19 September 2014
An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter holds a position in Bartella, east of Mosul, Iraq, after clashes with ISIS on 16 September. (photo: Sivan Siddik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
During the ISIS invasion of the Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain on 6 August 2014, Christians were mainly displaced from nine villages:
- In the center of the plain, to the east side of Mosul, four Christian towns and villages were invaded by ISIS and all inhabitants were displaced: Qaraqosh (also named Bakhdida), Qaramlesh, Bartella and Baashiqa.
- To the north of Mosul, five towns and villages were displaced, but only four of them were invaded by ISIS militants: Tal Keif, Batnaya, Baaqoufa, Tal Eskef, and, further to the north, Al Qosh village.
As a matter of fact, ISIS never gained control of Al Qosh, but came within 20 miles of the village. Most of the families left Al Qosh; some men stayed to guard the village in case ISIS broke through.
Qaraqosh, the town with the largest displaced population (around 45,000 Christians), is located about 45 miles southeast of Al Qosh. At present, the Kurdish military forces are trying to regain land in the area around the village. But all regained small villages were initially inhabited by Kurds. And the nearest Christian village to Al Qosh, Tal Eskef, is still under the control of ISIS militants.
Following the liberation of the Mosul dam and the surrounding small villages by the Peshmarga forces backed by the U.S. air raids, the Christians of Al Qosh felt more secure and decided to return back to their homes. According to our church partners, around 500 Christian families have so far returned.
It is important to mention that the return of families to Al Qosh was relatively easy because their houses were not invaded and looted by ISIS; on the contrary, they returned to find everything as they left it.
On Tuesday, 16 September 2014, a senior officer with the Peshmerga forces confirmed that ISIS militants were booted from four villages — Hassan al-Sham, Syudan, Bahra and Jisr al-Khadhr, all located in the Nineveh plain between Erbil and Mosul. But these villages are also at least 15 miles away from the nearest Christian town of Qaraqosh.
It is worth mentioning that displaced Iraqi Christian families are suffering from a real crisis of trust. They lost confidence in the intentions of the central government of Baghdad, in the Kurdish authority, and in the Peshmerga who withdrew their forces from the Nineveh Plain overnight, leaving tens of thousands of Christian families defenseless.
I think even if their villages are liberated soon, the Christians will be very reluctant and hesitant to return back before getting some international protection and proper indemnities for the losses caused by the invasion and looting activities of the ISIS militants. I believe at present the displaced Christians of Iraq have confidence only in their churches and church people; all efforts should be directed toward empowering the local church to accompany those victims in their walk through harsh roads.
To support these Christians in their moment of need, visit our giving page — and please remember to keep them in your prayers.
19 September 2014
The board of CNEWA Canada met recently in Québec and, among other things, discussed the ongoing campaign to help Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
The Canadian Catholic TV network Salt + Light reported on the meeting. Check out the clip below.
19 September 2014
Armenian Katarine Hoveian, 91, has lived alone for 25 years. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
Pope Francis today met with the president of Armenia. The Summer edition of ONE includes a poignant look at some of those citizens the president serves, notably the elderly:
Since the earthquake, the population of Gyumri has dropped by about half. In 1988, some 220,000 people lived in the city. But by 2011 — due to the earthquake and the country’s economic collapse after it achieved independence from an unraveling Soviet Union — Gyumri’s population declined to 121,500. Many are convinced the actual number of people living in the city is less than 90,000.
According to the United Nations, Armenia is among the world’s “aging” nations. Pensioners constitute some 14 percent of the country’s 2.9 million people. In Gyumri, the average age is trending upward as more and more of the young and capable pursue employment abroad, usually Russia.
“Imagine how things stand with the frail elderly if men leave their children to go find jobs to earn their living, if unemployment is 40 percent in the city during the summer, and rises to 60 percent in the winter due to fewer seasonal jobs,” says Sister Arousiag Sajonian of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
“If the young cannot survive, how can seniors?” asks Sister Arousiag, who arrived in northwestern Armenia soon after the earthquake. She later founded the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Center in Gyumri, which since 2011 has also included a center to care for the elderly.
Observers say pensioners in northern Armenia are left alone with no caretakers for a variety of reasons. Some may have lost their children in the earthquake. Others lost their children to emigration. But alone in Gyumri exists the phenomenon of orphaned children brought by the Soviets to work in factories — orphans such as Ophelia Matevosian — who never married or created families and remain alone.
Read more about those Shaken by the Earthquake of Life in the Summer edition of ONE.
19 September 2014
Pope Francis walks next to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan during a meeting at the Vatican on 19 September. (photo: CNS/Andrew Medichini, pool via Reuters)
Turkey opens border to Syrians fleeing ISIS (BBC) Turkey has allowed thousands of Syrian Kurds fleeing Islamic State (IS) militants to cross its southern border, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. TV footage showed exhausted people, mostly women and children, crossing into the south-eastern border village of Dikmetas under tight security. The move followed clashes with Turkish Kurd protesters who were calling for the refugees to be allowed in. Syrian Kurds have been massing along the Turkish border since Thursday...
Pope meets with president of Armenia (VIS) This morning Pope Francis received in audience the president of the Republic of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, who subsequently met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States. During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the development and strengthening of bilateral relations, highlighting the special role of Christianity in the history and life of Armenian society...
Will bishops at upcoming Synod understand the challenges of India? (UCANews) At least one Indian archbishop will speak at the Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis in Rome a fortnight from now. Having served in Delhi as the apostolic nuncio at a critical time in the country’s political history, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri is an old India hand. But will that be sufficient to have post-synod documents reflect the South Asian reality as a matter of conjecture, and hope?...
Religion still leads the way in Egypt (The Guardian) When protesters successfully called for the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi last year, part of their rhetoric played on fears that Egypt's first democratically elected president and his Muslim Brotherhood were seeking to turn the country into a theocracy. Yet 14 months on, religion and politics are as interwoven as ever — and Morsi’s successors in government are leading the way...
18 September 2014
Tags: Syria India Egypt Turkey Armenia
Iraqi Christians from Qaraqosh, who were forced to flee from advancing Islamic State militants, rest at a makeshift shelter near Erbil, Iraq, last week. Kurdish forces have reportedly taken back several nearby Christian villages in northern Iraq. (photo:CNS/Mohamed Messara, EPA)
Some encouraging news this week from northern Iraq, via AFP:
Kurdish Peshmerga forces on Tuesday recaptured seven Christian villages in northern Iraq in clashes with Islamic State (IS) jihadists, an officer and a cleric said.
Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and dozens of other villages were all but emptied in what Christian leaders described as the worst disaster for the minority in centuries.Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, most of them Chaldeans, fled their homes when IS militants launched a renewed drive in the north in early August.
On Tuesday, Peshmerga forces ousted IS militants from seven villages west of the Kurdish capital Erbil during fighting in which rockets and mortar rounds were used, a senior officer said.
“We liberated those villages with the support of US aircraft,” Major Sardar Ali said, referring to the Nineveh plains area between Erbil and Mosul, the main IS hub in Iraq.
The United States, whose air force has been targeting IS jihadists in the area since early August, has yet to confirm it carried out the latest reported strikes.
The Peshmerga, the main security forces of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, are receiving arms and ammunition from countries including the United States and France.The officer said many of the homes were booby-trapped by the jihadists before they retreated.
A source in the Catholic Chaldean church told AFP that Kurdish forces had made progress Tuesday.
“The peshmerga managed to liberate several villages... (IS) militants have now fled from there,” the cleric said on condition of anonymity.
The villages were important because of their location close to the towns of Bartalla and Qaraqosh, he added.
Read more at the AFP link.
Thousands of Iraqi Christians today are homeless, living in tent cities and makeshift housing. You can help give them what they need to survive. Visit our giving page to learn how.
18 September 2014
A rosary hangs from a machine gun as Ukrainian soldiers stand at their positions near the Ukrainian town of Pervomaysk on 12 September. Ukraine moved to resolve months of crisis by strengthening ties to Europe and loosening some controls over the country’s rebellious eastern regions, where it has been fighting Russian-backed separatists. (CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
18 September 2014
Three weeks ago, we reported that an important Christian stronghold in Syria — the city of Mhardeh and nearby Hama — was under attack by ISIS and the Al Qaeda-backed rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.
Recent reports indicate that the region is still under siege:
In the central province of Hama, two civilians, including a woman, were killed and another was injured in terrorist rocket attack on Mhardeh city in the countryside.
A source in Hama Police Command told SANA reporter that terrorists targeted Mhardeh city with four rocket shells that hit the western neighborhood, killing two civilians, one of them a woman, and injuring another, in addition to causing material damage to the citizens’ houses and properties.
Terrorists fired a number of rocket shells on several neighborhoods in the city of the central province of Homs, leaving 18 civilians injured, according to a source at Homs Police Command.
The source told SANA reporter that the rocket shells hit al-Walid suburb and Wadi al-Dahab neighborhood, wounding 18 civilians, in addition to causing material damage in the areas where the shells landed.
On Tuesday, seven civilians were injured in terrorist rocket and mortar attacks on Wadi al-Dahab and Ekrema neighborhoods and al-Walid suburb in Homs city.
A report from last week adds additional background:
The ongoing fighting among extremist Islamist anti-Assad groups continues deadlier than ever with the Islamic State (IS) gaining the upper hand. The rising violence and terror are a threat to minorities, especially Christians, whose ancient presence is increasingly in jeopardy. This is particularly true for the Greek Orthodox town of Mhardeh, one Syria’s remaining Christian strongholds, which is under siege from Jabhat al-Nusra forces.
...While the Islamist opposition to President Assad remains divided, Islamists — without exception — continue to target the country’s religious minorities, especially Christians.
The historic city of Mhardeh, one of the last Christian strongholds in Syria, is one of the latest victims.
Fighters from the Jabhat al-Nusra, which is connected to the al-Qaeda terror network and is loyal to its Ayman al-Zawahiri, have surrounded the town, and relentlessly shelled it, day and night, in the past week an eyewitness said. Without power supplies, the city is “besieged on all sides, except for one road, but it’s difficult to go on it,” he added.
