Tag: Iraqi Christians

Under the shadow of IS: Iraqi Christians tell of crucifixions, torture, sex slavery

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Islamic State jihadists hung Karlus, 29, from the ceiling of the jail he was held in, by a rope attached to his left foot. As blood poured from his foot, they beat and kicked him, rubbing salt into his wounds. ADF International

Islamic State (IS) jihadists hung Karlus, a 29-year-old cook, from the ceiling of the jail he was held in, by a rope attached to his left foot. As blood poured from his foot, they beat and kicked him, rubbing salt into his wounds. He was sexually abused in prison by three women wearing niqabs. He was told he would be shot dead; but for reasons he still does not understand, on the day his execution was due to take place, 26 September 2014, he was released.

When IS seized control of Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014, they gave Christians, as “People of the Book”, four options: leave, convert to Islam, pay a protection tax (jiyza) or be killed. The vast majority fled – an estimated 120,000 in a few short weeks that summer. But those left behind were subjected to torture, forced conversion, sexual slavery and even crucifixion, according to testimonies collected from Iraqi refugees in Jordan by the religious freedom charity ADF International.

Karlus told its researchers he had been unable to flee his home in Batnaya, a village outside Mosul, because he was looking after his disabled father. When the terrorists came to his house, they destroyed a cross and a picture of Jesus.

“They even destroyed a piece from the Quran that was given to me by a friend,” he said.

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Karlus was treated in Spain for the injuries to his leg.

Karlus was taken to a police station unconscious after retaliating when one of the jihadists hit him in the face. There began his seven-week ordeal at the hands of IS, after which he fled to Kurdistan, was treated in Spain for the injuries to his leg, and sought asylum in Jordan. Unknown to Karlus, his father had meantime managed to travel to Baghdad, but died there in August 2015.

Esam, a father-of-three from outside the town of Qaraqosh, said two of his wife’s relatives had not managed to flee Qaraqosh before IS arrived. They were abducted; the husband has not been heard of since and the wife “now lives with one of the Daesh [IS] amirs”. While reports have focused on Yezidi women being taken into sex slavery, Esam’s account suggests that Christian women and girls may have been targeted as well.

“We heard of 12 Christian girls who are with Daesh. They may be more. Our bishop told people not to tell if they lose their girls: it is a shame on the family,” he said.

Karlus and Esam are among the thousands of Iraqi Christians who have sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan. While Iraqi and Kurdish forces and militias, with US and UK air support, are embroiled in the push to liberate Mosul from IS, many Christians from the city and its surrounding villages are too traumatised by their experiences to countenance returning.

Some say they feel betrayed by neighbours who supported IS, and are no longer sure whom they can trust. Instead, many have applied for asylum in Western countries such as Sweden, Canada and Australia.

One family recovering in Sweden is that of Esam’s brother-in-law.

“My wife’s brother was crucified by Daesh,” Esam said. “He was crucified and tortured in front of his wife and children, who were forced to watch. They told him that if he loved Jesus that much, he would die like Jesus.”

Esam said the fighters tortured his relative from 6pm until 11pm; they cut his stomach open and shot him before leaving him hanging, crucified.

My wife’s brother was crucified by Daesh. He was crucified and tortured in front of his wife and children, who were forced to watch. They told him that if he loved Jesus that much, he would die like Jesus.
“A Swedish organisation helped his wife and the children; they are now in Sweden.” He added: “His wife has cancer.”

In the ongoing instability in Iraq, Christians are not necessarily safe even if they escape areas held by IS. Baghdad has been home to the country’s largest Christian community for decades, but numbers have plummeted as sectarian militia violence sporadically ripped the capital apart and targeted non-Muslims in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion.

Twice in 2014, Alaa, a father-of-two living in the city, received death threats. The first was by phone; the second time, “someone wrote on our door, ‘Your day is coming to die, you infidels’”. Alaa knew these were no empty threats.

“My wife’s cousin was killed in 2010, in an explosion at a church. Another family member was abducted in 2009,” he said. The family left Iraq in November 2014 and flew to Jordan to register as refugees.

Amid the ongoing violence and political instability in Iraq, Alaa sees little future for his family. “It is impossible to go back to Baghdad,” he said. “It is not possible to go back to Iraq. I can’t build a life there. I hope to go to Australia, but any country that will accept me, I will go there. I want to build a life and a future for my children.”

Some of the damage done by IS has already begun to be reversed. Esam said friends of his who escaped Mosul after being forcibly converted to Islam had been “baptised back to Christianity”. Other aspects will take far longer. Iraqi Christians who end up returning to Iraq know they return to a country whose sectarian fault-lines have been activated to lethal levels. Aid workers have warned that extensive reconciliation work will be vital if Iraq’s many different faith and ethnic communities are to cohere again, especially as levels of trauma among all sectors of the population are thought to be extremely high. In Jordan, Karlus reflects on his ordeal at the hands of IS members in Mosul.

He concludes: “What happened is not easy, but in the end we must forgive. This is my destiny; maybe God is planning something for me.”

Source: World Watch Monitor



Iraqi Christians Fighting ISIS on Their Knees

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Kurdish and Iraqi forces are still fighting to break the Islamic State’s iron grip on Mosul. Meanwhile, thousands of refugees are fleeing from certain death just miles away from the ISIS stronghold and Iraq’s Christians are asking God to restore their land.

CBN News Military Correspondent Chuck Holton described the scene on the front lines in Northern Iraq.

“We’re hearing a lot of explosions and machine gunfire. There are coalition jets circling overhead,” he said positioned just miles beyond enemy lines.

While the scene is full of heavy gunfire, smoke, and ground-shaking explosions, it is impossible to ignore the thousands of wounded refugees running for their lives.

“They’ve been coming in groups of 10, 20, 30, even 100..waiving white flags and surrendering to the Peshmerga,” Holton said. “Many of them were told by ISIS that if they went to the Kurdish lines they would be beheaded by the Kurds. The refugees said they would rather die by Kurdish hands than by ISIS.”

The tired and wounded refugees do not receive the sword once they reach Kurdish territory, instead they get bowls of food and glasses of water.

“When they get to the Kurdish lines and find out they are well cared for and given food and water they just sometimes break down in tears,” Holton said. “The wounded people we saw just a little while ago included a man who’s wife and brother were killed in a U.S. airstrike. His daughter was with him and lost an arm and an eye.”

Although many have escaped, Holton says there are still many trapped in ISIS territory with targets on their backs.

“ISIS has herded thousands and thousands of people in Mosul into where the fighting is and using them as human shields. There are upwards of 700,000 people still trapped in Mosul,” he said.

Matthew Nowery leads Samaritan’s Purse in northern Iraq and he says this is the perfect time for revival.

“This is a dangerous calling. But I ask for prayer for the people themselves that are going to be displaced. That God would soften their hearts now. That they would be receptive to the message that so many of Jesus’ followers are going to be out here in the desert of Iraq to provide,” he told CBN News.

Many Christians throughout the Middle East are fighting the war against ISIS on their knees, and are praying for God to sanctify and restore the land the jihadists have defiled.

Friday, November 18th, Iraqi Christians are meeting for an event called “Christ Day.” That day will be dedicated to praying over the land defiled by ISIS militants.

Fabian Greche, leads a prayer group in the northern Iraq and believes God is far from finished with the Middle East.

“We easily get affected by darkness around us. It affects us, but if we look at Jesus and at His Word we see that God wants to pour out His Spirit. He’s coming back for a Bride and He will have one in the Middle East.”

Source: CBN



Iraqi Christians Celebrate Mass In Qaraqosh For The First Time Since Liberation From ISIS

After more than two years of ISIS occupation, a church in Qaraqosh held its first service on Sunday.

Surrounded by charred walls and in front of a ruined altar, dozens of Iraqi Christians celebrated mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Church bells rang out in the town on the southeastern approaches to Mosul where Iraqi troops, backed by US-led air and ground forces, have been driving back the Sunni Muslim jihadists ahead of a battle for the city itself.

“Today Qaraqosh is free of Daesh (Islamic State),” Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe – who was born in the town – told worshippers.

“Our role today is to remove all the remnants of Daesh,” he added. “This includes erasing sedition, separation and conflicts, which victimized us.

“Political and sectarian strife, separating between one man and another, between ruler and follower, these mentalities must be changed.”

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Qaraqosh once had the largest Christian population in Iraq. Reuters

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Reuters

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A cross is seen on the damaged altar. Reuters

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Reuters

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An Iraqi Christian soldier lights a candle. Reuters

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An Iraqi Christian policeman attends Mass. Reuters

Qaraqosh once had the largest Christian population in Iraq, and was home to at least a quarter of the country’s Christian community.

However, Kurdish troops stationed to protect the town withdrew on August 6, 2014, leaving ISIS free to move in overnight and take it along with three other Christian-majority towns.

Tens of thousands of people were then forced to flee after ISIS issued an ultimatum to Christians: leave, convert to Islam, pay a heavy tax or be killed.

The town was liberated as part of the Mosul offensive over the past two weeks.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

Source: Christian Today



Iraqi Christians look homeward toward Mosul, uncertainly

Some keen to rebuild; others wary of Muslim neighbours who supported IS

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Tens of thousands of Christians fled from Mosul and its surrounding towns and villages to Kurdistan when IS seized swathes of territory in summer 2014. Several thousand families have sought refuge in Jordan and Lebanon, while others have left the Middle East to start new lives in Western nations such as Canada, Australia and, in a small number of cases, Britain. Levels of Christian emigration began rising in response to the violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion and removal of President Saddam Hussein.

Rev. Ammar is a Chaldean priest who fled from the town of Qaraqosh – home to some 60,000 Christians until summer 2014, and now being fought over as the coalition of forces advances on Mosul. He serves displaced Moslawis (people from Mosul) in the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and said: “We hope to be able to return to our houses and towns soon.”

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Rev. Thabet, of the village of Karamles, said he wanted to return to the nearby Hill of St. Barbara, a mound on top of ruins of ancient Assyrian temples – named after a pagan ruler’s daughter who converted to Christianity in the fourth century. “If my town is liberated, then one of the greatest joys would be to have a Mass in the open air on top of the Hill of St. Barbara and celebrate the holy Eucharist [there] again.”

Rev. Poulos, from the town of Bashiqa, said: “We are warned that IS possibly put mines in our houses. After villages are liberated it may still take more than three months before we can go back for a first visit. Returning to our houses then would take even longer.” He added that all this week heavy fighting has been reported in his home town. “In Bashiqa it’s a true war situation, with Turks, Peshmerga and Iraqi forces coming in – a lot of explosions and fighting.”

Poulos is in touch with eight Syriac Orthodox monks living in Mar Mattai (St. Matthew), a monastery on a mountainside less than 5 kilometres from Bashiqa. “I’ve called them several times and they hear the sound of bombs. From the monastery they can see that a lot of bombing and fighting is going on. Nobody can go there now, but I hope it will be retaken soon.”

The battle was not immediately affecting the monastery (which also houses three displaced families). “We have no problems, but we are watching for the future what will happen.”

However, other Iraqi Christians who have moved far from home expressed no desire to return – because some of their Muslim neighbours had sympathised with IS. Rev. Aphram Ozan, a Syriac Orthodox priest in London who fled Mosul in 2011 after his family home was attacked by extremists, said: “I don’t think Christians will return to Mosul. In the beginning, the people of Mosul welcomed IS. We were let down by the people; they left us.”

Rev. Khalil Jaar, a Catholic priest in the Jordanian capital, Amman, and a partner of World Vision, said “not one” of the 500 or so Moslawi refugee families for whom he is co-ordinating aid was considering returning to the area. He said if adequate protection were offered, some had said they might return briefly to sell their houses, but would then go to their new homes. “ISIS is finished but the mentality and spirit of ISIS lives on in the heart of so many people in Mosul,” he said.

One Christian former resident of Mosul in his early thirties recalled that increasing levels of extremism had strained his friendships with Muslims, even before 2003. “Growing up, I had friends who were Muslim. We played together and ate together and their parents treated us as though we were their children. But when some of them got to about 16 or 17, something changed. Maybe they had learnt something from the Quran or from the mosque – they changed and became more extreme, which made a gap between us. They became more extreme than their parents.”

Suha Rassam, a Chaldean Catholic from Mosul and author of Christianity in Iraq, said that among her Iraqi Christian friends and relatives, “everybody is excited that Mosul is being liberated.” But she added: “Although there are no more Christians in Mosul, I am still concerned about the Muslim population there, that they may not suffer too much and there is no slaughtering of the Sunni.” However, she expressed concern that the presence of Kurdish and Turkish forces in the Nineveh Plains around Mosul could lead to both powers making territorial claims there. Extremism took hold in Mosul partly as a reaction against Kurdish expansionism, she said. “Even once Mosul is liberated, we can still expect a lot of trouble. It’s not good for the unity of Iraq,” she said.

Christians and others suspect that the aim of the Kurdistan Regional Government is to earn political capital. Some voiced fears that because some Iraqi qualifications are not recognised there and government jobs require Kurdish-speakers, Arab Christians impoverished by their displacement could find themselves subjected to a “Kurdification” process.

One Christian former resident of Mosul whose family fled to Kurdistan said: “For all of history, the Kurds have been killing us, until now. They’re trying to put on a good face; they want to liberate themselves from Iraq and show they are better than Iraq. But there’s no future for Christianity in Kurdistan: my parents don’t speak Kurdish, and because my nephews aren’t Kurdish they aren’t allowed to go to state school there.”

But Poulos said he already knows what he will do if it’s ever possible to go back to Bashiqa: “The first thing I will do is go to the church. If the church is not damaged and I can go in, I will pray. After that we will check how much damage is done to the church and to the houses. What needs to be done, what needs rebuilding?”

Source: World Watch Monitor