a couple of centuries in — will return to Talafar and Mosul? Personally, I doubt it. What political impact does it have upon the Iraqi political and administrative structure? A big question.
The current situation reflects how the Iraqi structure was a fragile one. Is there really a common Iraqi people feeling that they are one people and one country?
The situation is clearly a deep social and political crisis. It is not a security or military battle between ISIS and Iraqi Army. The solution, if any exists, can only be achieved through reviewing and restructuring Iraq to convince all. This applies for Christians as well. The question and challenge is how to convince Christians that they have a future in Iraq. The nice words and sympathy statements are not enough. There should be deeds and practices.
According to a majority of Iraqi Christian politicians and people, the starting point is to grant the province (governorate) status for Nineveh Plain where the intensive Christian, Yazidi and Shabak demography exists.
The public relations statements — such as: we are all Iraqis and all Iraq is ours — are like a person who is issuing bank checks but he doesn’t have a bank account.
Third: Last night, ISIS tried to take over a medicine factory northeast of Mosul and west of Telkeif. There was a confrontation with Peshmerga who control and protect the area. ISIS terrorists were forced to go back after a short fighting. However, hearing the sound of the guns was enough to cause Christian families of Telkeif and Batnaya to escape and flee to the north in direction of Alqosh. The Peshmerga checkpoint nearby Alqosh prevented them and asked them to go back simply because there was no threats and no battles field. They went back to their homes. This reflects the fear and horror of the people.
Fourth: Yesterday, there was a bishops’ meeting in Erbil. It was headed by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I to discuss the situation. In addition, there was a meeting of all Christian political parties for the same purpose. The parties called upon a demonstration for tomorrow in Ain Kawa and to go to the United Nations office there, demanding that the International community protect the Iraqi Christians.
Fifth: The following is a summary from my visit last week to Qaraqosh (Hamdaniya), Bartilla and Bashiqa. In Qaraqosh I met Mr. Anwar Hadaya, the Christian member of Nineveh Governorate Council; Bishop Jerjis Qas Mousa, Syriac Catholic Patriarchal Vicar; and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Saliba Shamoun. In Bartilla, I met Mr. Monther, President of Syriac Community Council of Bartilla; board members of the council; and Father Jacob of the Syriac Orthodox Church. The council is the acting body and reference for the Syriac community of Bartilla. In Bashiqa, I met Syriac Orthodox Father Daniel and his church committee.
I will try to summarize the information that I learned from the people I met:
The major Christian town in the region. It has 45,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, 97 percent of them Christians. They confirmed the majority (almost 80 percent) of the inhabitants returned to Hamdaniya after they fled it because of the confrontation between ISIS and Peshmerga.
They confirmed the confrontation was initiated by ISIS, as it thought occupying Hamdaniya will lead to a fast and dramatic fall of other Christian and Shabak (Shiite) townships of Karmles, Bartilla and surrounding villages, and reaching Bashiqa (mixed Christian, Yezedi and Shabak town).
The current security situation is calm but the fear and horror is there as well. The suffering of the people includes the basic needs of daily life, such as:
Hamdaniya, Karmles, Bartilla, Bashiqa and surrounding villages were connected to Iraqi Electricity Network coming from Mosul. Now it is been cut by ISIS. They do not have electricity. The generators are not providing enough hours and the price is too high because the diesel is very expensive.
The above-mentioned towns were provided from Salamiya water station (a huge one on Tigris). The main pipe was connected from Salamiya to Hamdaniya and from there was pumped to Karmles, Bartilla, Bashiqa, etc.
Salamiya is currently controlled by ISIS, who cut the water from this region.
They told me that at first they were in contact by telephone with the Iraqi staff at the Salamiya water station. The Iraqis were providing them with water for one or two hours every day. But then the Islamic princes instructed the staff to cut off the water completely. The princes spoke over the phone and insulted the Christians who were calling the Iraqi staff. They told them: You don’t deserve to drink water.
So, there is no drinking water at all. The alternatives are the wells. However, the possible alternatives are different from one town to the other. For Hamdaniya, the alternative is to dig water wells and connect them to the existing pump station.
Of course, ISIS is not providing the hospital of Hamdaniya with medicine. There is a huge shortage and great need for medicines.
There are no salaries paid to the governmental offices, simply because there is no Iraqi government in Mosul. Islamic State does not pay Hamdaniya, nor other regions that are not under ISIS control.
Indeed, we also learned from sources inside Mosul that ISIS sorted out the lists of governmental offices staff and will not pay for any non-Muslim staff, even if that person shows up at work. We don’t think there are Christians to stay in Mosul and work in Islamic State offices. In addition, the banks are closed and the people do not have access to their cash. The private sector is almost paralyzed. All of this together makes the challenges of life very hard on the people.
The cleaning and other services have totally collapsed. The machinery and vehicles are not working. In addition, the coworkers from the surrounding Sunni villages are not working as their villages are controlled by ISIS and are not able (even if we suppose they like) to come to Hamdaniya.
The tendency to migrate is there, and is expected to increase. Many families are not migrating now because they don’t have their cash in hand as it is in the banks. In addition, they are waiting to sell their properties before they depart. The properties market is frozen for now.
The future scenario
Depends on the political agreements/disagreements between Iraqi political powers. So far, the indicators are for more and deeper conflicts and disagreements between Shiites on the one side, and Sunnis and Kurds on the other side. However, it is not expected ISIS will try to expand the control to Nineveh Plain for the following reasons:
the Peshmerga will prevent such attempts
the Iraqi military pressure on ISIS in Tekrit will push ISIS to avoid such battles against Peshmerga
the region is not an Arab or Sunni region to accept or cooperate with ISIS
In addition, many Sunni powers are in opposition to [Prime Minister] Al Maliki are in Erbil. This reduces the tension of Sunni areas against Kurdish and Peshmerga controlled regions.
The suffering is the same. Shiite Shabaks of Bartilla had already seized land and properties of Christians. The Iranian council was a regular visitor to Bartilla. All Shiite political parties have centers in Bartilla. This created a Sunni position against Bartilla.
The poverty is everywhere in Bartilla. However, hundreds of Shiite Shabaks from Mosul, Bartilla and surrounding villages fled to south of Iraq to the Shiite provinces of Najaf, Karbala, etc. This plan to flee the Sunni region and to be hosted in southern Shiite provinces is a clear solid indicator on how deep the conflict is, and how long it will take. No one is expecting the Shiites of Mosul and Nineveh Plain, now fleeing to the south of Iraq, will return.
Water needs of Bartilla
The alternative in Bartilla is to install units to purify the water they can get from the existing wells. They asked for two units to be installed in two of the wells they have in the church property. Lacking the drinking water, electricity, medicines, etc., has increased cases of disease.
Bashiqa and Bahzany
The same problems: Some 210 displaced Christian families from Mosul are hosted by the church. This is good but it is an extra burden upon the church, whose resources are limited. The solution of the water problem in Bashiqa is to provide a tanker to transport the water from the existing wells.
Keep Iraq’s suffering church and people in your prayers.
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees