mercoledì, dicembre 07, 2016

 

Iraq’s Christians Turn to Militia for Protection


Qaraqosh, Iraq—Two years ago, Mubarak Tuwaya fled when Islamic State militants made a triumphant charge through northern Iraq.
Now he is back in his hometown, wearing the uniform of an Iraqi militia that is helping drive out the extremists—and aiming to secure a place for Christians and other local minorities in Iraq’s future.
Capt. Tuwaya’s U.S.-trained force is made up of about 500 troops and 300 unpaid volunteers, most of them Assyrian Christians from Hamdaniya, a district east of Mosul that is home to Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town.
The Iraqi army’s 9th Division captured the district with the militia’s support in late October, in the early days of the current U.S-backed campaign to retake Mosul, the Sunni extremist group’s last major stronghold in the country.
The army then largely handed responsibility for holding Hamdaniya to the militia, whose next mission is to persuade other Christians it is safe to return.
“This is the land of our fathers, we have to
defend it,” Capt. Tuwaya, a farmer and retired Iraqi army officer, said as he sat in the militia’s makeshift headquarters, a former veterinary clinic, beneath the group’s flag, a blue cross on a white background.
Iraq’s once sizable Christian population has dropped by as much as half since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003, to roughly half-a-million people today.
When Islamic State seized swaths of Iraqi territory in 2014, more than 150,000 Christians fled their homes. Many of them lived in Hamdaniya, which is on the Nineveh Plain, a fertile region that inspired the militia’s name: the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, or NPU.
Members of the Christian community are now pressing the central government to grant Nineveh Plain the status of a province, a step intended to safeguard vulnerable minority groups, which also include Yazidis and ethnic Shabaks.
“It’s a turning point in our history: to be or not to be in our homeland,” said Yunadim Kanna, a Christian member of parliament in Baghdad.
Militia leaders want the force to remain in charge of security in that territory even after Islamic State’s defeat.
The militia was formed in the fall of 2014 by displaced Christians who felt that Iraqi and Kurdish troops had abandoned them during Islamic State’s advance. The militia was initially funded through donations. Members speak a modern version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
The NPU reports to the central government, which earlier this year began paying for salaries and supplying assault rifles. The militia hopes to expand to around 1,000 troops and several hundred new recruits are currently in training.
U.S. special operations forces helped train the militiamen over the summer, and recently supplied them with 200 rifles, machine guns and ammunition, said Capt. Tuwaya.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State didn’t comment.
The NPU’s existence is a sign of the Christian minority’s tenacity, and of how Islamic State’s emergence deepened ethnic and religious fractures in Iraq, despite efforts to present a common front against the insurgency.
Troops from the semiautonomous Kurdish region and Iran-backed Shiite militias are playing important roles in the campaign against Islamic State. But those groups have separate command structures, and the various armed forces are sometimes wary of one another.
Several NPU members said Iraqi Sunnis—many of whom initially supported Islamic State—wouldn't be welcome if they returned to the Nineveh Plain.
The militia’s capabilities are limited. Kurdish and U.S. forces had to intervene in May to repel Islamic State militants who attacked a town north of Mosul that the militia was holding, in a battle that left one U.S. Navy SEAL dead.
And its members’ methods can be raw. At a checkpoint outside Qaraqosh, one young militiaman boasted that he beheaded an Islamic State fighter with his pocketknife on his first day of combat. He showed a photo on his phone of the militant’s head.
Qaraqosh, where some 40,000 people once lived, is now a ghost town. The main street is littered with debris and charred furniture, the shops burned and their windows shattered. Airstrikes flattened buildings.
The town’s walls and churches are scrawled with depictions of Islamic State’s black-and-white flag—and now also with graffiti of the NPU.
“It’s from this direction that we are expecting attacks,” said Capt. Nimroud Moma, who commands a company of some 90 NPU militiamen, pointing out at the open desert toward territory still contested by Islamic State.
Militiamen positioned heavy machine guns on the balconies of abandoned homes.
Capt. Tuwaya said he joined the militia because he wants Iraqi Christians to return to their ancestral lands. Two of his six children have left Iraq, and the other family members share a two-bedroom apartment in Erbil.
“I am doing this first for Iraq, and second for Hamdaniya,” he said.
After family members fled Qaraqosh, their house was looted and Islamic State militants moved in. When Capt. Tuwaya returned for the first time, in November, he said almost everything was gone.
But he found a portrait of the Virgin Mary under a sofa, brushed off the broken glass and hung it back on the wall.

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Patriarca caldeo: Salvare il patrimonio culturale iracheno minacciato dalla guerra


Alle distruzioni operate dall'Isis, dai talebani e dalle guerre, occorre rispondere creando un “rifugio sicuro” per la conservazione del patrimonio culturale a rischio scomparsa “in collaborazione con il governo” o, in alternativa, stabilire un ufficio “di rappresentanza” delle Nazioni Unite. Formare “personale irakeno” perché sia in grado di “trattare, documentare, proteggere e ripristinare” manoscritti, manufatti ed edifici dalla storia millenaria. È l’appello lanciato dal patriarca caldeo mar Louis Raphael Sako dal palco della “Conferenza internazionale per la salvaguardia del patrimonio culturale nelle aree teatro in conflitto”.
Nel suo intervento, inviato ad AsiaNews, il primate della Chiesa irakena ha anche chiesto “strumenti moderni e sofisticati” per svolgere al meglio “un compito così importante e delicato” come la salvaguardia di un patrimonio a rischio. 
La conferenza si è tenuta il 2 e 3 dicembre scorso ad Abu Dhabi, negli Emirati Arabi Uniti (Eau) e ha riunito capi di Stato e di governo, esperti, studiosi, leader religiosi islamo-cristiani e attivisti nei settori della storia, dell’archeologia e della cultura. Il patriarca Sako sin dai tempi in cui era arcivescovo di Kirkuk aveva denunciato i pericoli corsi dal patrimonio culturale irakeno, un “bene universale” da salvaguardare. Di recente ha ricordato come l’archeologia vale “più del petrolio”
Alla conferenza di Abu Dhabi i partecipanti hanno lanciato un appello, finalizzato alla creazione di un fondo da 100 milioni di dollari per la salvaguardia del patrimonio culturale delle aree a rischio. Patrocinata dall’Unesco, l’iniziativa ha riunito rappresentanti da oltre 40 nazioni molti dei quali provenienti da nazioni teatro di guerra. L’obiettivo è sia la cura del patrimonio che la lotta al traffico di manufatti e reperti, oltre che contribuire al restauro dei beni danneggiati. La Dichiarazione di Abu Bhadi, confermano gli esperti, è un primo passo nell’ottica della conservazione del patrimonio. “La creazione di questo Fondo - afferma il direttore generale Unesco Irina Bokova - apre nuovi orizzonti […] un rinnovato impegno per la cultura, l’istruzione, la dignità umana, in cui la tutela del patrimonio diventa parte integrante di una strategia globale contro l’odio e l’estremismo”.

Ecco, di seguito, l’intervento del patriarca Sako inviato per conoscenza ad AsiaNews: 
L’Iraq, l’antica Mesopotamia, ha rappresentato la culla della civilizzazione: a partire dai Sumeri, l’impero di Akkad, i babilonesi, i caldei, gli assiri, i persiani, gli ebrei, i cristiani e gli arabi musulmani. Tutti insieme, essi formano e rappresentano un tesoro nazionale e internazionale. 
Sparsi per tutto l’Iraq vi sono molti siti archeologici, molte chiese antiche e monasteri perché i cristiani hanno costituito a lungo la maggioranza della popolazione, prima dell’arrivo degli arabi musulmani nel settimo secolo. 
La progressiva escalation di conflitti etnici e religiosi in tutta la regione mostra il bisogno urgente di azioni decise da parte della comunità internazionale, al fine di proteggere e preservare questo nostro patrimonio culturale. 
L’invasione statunitense dell’Iraq del 2003 e la caduta di Baghdad hanno originato un traffico di centinaia di manufatti dal valore inestimabile, rubati dal Museo Nazionale irakeno nell’indifferenza generale. Lo stesso è avvenuto con il museo di Mosul, all’indomani della conquista della città da parte degli estremisti dello Stato islamico. Questi episodi hanno rappresentato una perdita gravissima per il nostro patrimonio. 
I jihadisti dell’Isis (ex Stato islamico) hanno dato il via a una vera e propria campagna di distruzione finalizzata alla cancellazione di tutto ciò che ha preceduto l’età islamica. E di tutto ciò che non si adattava alla loro ideologia. 
In seguito alla distruzione delle moschee di Nabi Younis e Nabi Jarjees, così come alle devastazioni di alcuni fra i più significativi e antichi siti come Nimrud e Hatra (Hadhar), unito al rogo di centinaia di manoscritti prelevati da molte chiese e monasteri, la comunità internazionale dovrebbe coinvolgere il governo irakeno e gli altri governi della regione, per assicurare la preservazione e la protezione di questo patrimonio multi-millenario. E dar vita un gruppo di esperti che possano avviare le necessarie opere di restauro. 
Tuttavia, fra i segnali che sono fonte di incoraggiamento vi è l’iniziativa lanciata da p. Najib Mussa, un frate domenicano, che ha fondato il “Centro digitale di manoscritti orientali” a Mosul nel 1990 e ha iniziato a documentare e classificare manoscritti di chiese e monasteri. Egli ha anche filmato 7500 manoscritti e restaurato altri, che si erano danneggiati nel tempo. Grazie alla sua opera sono disponibili cd e cataloghi, oggi raccolto nel centro domenicano di Erbil. 
Auspichiamo con rinnovata speranza che questi siti antichi, queste vecchie chiese, i monasteri e le moschee siano presto ricostruiti nel modo giusto e seguendo le forme originarie. 
Oggigiorno, la situazione è ancora insicura e anche quando lo Stato islamico sarà sconfitto, la sua ideologia continuerà a generare un nuovo tipo di conflitti. Per questo vorrei sottoporre alla vostra attenzione i seguenti progetti, connotati da un carattere di concretezza e, al tempo stesso, di urgenza. 
1) Creare un rifugio sicuro per la conservazione e lo stoccaggio del patrimonio culturale a rischio di scomparsa, con l’accordo (sotto forma di convenzione) del governo irakeno o, quantomeno, stabilire una rappresentanza delle Nazioni Unite preposta al monitoraggio per assicurarne la sorveglianza. 
2) Portare esperti che siano preposti alla formazione del personale irakeno su come trattare questo patrimonio culturale, che è qui da migliaia di anni. E formare il personale su come documentare, proteggere e ripristinare i manoscritti, i siti storici, i manufatti antichi, le chiese, i monasteri, le sinagoghe e le moschee nel modo giusto. 
3) Equipaggiare questi team irakeni con strumenti moderni e sofisticati, per svolgere un compito così importante e delicato. 

The intervention of Patriarch Louis Sako during “The International Conference for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Conflict areas” Abu Dhabi / The Arab United Emirates


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martedì, dicembre 06, 2016

 

Iraqi Christians in America pray to be reunited with families at Christmas


Displaced Iraqi Christians in America have said that this Christmas they will be praying for relatives still living in their homeland.
On a recent overcast Sunday morning in northwest Chicago, the pews of the small wood-panelled St Ephrem Chaldean Catholic Church were filled to overflowing. Among the rows of Massgoers sat Firaz Rassam and her sisters.
After the Mass, Rassam and her sister, Victoria Rassam, said they “pray, pray that (Victoria’s) children would be able to get out (of northern Iraq) in time” before any major ISIS attack or any other conflict reaches their neighbourhood in Ankawa, a Christian hub in the Kurdish region. Firaz Rassam, who arrived in Chicago in September, said this year she would not be able to celebrate Christmas “with the type of happiness that (her family) normally would celebrate.”
Speaking through their nephew who interpreted from their native dialect, an Aramaic derivative, Firaz Rassam, 44, told Catholic News Service (CNS) that she and her three children came ahead of her husband after her other sister, Fairuz Rassam, sent for her.
“The environment over there,” said Firaz Rassam, who used to be a librarian. “There’s no electricity. It’s dangerous. There’s no work. I want to have a better future for my kids.”
Victoria Rassam, 56, who migrated to Chicago two years ago, was still waiting for her family to come. She said all she could do was pray and that she was “really hoping” she would see her children again soon.
“This Christmas we will celebrate by going to midnight Mass and praying for them,” said Victoria Rassam.
Since the second Gulf War in 2003, oil-rich Iraq has been unstable with ethnic and religious conflicts that have given rise to various terror organisations, including ISIS. Many Christians migrated; others fled ISIS and other terror organisations.

Deacon Hameed Shabila, a long-time Chicago resident who works at St Ephrem, told CNS his siblings in the Baghdad area have not been able to attend midnight Mass for years because it is not safe. He said the churches are heavily guarded by armed forces after dark.
Deacon Shabila, who has asked that his siblings be allowed to come to the US, said it was also around Christmas time that one parishioner’s adult son was killed in Iraq 10 years ago. Shabila served as interpreter for the parishioner, Maria Yonan.
Yonan said she fled Iraq with her daughter-in-law and two grandsons immediately after her son was killed when he was celebrating on New Year’s. The 77-year old widow was hesitant to speak with CNS and feared for her grandsons’ safety as she described how a group she called terrorists attacked her son and his friends.
Yonan and her daughter-in-law spent a couple of years as refugees in Syria, trying to get to Australia, where her daughter-in-law has family. But the wait was too long and they decided to come to the US, which was readily accepting refugees. Her daughter also came to the US as a refugee and is living in California, but one other daughter stayed behind with her own family.
Yonan, who recently became a US citizen and lives in low-income housing, said at Christmas she likes to go to midnight Mass at St Ephrem, where she can be with people who speak her language. She has tried to keep up some of the same Christmas traditions that her family kept in Iraq.
Yonan said every Christmas her grandsons visit and she makes special Christmas sweet called klecha, a treat that “makes people happy” and signifies a joyful time. But this year, Yonan said she was not planning to make the sweets because she is in mourning after the November 25 death of her son-in-law, who suffered a heart attack in Baghdad.
Hazim Maryaqo and his family also will not be celebrating Christmas this year because of the death from illness of his brother in Baghdad. Maryaqo, 49, arrived in the Detroit area on October 4 with his pregnant wife and three children, all younger than eight.
In a phone interview with CNS, he said through an interpreter that when the family was living as refugees in Turkey during the two years before coming to the US, “there was no (Christmas) celebration.”
“The three or four (Christian) families that were around us, they came to our house, we went to their house. That was as simple as we could do,” said Maryaqo, who was threatened with death at his family pastry shop in central Baghdad for selling certain cakes with liqueur in them.
Maryaqo said now that he is in Michigan, his family tries to go to Mass often, but sometimes trying to find transportation is tough. He said he is hoping to find work as a pastry chef so that the family can have some stability and get to church more regularly. But he also expressed anxiety about the safety of his elderly father and siblings left behind in Baghdad.
“I will never go back to Iraq, but I hope I can bring my family here,” he said.
Going to Christmas midnight Mass was something that Eevyan Hanoon said she longed for when she lived with her husband and toddler for three years at a refugee camp in Turkey. She told CNS by phone that she made klecha and tried to make the most of the season. But something was lacking.
“The difference at Christmastime was the Eucharist. I missed taking the Eucharist. I was with two church choirs in Mosul (Iraq),” said Hanoon, 28. “This is the most important thing in our life. We have not missed a single Sunday” since arriving in Michigan in September.
In Chicago, the Rassam sisters’ nephew, Rakan Kunda, said even if his own family has been living in the US for two decades, they “always remember … family back home” at Christmas time.
“We think about them,” said Kunda, 26. “We pray for them but there’s nothing we can do at this point. Until all this is over.”


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Despite distance, Iraqi Christians keep the spirit of Christmas alive

By Catholic News Service
Oscar Durand

Sami Dankha, his three brothers and their families used to kick off Christmas celebrations by attending a packed Christmas Eve Mass at St. Thomas Church in Baghdad. Wearing brand new clothes and sporting fresh haircuts, they would spend the night chatting, singing and eating pacha, a dish made from sheep's head that Iraqis consider a delicacy and a staple of Christmas.
But that was 20 years ago. Today, Dankha, 51, his wife, Faten, and their five children live in Turkey as refugees, far away from the rest of their families. They are waiting for an answer to their resettlement application to Australia.
"If you count Christmas and Easter, it has been about 40 times we haven't gathered," said Dankha, whose brothers now live in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.
Years of instability, violence and discrimination have forced Iraqi Christian families to leave their homes. Christmas, traditionally celebrated with loved ones, is a reminder of the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the Middle East to countries all over the word. Despite the distance and across different time zones, families keep the spirit of the holiday alive.
"The last time we were all together was 2005. Maybe 2006. I am not sure," Habiba Taufiq, 69, told Catholic News Service.
Taufiq was born in Aqrah but has lived most of her life in Ankawa, a Christian enclave in northern Iraq. She is now a refugee in Turkey, where she lives with one of her 10 children. The other nine are split among Australia, France, Sweden and Iraq.
"We danced and celebrated because of Jesus. Not only us but also with other families," Taufiq said, remembering Christmas back home. "Now there is a big difference because we are in different countries and that affects the occasion."
To stay connected, families rely on messaging and calling apps.
"I call them on Viber video," said Dankha, mentioning one the most popular apps among the Iraqi community in Turkey.
Last year, Dankha spent at least four hours glued to his phone as he virtually celebrated Christmas with family and friends in 10 different countries. At some point he had to connect his phone to a power adapter after running out of charge. But seeing and hearing what is happening on the other side of the call is no replacement for being face to face.
"I see them celebrating in parties, and I feel sorrowful because I am here and we are separated, in different countries," Dankha said.
Nearly halfway around the world, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Nesrin Arteen, 42, also uses a messaging app to keep in touch with her family.
"I talk to them often; with the internet, it is easy. But back when I arrived, it was very different," she told CNS.
Arteen is from Zakho, Iraq, and moved to Canada in 1994 before smartphones became ubiquitous. At the time she had to use a call center and wait in line before she could speak with her family. And when it was her turn, the quality of the connection was not good, and the calls frequently disconnected.
For Arteen, Christmas meant attending the Christmas Eve Mass and staying up all night with her family. She fondly remembered klecha -- a traditional cookie usually filled with nuts, coconuts or dates -- which she could not have when she first arrived in Canada. Back then Saskatoon did not even have a Chaldean Catholic church, which made her feel removed from her Christmas traditions.
"It was a different feel, different from home. I didn't feel the spirit of Christmas," Arteen said, remembering the first Christmas she spent in Canada.
Over time things changed. Today there is a Chaldean church in her city, and Arteen has started to create her own Christmas traditions.
"I feel that the spirit of Christmas is here," she said. "My children go to a Christian school and are also part of the choir. There are places where they sing Christmas carols."
Taufiq hopes to reunite soon with some of her family in Australia. As she navigates visa procedures, she said she feels at peace that her children continue the traditions she started.
"The circumstances separated us and now we are in different countries. But we still continue living with love," she said.
Dankha told CNS this Christmas will be special. His younger brother, Yalda, will visit him in Turkey from the Netherlands. They haven't seen each other since 2000.
That makes one less person on his list of people to call on Christmas.
"There are so many friends I don't know if I will ever see. Maybe one day when my country's situation is OK, maybe then we will get together. But I don't know if that will happen," he said.

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Le Unità di Protezione della Piana di Ninive promuovono una campagna d'arruolamento tra i cristiani

By Fides

Le Unità di Protezione della Piana di Ninive (PNU), organizzazione paramilitare costituitasi n Iraq nel 2014 e composta perlopiù da cristiani assiri, siri e caldei, ha annunciato l'apertura di una campagna d'arruolamento su base volontaria, rivolta in particolare a giovani uomini delle comunità cristiane locali della regione di Mosul e della Piana di Ninive intenzionati a partecipare alle operazioni militari per la riconquista e la difesa dei centri abitati delle terre che erano state occupate dai jihadisti dell'autoproclamato Stato Islamico (Daesh).
Nel testo di indizione della campagna d'arruolamento, reso noto anche dai media locali, si sollecitano i giovani cristiani ad arruolarsi volontariamente nelle Unità di Protezione anche per favorire e garantire il ritorno in piena sicurezza alle proprie case e alle proprie città da parte delle migliaia di cristiani che erano fuggiti dalle città della Piana di Ninive tra il giugno e l'agosto 2014, davanti all'avanzare delle milizie jihadiste. Nel documento si riportano anche i nomi dei responsabili da contattare per comunicare la propria intenzione di arruolarsi, divisi per area di competenza.
A fine novembre il generale Riad Jalal Tawfiq, comandante delle forze di terra dell'esercito iracheno impegnate nella riconquista di Mosul, aveva confermato che le Unità di Protezione armata organizzate su base confessionale, compresi i gruppi composti da cristiani siri e assiri, sarebbero state coinvolte ufficialmente nel sistema di sicurezza e autodifesa delle zone della Piana di Ninive già sottratte ai jihadisti dello Stato Islamico (Daesh). Il generale iracheno aveva aggiunto che le milizie locali costituitesi su base tribale o etnico-confessionale (compresi i turkmeni e i membri della minoranza etnico-religiosa Shabak) avranno un ruolo di primo piano anche nella gestione dell'accoglienza e della fornitura di cibo e beni di prima necessità ai profughi che faranno ritorno alle proprie case.

