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Impending Genocide of Christians and other Religious Minorities Across the Levant

By Todd Daniels (@ICCMiddleEast)

08-14-2014 Istanbul, Turkey (International Christian Concern) – At 2:30 A.M., Thursday, August 7, the bells of the churches of Qaraqosh began to ring with urgency. The churches were pleading with their people to once again leave the “Christian capital” of Iraq.

Previously home to more than 50,000 Assyrian Christians, Qaraqosh was emptied of Christians last month as the battles between the radical militants of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS) and the hardened fighters of the Kurdish Pesmerga crept closer to Qaraqosh. Some 80% of these Christians had since returned to the area, hopeful the Peshmerga would be able to hold off the ISIS forces, despite their newly acquired heavy weaponry.

When word was given that the Peshmerga was pulling out, the Christians started their flight from Qaraqosh and surrounding towns and villages across the Nineveh plain. An estimated 200,000 more joined this latest wave fleeing the violence.

It is not just the Christians who are in the crosshairs of ISIS’ brutal advance, but all those who fail to embrace their radical interpretation of Islam. In addition to Qaraqosh and seven other Christian towns, seven Yazidi villages, and 15 Shabak villages in the same area were also emptied as these refugees took flight.

The Yazidi community, an ancient but mysterious religion, became the picture of the desperation Iraq’s religious minorities were under that grabbed the world’s attention.

When the ISIS forces took the village of Sinjar, northwest of Qaraqosh, it sent tens of thousands fleeing into the hills. The community was stranded on the mountain tops. Heartbreaking reports of the desperation begin to trickle out, first by cellphone and then as batteries began to die, by runners who were able to carry information.

At least 100 people were believed to have died of thirst while stranded there, nearly 50 of whom were children.

The situation for those who did not make it into the mountains is believed to not be any better. More than 100 Yazidi and Christian women were believed to have been kidnapped by ISIS. Another 500 families were being held in an airport, their fate remains unknown.

The world is now beginning to wake up to the impending genocide that is taking place across Syria and Iraq under the brutal flag of ISIS.

President Obama responded to pleas from the region, along with growing domestic pressures, to launch airstrikes as the ISIS forces moved closer to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, also the site of an American consulate with more than 100 personnel stationed there.

Along with the airstrikes, U.S. troops also used cargo planes to airlift tons of water and food to assist thousands of those stranded in the Sinjar Mountains.

The situation – for those on the mountain and for those on the plains – is desperate. “They have nothing,” Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, told ICC on August 9. “Food, water, medicine, shelters,” the absolute basics to sustain life, is what hundreds of thousands desperately need.

Aid is being distributed by local and international NGOs, and the United Nation’s relief arm, with support from various donor states, though the relief has been far from sufficient for the more than 1.5 million believed to be displaced now.

Local churches became the temporary housing site for hundreds of these families, but these were quickly filled leaving hundreds more to sleep on the streets. “There are 700 or 800 families who couldn’t find anywhere to sleep and are on the streets now,” a Christian leader from Erbil told ICC following the latest surge from Qaraqosh.

The airstrikes are beginning to change the security situation and have allowed the Kurdish Peshmerga to retake ground for the first time in weeks.

But the situation is subject to change in an instant.

Right now we feel safe in Erbil, but we cannot speak about tomorrow,” Archbishop Nikodemus Daoud of Mosul told ICC on Sunday. “Today yes, but tomorrow we don’t know.” A statement carrying added weight, as it is from an Archbishop whose own city has been completely emptied of its Christian community at the hands of ISIS.  

“What we are witnessing now is a genocide of our people,” Archbishop Daoud continued.

The situation for Iraq’s religious minorities has become a modern day illustration of the 17th century poem of John Donne.

“No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
[…] any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.” (Meditation XVII)

As the world watches genocide taking place, entire populations of Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities being driven from their homes, it causes us to consider again what it means to be a part of humanity. 

FOR INTERVIEWS CONTACT: Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: [email protected]