Tag: Jordan

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 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



Please pray for these Christian refugees (part 1)

One of our friends recently travelled as part of a team from Northern Ireland to Jordan to meet face to face with Christian refugees and bring them practical aid. A secondary objective of the trip was to bring back ‘stories’ from individuals and families so that Christians in the West can have faces and names to pray for and support practically. Pictured below is Abu with his wife and five children, who had to leave their home town of Mosul in Iraq when ISIS attacked.

Abu with his wife and five children, escaped with their lives to Jordan when ISIS attacked their home town of Mosul

The family had been living in Amman for nine months at the time of our visit. Our team was truly blessed by meeting this family and there was a joy that filled their home.

Before leaving Iraq, Abu worked in a tax office in Mosul. He explained that Mosul was one of the first places to be attacked by ISIS. When the threat to their family became too great they fled in their car and then sold it along with any gold that they had to buy their plane tickets to come to Jordan. They thank God that other family members managed to flee as well. The family believe that God took them out of Mosul at the right time. Their house has been blown up but they are thankful that they only lost material good while others lost their lives.

Abu is now teaching voluntarily in the Latin school in Amman. This school is a part of the Latin Church and is for Iraqi children.

 

Below is a short audio interview with a member of the team from Northern Ireland who met with Abu and other Christian refugees in Jordan.

 

Please remember: These Iraqi refugees are not allowed to work in Jordan. This poses a huge problem as they are living off what money they managed to bring with them to pay for necessities such as rent and food. Their resources will soon run out and in some cases it already has. They are currently waiting for the UN to place them permanently in a country where they can build a new life for their children.

We may not be able to solve the whole refugee crises, but we can help these Christians who are taking temporary refuge in Jordan.

For this Refugee Campaign, Friends In The West will work through trusted partners to bring 100% of the aid you give to these Christian refugees in Jordan. Please do what you can to alleviate their suffering and also pray that they may soon have a permanent home where they can start to rebuild their lives.

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Life as an Iraqi Christian refugee : One year after ISIS attacks Mosul

One year after Islamic State attacks Mosul World Watch Monitor features Iraq’s displaced Christians who moved to Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.

One year ago, Mosul fell to militants belonging to a Sunni Muslim movement calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Thousands of Christians and other religious minorities, threatened with execution, fled. These are the stories of two who have found refuge, one in Jordan and the other in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Though they live among other Christians at the moment, the situation in Iraq and Syria is fluid, and when a person speaks publicly, relatives elsewhere can be singled out for retribution. For that reason, World Watch Monitor is withholding their true names. For purposes of this report, they will be called Sarah and Fared.

Sarah

“It was a horrible night,” Sarah said of June 10, 2014. “We left with a very small bag and we went to my sister’s house in Mosul. After five days, my father started to believe that our town wasn’t safe anymore, because there were so many Christians living there.

“Then we decided to go to a monastery in Mosul, because we thought it would be safer for us. While we were there, one of our neighbours called my father and told him that a man from ISIS came to our house and asked about us. He told the man that we were out visiting relatives and we would return soon. ‘No!’ said the man from ISIS, ‘They are not here. They’ve already left their home behind. Tell them if they don’t return we’ll take it.’ So, my parents left the monastery, went back to our house and stayed there for three days.

“After this, my mother started to feel very anxious about the situation and we left home for the monastery again. In the evening of the very day we left, July 16th, one of our neighbours called my father in the monastery and told him that an ISIS car was driving the streets announcing from its loudspeakers to Christians, giving them three options: One: Convert to Islam, so as to be safe in Mosul. Two: Give money to ISIS. Three: Be killed.“

As did so many others, including nearly every last Christian, Sarah left. She and her parents, two sisters and oldest brother headed east, toward the border with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, in northeastern Iraq.

“Those were the worst days of my life, when we had to leave the monastery without knowing where we were going,” she said. “We were helped by a family of Kurds and lived in an apartment for a month in a town near Dohuk. But then we had to leave again when the owner said we had less than a day to leave, without giving us any explanation. My family and I left for Jordan on the 12th of November.”

Looking at a map, it seems more obvious to move north to Turkey than southwest across ISIS-controlled Iraq to Jordan. Yet one refugee in the town of Fuheis, Jordan, said Iraqis have heard that UN aid arrives faster in Jordan. The town, 20 kilometres from the capital, Amman, in Jordan’s Northwest, also is well-known for its long-standing Christian-majority population in a country that is 2 percent Christian.

Among Middle Eastern countries, Jordan has a reputation for comparative religious freedom. “Arab Christians are an integral part of our region’s past, present and future,” King Abdullah II told the European Parliament in March. “Jordan is a Muslim country, with a deeply-rooted Christian community. Together, the Jordanian people make up an indivisible society, friends and partners in building our country.”

Fuheis’ 20,000 residents saw a sudden increase between June and August 2014, and again in December.

On arrival in Jordan, Sarah’s family first stayed for three weeks with a relative, who helped them settle down. Now they rent an apartment. They have money to afford one meal per day.

As for many displaced people the world over, the local church provides a connection to the community. The Palestinian pastor of a local Baptist church said meetings attract up to 100 people, including evangelicals, Catholics and Greek Orthodox. He said the church visits 20 to 30 Iraqi refugee families, Christian and Muslim, who need aid.

The UN’s humanitarian aid programs are more obvious in northern Jordan, in Zaatari and Mafraq close to the Syrian border. Still, many Iraqi Christians say they feel “safe” among Fuheis’ largely Christian community.

“Since the beginning of the Iraqi crisis, Jordan has opened its doors to receive displaced Christians,” said Dana Shahin of Caritas Jordan. “In almost all the areas that the Iraqi families were received, neighbors and many local organizations, both Muslim and Christian, came to welcome those families and contacted Caritas Jordan to provide help and assistance.”

Recently, Sarah has started to help in a dental clinic that opened after a visit by a group from Norway and Brazil, which started offering dental care in the Baptist church left it with resources to continue the work. But when asked about her longer-term plans, Sarah was not too optimistic.

“Now we are waiting on the UN to see what happens, but I think no country will receive us,” she said. “I believe the world will force us to return to Iraq, so we will be killed there. I think we have no future as Iraqi Christians.”

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Some of the Iraqi Christians who fled to the Kurdish capital of Erbil eventually found places in small apartments, sheltering them from Iraq’s winter. Photo courtesty Open Doors International

Fared

“Last Friday I thought of Mosul, because then it was June 5, the day the curfews started one year ago,” said Fared, a Christian in his late 20s. “We were not allowed to take our cars into the streets anymore. For five days there was heavy fighting on the other side of the river Tigris. I lived on the Left-bank. On our side it was relatively calm, but of course we were afraid.

ISIS had crippled four of the five bridges crossing the Tigris, to thwart any advance of Iraqi reinforcements. It wasn’t necessary.

“The Iraqi army withdrew,” Fared said, looking as astonished today as he said he was a year ago. “The rumours spread very quickly through phone and social media. Many Muslims in my neighbourhood stayed, but especially Christians wanted to leave the city. Despite the curfew, we packed our car with the most valuable things like papers, some photos and clothing for two months and then left.”

Their destination: Erbil, the rapidly modernizing capital of the oil-rich, and well defended, Kurdistan region of Iraq that lay beyond the reach of ISIS. On the highway, Fared said he drove alongside the Humvees carrying thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

“The way to Erbil normally takes about one hour, but now it took us 12,” he said. “There were four checkpoints, but especially the first one at Kalak took long. For eight hours we waited in lines of about 5 kilometres long. The two-way road had become one way direction and the cars were about 10 or 12 lines wide, six lines on the roads and another six lines on the sides of the road.

“Later, I had contact with my former neighbour. He told me that in 50 minutes after we left, the neighbourhood was taken over by Da’ash,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Today, a year after the Army withdrew from Mosul, Fared said his church plans a prayer meeting. “Not a meeting to despair or to be depressed, but a meeting to also see the goodness that God brought to our lives and to also count our blessings.”

Aid to the Iraqi refugees in Erbil, in the form of food, clothing, training and job creation, continues to come in through churches and partners working with organizations such as Open Doors International, an international ministry that supports Christians who have been threatened because of their faith. Fared said the aid has helped him start over.

“I’m part of a small church and they took care of us very well. I now live in a small apartment in Erbil and I’m happy with that,” he said. “I think I will never return to Mosul ever again. Or maybe one more time. Just to sell the plot of land I have. Then I leave and never come back. There are good opportunities for me and my wife in Erbil, so we are rebuilding our lives here now.”

Source: World Watch Monitor