Tag: Iraq

Second Anniversary of 21 Egyptian Christians Executed by ISIS in Libya

Family of 21 Martyrs Remain Proud of Their Family’s Sacrifice

Two years ago, ISIS released a video titled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” In it, ISIS militants in military fatigues walk behind 21 Egyptian Christian male captives in orange jumpsuits before forcing them to kneel, in a style that emulates the videos released by ISIS of brutal killings in Iraq and Syria. One of the militants then threatened Christians by declaring, “O crusaders, safety for you will be only wishes.”

The ruthless execution of these Christian men shocked the world and left 21 Egyptian families in mourning. Many of the victims were trying to find work in Libya before ISIS kidnapped them. Their deaths and the video are a continual reminder of ISIS brutality toward anyone who does not support their radical ideology.

Many of the family members have chosen to use this anniversary as a time of celebration in spite of the pain associated with the video. The uncle of one martyr noted, “At the beginning, the news of executing our martyrs in Libya was very painful for us, but God has strengthened us and his Holy Spirit has given us the patience and heavenly consolation.”

The pain does not eliminate the pride experienced by many family members who remember that their loved ones were martyred for Christ. One wife recollected how her husband “kept the faith, and was martyred in the name of Christ. His faith was very strong. I’m proud of him. He has lifted our heads up and honored us and all the Christians.” Another family member reminisced, “I’m very happy that my brother is in Heaven with Jesus now. I loved my brother when he was alive on the earth, but now I love him more than before. He was martyred in the name of Jesus Christ.”

These family members refuse to allow their loved ones’ deaths to be in vain. “All of our churches were built on the blood of the martyrs at all times,” remembered one father. “We are very proud of our martyrs. They have lifted our heads and the heads of all Christians. The whole world witnesses them.”

A widow of one of the 21 said that she “hopes that the faith of my son…will be like the faith of his father.”

ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We mourn both the deaths of these 21 Christian men and the brutality behind their execution. ISIS and other extremist groups like them continue to target, torture, and kill Christian men and women who dare to stand up for their faith. This anniversary, however, demonstrates the faith of the surviving family members. Their patience, hope, and love continue to stand as an example for the global Church.”

Source: International Christian Concern



Mosul displaced faced “numbing degradation” at hands of ISIL (Podcast)

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In Gogjali, on the eastern fringes of Mosul, a young girl stands by her family’s belongings after fleeing the city earlier that morning. They are waiting for the Iraqi military to take them to a camp for internally displaced persons. Photo: UNHCR/Ivor Prickett

Harrowing stories are emerging from Mosul in Iraq of life under the ISIL terrorist group, four weeks into the campaign to retake the northern city.

Some 60,000 people have been displaced so far, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The agency’s Joel Millman has travelled close to Mosul.

Daniel Johnson asked him what Iraqi people have been saying about life under ISIL.

Duration: 3’33”



IRAQ: ‘THEY ARE WILLING TO STAY – THEY JUST NEED HOPE’

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In a simply furnished portacabin in a refugee camp in Iraq, Thabet is doing the sums.

The church leader assesses the current situation. “One third of the Christians from my village have left the country – that’s a lot.” He pauses a moment, thoughtfully. Then his eyes start to twinkle. “On a positive note, that means two-thirds are still here, that’s the majority.

“Many of them are willing to stay in Iraq; they just need enough hope. That’s where I come in. My job is to inspire and mobilise people, to help them rebuild their trust in their neighbours and their position in society.”

‘EVEN WHEN YOU HAVE NOTHING, YOU CAN STILL HELP OTHERS’

Thabet is just one of the many church leaders working among the displaced Christian community in Iraqi Kurdistan. His ‘parish’ is the ‘Karamles camp’ – a temporary housing project in Erbil home to hundreds of families from the Christian village of Karamles, who fled their village when the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) overran it in 2014. Every day he walks around the camp talking to people.

And even though they are living in camps, even though they might have lost all their possessions, Thabet is still urging these displaced Christians to do whatever they can to help one another. On the corner of his desk in the portacabin is a simple cardboard box with ‘Coin of the widow’ written on it in three languages. The title refers to the New Testament story about the widow’s offering (Mark 12:42-43).

“I ask my people to put something in this box. Even if it is just a small coin, whatever they can spare to help people who even poorer than they. Even when you have almost nothing to spend, still you can help others. That is how we keep the hope alive; that is how we spread the hope.”

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KEEPING HOPE ALIVE

In recent days, the village of Karamles has been liberated from IS. Thabet was among a group of people who visited the town briefly, and once again raised a cross on the hill overlooking their home.

Now he looks forward to the day that he and his people will be able return to their houses and is determined to keep the hope alive until that day. When asked about his dream, his goal in all of this, he starts smiling: “One day all of us will return to Karamles,” he says. “The first thing we will do is to gather all Christians and have a church service. We will worship outside on Barbara Hill next to our village; we will have communion in the open air. Everybody will see that this is the church, this is the Body of Christ, and this is Christian land. That is my dream: to give a testimony to the world.”

‘I JUST SIGNED – PLEASE JOIN ME’

Thabet believes that Christians only have a future in Iraq if the international community will also take its responsibility for them.

“We will need international support and protection. That is the only way our future as Christians in this country can be guaranteed.”

That is why he is supporting the Hope for the Middle East campaign, the seven year campaign Open Doors has launched to support the rights of Christians and other minorities to play a role in the future of the region.

Thabet joined with others around the world and went online to sign the One Million Voices petition, calling upon the UN to ensure equal citizenship and dignified living conditions for Christians in the Middle East and support for the role of Christians in reconciliation and rebuilding society.

“I just signed this petition myself,” he says. “Please join me.”

Source: Open Doors



When Mosul is freed, Christians may face a new crisis

Nina Shea: Refugees returning to their homes may find them occupied by those who flee battle

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Displaced Iraqi Christians in Kurdistan hung “Liberate Mosul” signs in August. Photo courtesy of Open Doors

The eventual liberation of Mosul, Iraq, from the so-called Islamic State will end one crisis for dislocated Christians only to create a new one, a religious-freedom expert says.

Planning documents drawn up by the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government anticipate that driving IS out of Iraq’s second city will create a surge of at least 100,000 people and possibly as many as 1 million, depending on how the fighting goes, Britain’s Guardian news organization has reported.

“Those people are probably going to go into the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain, that are standing there, unprotected and uninhabited, that belong to Christians and Yazidis, and they will become entrenched there, especially if Mosul’s infrastructure is damaged and they can’t go back immediately,” said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute, on 23 Sept. “That would preclude these genocide minorities … from being able to leave the camps in Kurdistan, where they are today, and going home.”

Shea addressed her remarks to the Religion News Association, meeting in Washington.

The Nineveh Plain is a region in northwest Iraq where Christians have lived since the earliest days of the church. IS militants burst out of Syria in 2014 and overran the region, sending hundreds of thousands of Christians and Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious group, fleeing eastward to Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. Thousands remain in sprawling refugee camps; others have trickled into Kurdistan’s majority-Muslim society or have sought asylum beyond Iraq’s borders.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in August the assault to break IS’ two-year grip on Mosul will begin before the end of the year.

“I have deep fears about the aftermath of the Mosul offensive, what will happen to the Christian community,” Shea said.

Christians faced a similar situation a decade ago, Shea said, after al-Qaeda drove them and other minorities out of the Dora district of Baghdad. US-led forces later uprooted the militants, but the Christian presence in Dora today is much diminished.

Nor is there much reason to hope that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will be inclined to give special regard to the dislocated Christians, she said. While governments in Europe and America have formally accused IS of Christian genocide, the UN has demurred.

In a June report, the UN-created Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic declared Christians “live difficult and often precarious existences” under IS control, but that they enjoy a “right to exist” if they pay a tribute tax.

Said Shea: “Far from the truth.”

“The bishops of the region, the religious leaders, say there’s absolutely no Christian communities living under ISIS. There are Christian individuals. But no communities that have access to churches, religious leaders, their religious rites, their sacraments, as Christian had who paid an Islamic tax over 1,300 years under various caliphates.”

Three months prior to the commission’s report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the American government had concluded Christians could find no safe quarter under IS rule.

“We know that in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and elsewhere, Daesh has executed Christians solely because of their faith; that it executed 49 Coptic and Ethiopian Christians in Libya; and that it has also forced Christian women and girls into sexual slavery,” he said, using the English form of the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

The Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, part of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said in November 2015 that IS in July 2014 offered Christians safety return for the tax, known as jizya. Today, “it is unknown whether Christians who were given the option to pay a jizya or leave, instead of convert or face death, would still be given this option should they return now.”

Such second-guessing of Christians “comes dangerously close to blaming the victims,” said Andrew Walther, a vice president of the Knights of Columbus at the Religion News Association gathering. The Knights, a Catholic men’s service organization, lobbied the U.S. government to classify IS treatment of Christians as genocide.

“One could logically conclude that the untold numbers of Christians who died, were kidnapped, forced into sexual slavery and dispossessed … somehow they must have brought this on themselves by just not paying that tax,” Walther said.

He said half of the remaining Christians in Iraq live as refugees in the Kurdish capital of Erbil. UN policy permits providing relief to individuals, but does not address groups targeted for genocide, he said.

“Christians get no US or UN money, and should the private aid they receive dry up, they would very quickly face a large-scale humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Personal Stories from displaced Christian refugees

In this film from Kings School of Media in Jerusalem, Iraqi Christians tell their personal stories of how they were forced to leave behind their homes, businesses and all their possessions, when ISIS arrived in their towns and villages to establish Islamic Sharia law.