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Viaggio nell'abisso delle conversioni forzate irachene

By La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana
Gianandrea Gaiani

Quando i cristiani nell’agosto del 2014 sono fuggiti dal villaggio di Bartalla, uno dei tanti che si susseguono nella Piana di Ninive, in Iraq, l’allora 14enne Ibrahim Matti e sua madre Jandark Nasi non sono riusciti a fuggire. Non avevano un’automobile e confidavano che un parente sarebbe tornato a prenderli come promesso. Non pensavano che gli uomini dello Stato islamico li avrebbero catturati prima e portati in una prigione a Mosul. È qui che sono rimasti da allora fino a poche settimane fa, quando l’avanzata dell’esercito nella capitale irachena del Califfato gli ha permesso di scappare. Bartalla dista appena 23 chilometri da Mosul e dal giorno dell’invasione dei jihadisti mancano all’appello un centinaio di cristiani. La speranza è che una volta ripresa Mosul escano tutti da qualche prigione come Matti e Nasi, ma per ora sono pochissimi ad essersi rivelati ancora vivi. «Siamo molto felici di riabbracciarli», ha dichiarato al Christian Science Monitor padre Ammar Siman, sacerdote di Bartalla. «Ovviamente hanno bisogno di essere aiutati. Hanno sofferto molto».
All’arrivo dell’Isis Matti e Nasi hanno cercato di fuggire a Erbil ma sono stati bloccati a un check-point e spediti in una prigione di Mosul, «piena di sciiti e cristiani». Tutti venivano picchiati ed è qui che per la prima volta un jihadista ha ordinato al 14enne di recitare la professione di fede islamica. Ma lui ha risposto: «Non c’è altro Dio al di fuori di Gesù». Il terrorista islamico, infuriato, è allora uscito dalla sua cella, entrando in quella a fianco, dove tenevano gli sciiti, considerati non musulmani ma eretici. Racconta Matti: «Ha chiesto a un uomo di convertirsi all’islam, quello ha rifiutato e gli ha sparato in testa. Poi mi hanno portato nella sua cella, mi hanno mostrato il corpo e mi hanno detto che se non mi fossi convertito sarei anch’io finito così. Ero terrorizzato».
Alla fine entrambi sono stati costretti a pronunciare la professione di fede islamica. «Ma non veniva dal cuore», si giustifica Matti, «io credo fortemente in Gesù ma ero sotto minaccia e sotto pressione. Quando dici qualcosa che non viene dal tuo cuore, non può essere creduta». La finta conversione non ha in alcun modo reso la vita più facile ai due. Siccome non riuscivano a «memorizzare le preghiere islamiche» venivano picchiati ogni giorno e torturati con degli aghi. Anche dopo che sono stati fatti uscire dal carcere, ogni volta che Matti decideva di non recarsi in moschea al venerdì, veniva subito trovato, picchiato e minacciato: «Se manchi ancora una volta sei morto». A Mosul il ragazzino ha anche assistito ad esecuzioni e lapidazioni.
Altri cristiani che hanno raggiunto Erbil come loro nelle ultime settimane hanno parlato di aver subìto le stesse violenze e torture. Soprattutto, però, i jihadisti li hanno obbligati a togliersi le croci dal collo, a calpestare le immagini di Gesù e Maria, a profanare la propria coscienza. E se gli esempi  di coraggio e martirio non mancano, anzi abbondano, non tutti hanno avuto la stessa forza.
Durante i due anni di prigionia Nasi non ha «mai smesso di pregare Maria e Gesù nel mio cuore e piangere. Pregavo per la salvezza di mio figlio, il mio dono di Dio». E poche settimane fa l’avanzata dell’esercito iracheno ha permesso loro di scappare. Matti non può «ancora credere di esserne uscito vivo». Una delle prime cose che hanno fatto, una volta portati a Erbil, è stato chiedere a un sacerdote la gravità di quello che avevano compiuto: recitare la professione di fede islamica sotto minaccia di morte. Ma nessuno li ha accusati. «Due preti sono venuti a visitarci e ci hanno detto di non preoccuparci», racconta Nasi, sollevata. Ricorda anche le parole esatte: «Ci hanno detto: “Voi non avete più niente da temere ora. Noi siamo il vostro popolo, noi siamo la vostra famiglia”». Padre Siman non ha dubbi: «Riceveranno solo amore da Dio e dalla Chiesa. Sono stati obbligati ad accettare qualcosa in cui non credevano. Dovremmo accusarli forse? No». Per tanti altri sono state organizzate nuove cerimonie di battesimo.
Matti e Nasi ora vivono in un piccola stanza di un centro per sfollati a Erbil gestito dalla Chiesa. L’unico ornamento sono i rosari che pendono sui loro letti. Per quanto salvi, non possono dimenticare il trauma vissuto e sono giunti a una scelta tragica e sofferta. «Abbiamo passato due anni terribili sotto l’Isis», spiega Matti. «Non vogliamo tornare indietro. E non vogliamo neanche restare in Iraq. Vogliamo solo andarcene, per lasciarci alle spalle tutto questo dolore».

Their town now liberated, Iraqi Christians talk of life under ISI

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lunedì, dicembre 05, 2016

 

Archbishops from Syria and Iraq blocked from visiting the UK


Three archbishops from Iraq and Syria were refused entry into the UK despite being invited by the country’s Syriac Orthodox Church.
Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf of Mosul, Archbishop of St Matthew’s Timothius Mousa Shamani and Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama, were all refused UK visas which would have enabled them to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, last month.
Prince Charles, who has long championed the cause of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, was a guest of honour at the event at St Thomas Cathedral and a personal letter was read from the Queen.
The bishops were told that they were refused entry because they did not have sufficient funds to support themselves and because they might not leave the UK.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, said he was incredulous when he heard the news. He said: “When the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch told me that these two bishops had been refused visas to come to the UK for the consecration of the new Syrian Orthodox cathedral I greeted it with incredulity and disbelief. Its a decision that brings shame on our country.
“These amazingly courageous bishops come from the Mosul region of Iraq – where Christians have been beheaded, crucified, raped and either forcibly converted or forced to flee as their possessions have been seized by radical Islamists. It adds insult to injury that the UK would refuse admission to men who pose no threat and whose community has suffered so much – especially when we still fail to bring to justice Jihadists who have committed genocide.”
In an editorial, the Daily Express condemned the decision, saying: “While we appreciate the necessity of efficient border controls, surely it can’t be beyond the wit of a Home Office pencil-pusher to realise that these men of the cloth were a special case?
“Last week we learned that 650,000 immigrants made their way to Britain, the highest level yet. And yet somehow, while letting all these in, officials contrived to ban these three wise men who have risked their lives for the Christian faith.
“Mary and Joseph were told there was no room at the inn. At this time of the year in particular we would do well to be more mindful of the Christmas message.”
The UK’s Syriac Orthodox Christians Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod told the Daily Express: “These are men who have pressing pastoral responsibilities as Christian areas held by IS are liberated. That is why we cannot understand why Britain is treating Christians in this way?”
Meanwhile, the SNP MP, Kirsten Oswald, raised a similar issue at Prime Minister’s Questions last week.
The MP told the House: “Guests from the Hyderabad diocese have twice been refused visas to visit the Church of Scotland presbytery of Glasgow as part of a twinning initiative, the suggestion being that the visit was not genuine, despite the paperwork being correct and the Church bearing the costs.
“When I raised this with the Leader of the House, he spoke of the need for people to return home after visits, and then the Immigration Minister told me in a patronising letter how to apply for a visa. Will the Prime Minister tell the Church why its visitors are not welcome and what messages she thinks it sends to our faith communities?”
The Prime Minister responded by saying that the Home Secretary should look into the case.

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Syriac Catholic patriarch 'horrified' after seeing Iraqi 'ghost towns'