For centuries, Mhardeh was a safe haven for Syria’s Greek Orthodox Christians, recently housing a population of approximately 23,000.
Known locally as the “city of the sun,” before plunging into the thick of the Syrian civil war, it had already experienced al-Nusra suicide attacks.
In recent weeks, militants have taken advantage of the lack of media coverage and international attention — whose focus is on the Islamic State and its push in Iraq — to renew its offensive against the Christian town and, more generally, across the Hama region.
However, according to sources in the Syrian opposition, jihadists were aiming at Mhardeh not because the population is Christian, but rather because they want to seize a major government military complex in the area.
18 September 2014
As reports circulate of Christians returning to some recaptured villages in northern Iraq, the British ambassador to the Holy See in the video above says “We want persecuted minorities to be
able to return home.” (video: Rome Reports)
Kurds retake Christian villages (AFP) Kurdish peshmerga forces on Tuesday recaptured seven Christian villages in northern Iraq in clashes with Islamic State (IS) jihadists, an officer and a cleric said. Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and dozens of other villages were all but emptied in what Christian leaders described as the worst disaster for the minority in centuries.Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, most of them Chaldeans, fled their homes when IS militants launched a renewed drive in the north in early August. On Tuesday, peshmerga forces ousted IS militants from seven villages west of the Kurdish capital Arbil during fighting in which rockets and mortar rounds were used, a senior officer said...
Saudi Arabia pledges $500 million to Gaza rebuilding (Reuters) Saudi Arabia has pledged $500 million to help rebuild Gaza, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah said on Thursday, with the full cost of post-war reconstruction expected to be around $4 billion over three years. Saudi Arabia’s commitment comes ahead of a conference in Cairo on 12 October when Palestinian leaders hope other donors, including Turkey, Qatar, the European Union and United States, will step forward with promises of support...
Kerala migration rising (The India Express) The Kerala Migration Survey of 2014 has found that flow of Keralites to abroad still continues mainly because of the state’s inability to provide suitable jobs for the increasing number of educated youths. Apart from this, the glamor associated with Gulf emigration is still strong among the state’s youth...
Pope meets with Jewish leaders to mark Rosh Hashanah (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday afternoon met with delegation of 40 world Jewish leaders at the Casa Santa Marta. The gathering was in honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Among those attending the event were World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder, Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra and a number of Jewish community heads and senior WJC officials...
Ethiopia equipped to confront Ebola crisis (Christian Science Monitor) Six months into the worst Ebola outbreak in history, only two African nations — Ethiopia and Algeria — are adequately prepared to handle the potential arrival of the virus, according to the World Health Organization. Nineteen countries are partially prepared, and 20 were described are not prepared at all...
17 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala
In this image from last year, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk presides at the consecration of
Kiev’s new cathedral. (photo: CNEWA)
This week Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and chair of CNEWA’s board, wrote movingly of a conversation he had recently with Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. From the cardinal’s blog:
I have grown to admire this young, brave brother bishop over the last years, as we have often spent time in Rome together, and especially when I was with him last year for the dedication of the daring new Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kiev.
The Catholic Church in Ukraine is young, alive, growing, and prophetic. This, from a worldly point of view, is illogical, near miraculous, as Greek Catholics were viciously persecuted by Stalin in the years of Soviet oppression. Even after the breakup of the communist empire, and the restoration of freedom in Ukraine, Catholics were not given back their former churches that had been given to the Russian Orthodox, and the courageous yet decimated community almost had to start afresh.
Through the optic of the Gospel, we know that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith,” so believers are hardly surprised by the vitality and growth of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine.
Archbishop Shevchuk, like his predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, now retired, is a true “confessor of the faith,” a pastor revered by his people, a leader in bringing unity, peace, and hope to a country threatened by thugs and thieves within, and an aggressor on the border.
I check in with him, because I worry about him, want to encourage him, and am inspired by him. My call last week found him uncharacteristically grim and apprehensive.
“Timothy, we are under attack! Our country is under siege from Russia! Our people are being murdered, their homes destroyed, not by alleged separatists in Ukraine wanting to return to Russia, but by Russian troops and mercenaries. Please see that the truth gets out. There is an invasion here.”
Last week, the Catholic bishops of Ukraine issued a chilling statement that their beloved country is “flowing in blood,” and urged Western governments — like ours — not to become “accomplices in the sin of murder.”
Just so we would understand, the Ukrainian bishops were blunt: “This peaceful, sovereign nation has been subjected to a direct military intervention by a Northern neighbor — hundreds of units of heavy weaponry and technology, thousands of armed mercenaries and soldiers of Russia’s standing army are crossing our borders of Ukraine, sowing death and destruction.”
Read more of his conversation at Cardinal Dolan’s blog.
17 September 2014
A girl carries her brother across the Mai-Aini refugee camp near Shire in northern Ethiopia. To read about the lives of these refugees, check out Starting Over: Elsa’s Dream in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures)