ICC Note: As Christians in Iraq and across the Middle East are facing specific targeting from ISIS and other terrorist groups as a result of their faith, they continue to face international challenges in receiving aid or asylum. The situation remains desperate for hundreds of thousands and yet they are facing a lack of assistance by governments, including the U.S. State department in receiving aid or protection they desperately need.
05/14/2015 Iraq (Philos Project) Writing in April in USA Today about the murder of 12 Christian migrants thrown into the sea by Muslims for praying to Jesus instead of Allah, columnist Kirsten Powers stated that President Barack Obama “just can’t seem to find any passion for the mass persecution of Middle Eastern Christians or the eradication of Christianity from its birthplace.”
The president’s response appears to be United States policy. Evidence suggests that within the administration not only is there no passion for persecuted Christians under threat of genocide from the Islamic State, there is no room for them, period. In fact, despite ISIS’ targeting of Iraqi Christians specifically because they are Christians, and, as such, stand in the way of a pure, Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East (and beyond), the U.S. State Department has made it clear that “there is no way that Christians will be supported because of their religious affiliation.”
An Anglican bishop revealed that this policy position presented to him in his most recent interaction with State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). The Rt. Rev. Julian M. Dobbs, bishop of the Diocese of CANA East (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) is an advocate for persecuted people worldwide. On this occasion, Dobbs was appealing on behalf of a group of Assyrian Christians desperately in need of rescue from northern Iraq.
The serious nature of the threat against these Assyrian Christians is evident because not only do they have permission from their own bishop to leave the country, they have his blessing and urging, as well. Until recently, church leaders have almost uniformly asked the people to remain, fearing that the Middle East will be emptied of Christians. But many church leaders have now concluded that the only way for Middle Eastern Christians to survive is to actually leave.
How bad is it for Christians in northern Iraq at present? In the words of Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Northern Iraq:
Christianity in Iraq is going through one of its worst and hardest stages of its long history, which dates back to the first century. Throughout all these long centuries, we have experienced many hardships and persecutions, offering caravans of martyrs. Yet 2014 brought the worst acts of genocide against us in our history. We now face the extinction of Christianity as a religion and as a culture from Mesopotamia [ancient Iraq].
In June 2014, with cooperation and assistance from local Sunni Muslim extremists, ISIS took over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and home to many Christians and other religious minorities. Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans and others were targeted for destruction, and within just the first week of ISIS’ occupation, more than 500,000 people fled the city. The homes of Christians were marked with the Arabic letter “nun,” standing for Nazarene. Christians were threatened with death if they did not convert to Islam, pay jizya and live as a subjected people – “dhimmi” – or flee immediately.
Two months later, ISIS seized control of Qaraqosh, “the Christian Capital of Iraq,” and the neighboring Christian villages, all in the province of the Biblical landmark of Nineveh. Christianity Today reported that the siege displaced one-fourth of Iraq’s total Christian population. According to a March 26, 2015 article in Newsweek, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in their ancestral home of Iraq prior to 2003. Now the number of Christians is estimated at anywhere from 260,000 to 350,000, with near half of that number displaced within the country. Newsweek explained that Iraq’s remaining Christians have mostly fled north to safer areas under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. “But now ISIS is threatening them there, too.”