By Catholic News Service
Doreen Abi Raad

The Syriac Catholic patriarch said he was horrified to see widespread devastation and what he called "ghost towns" during a recent visit to northern Iraq.
Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan wrote in an email to Catholic News Service that there was little left in some of the communities that he toured Nov. 27-29 and that "the emptiness of the streets except for military people ... the devastation and burned-out houses and churches" was shocking.
About 100,000 Christians -- among them more than 60,000 Syriac Catholics -- were expelled from the Ninevah Plain by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014 as the militants campaigned to expand their reach into Iraq.
Patriarch Younan also called for understanding from the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump about the plight and ordeal of all minorities, including Christians affected by violence in the region.
The patriarch told CNS about "walking through the Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Bartella and Karamles and witnessing the extent of devastation as if we had entered ghost towns!"
Graffiti and inscriptions "expressing hatred toward Christian symbols and doctrine were seen everywhere" on walls near streets, outside and inside houses and churches, he wrote.
"Aside from the looting, destruction of and damage to buildings, we discovered that the terrorists, out of hatred to the Christian faith, set fire to most of the buildings, including churches, schools, kindergartens and hospitals," the patriarch's message said, noting that only Christian properties were targeted.
In Qaraqosh -- once inhabited by more than 50,000 Christians -- the patriarch celebrated the Eucharist Nov. 28 "on an improvised small altar" in the incinerated sanctuary of the vandalized Church of the Immaculate Conception. That church, which had 2,200 seats before its desecration by Islamic State, was built by parishioners in the 1930s.
Few people could attend the liturgy, among them a few clergy and some armed youth and media representatives, the patriarch said.
"In my short homily, I just wanted to strengthen their faith in the redeemer's altar and cross, although both were half broken behind us. I reminded them that we Christians are the descendants of martyrs and confessors, with a long history dating back to the evangelization of the apostles," he wrote.
"I had the intention after its restoration five years ago, and still have it, to ask the Holy Father, the pope, to name this church as a minor basilica," the patriarch added.
In addition to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, all of the churches the patriarch's delegation visited, including St. Behnam and St. Sarah Monastery, which dates to the fourth century, sustained significant damage or were destroyed.
In opening the trip Nov. 27 in Irbil, which escaped being occupied by the militants, Patriarch Younan celebrated Mass for more than 800 displaced people at Our Lady of Peace Syriac Catholic Church. Located in the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, where many of those uprooted from the Ninevah Plain sought refuge, the church recently opened to serve refugees.
Concelebrating the liturgy were Syriac Catholic Archbishops Yohanna Moshe of Mosul and Ephrem Mansoor Abba of Baghdad and 20 priests. Patriarch Younan said he felt "mixed feelings" among the worshippers, who were pleased that the Islamic State group had been forced out of the Ninevah Plain during the current Iraqi military campaign, but also were saddened because of the "horrendous state" in which the militants left their communities.
The patriarch also said he met with the faith community, religious leaders and nongovernmental organizations to discuss the future of Christianity in northern Iraq.
Based on "what happened in recent times," the patriarch noted, "it was the overall opinion that none would dare to return, rebuild and stay in the homeland, unless a safe zone for the Christian communities in the Plain of Ninevah is guaranteed."
He called for a "stable, law-abiding and strong government" to support the establishment of an eventual self-administrative province under the central government of Iraq.
"I therefore reiterate what I have been saying for years. We, Christians in Iraq and Syria, feel abandoned, even betrayed, by the Western politicians of recent times," Patriarch Younan said.
"We have been sold out for oil and forgotten because of our small number compared to the 'Islamic Ummah' (Islamic nation) in which we have lived for centuries."
The patriarch urged the "so-called 'civilized world' to uphold its principles and to seriously defend" the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which he described as "vital for our survival."
"It is time to stand up and condemn those regimes that still discriminate against non-Muslim communities, with (their) excuses such as ... 'our law, our education and governing system' are based on our 'particularities of culture, history and religion,'" the patriarch continued.
Patriarch Younan expressed his "strong hope" that the Trump administration "will understand our plight and the ordeal of all minorities, including Christians."
"It is time that the United States be respected around the world," and most particularly in the Middle East, as "a nation of hope and freedom and not a land of opportunism."

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The intervention of Patriarch Louis Sako during “The International Conference for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Conflict areas” Abu Dhabi / The Arab United Emirates


 
 Iraq is the ancient Mesopotamia which was the cradle of civilizations: Sumerian, Acadian, Babylonian, Chaldean, Assyrian, Persian, Jewish, Christian, and Arab Muslim. This is a national and international treasure.
There are many archeological Sites and many old churches and monasteries everywhere in Iraq, because Christians were the majority there before the arrival of Arab Muslims in 7th century.
The escalation of religious and ethnic conflict across the region demonstrates the urgent need for action on the part of the international community to protect and preserve this Cultural Heritage.
The looting of hundreds of priceless artifacts from the Iraqi National Museum followed the US invasion of Baghdad in 2003, and the Mosul Museum in mid-2014 by Islamic State extremists is a big loss. Isis jihadists started a real rampage to erase anything that pre-dated the Islamic era and everything does not fit with their ideology.
The destruction of Nabi Younis and Nabi Jorjis mosques, and most significant ancient sites like Nimrud and Hatra (Hadhar), and churches and monasteries and they have burnt hundreds of Manuscripts.
The international community should engage the Iraqi government and other governments in the region to ensure the preservation and protection of this multi-millennia’s patrimony and its restoration with a well-trained team.
There are some encouraging signs. Father Najib Mussa, a Dominican father founded the "Centre numérique des Manuscrits Orientaux" in Mosul in 1990 and has started to document the manuscripts of churches and monasteries, and has filmed 7500 manuscripts and he restored some damaged ones. CDs and catalogues are available in the Dominican center in Erbil.
We hope also the ancient sites, old churches, monasteries, and mosques might be slowly rebuilt in the right way.
 The situation is still unsecure and even when Isis is defeated, its ideology will continue and new conflicts can rise therefore I would like to present some practical and urgent projects.
1. To create a safe haven for the preservation and the storage of the cultural heritage in danger, with the agreement (convention), of the Iraqi government or at least to establish a monitoring office of UN to oversee it.
2. To Train Iraqi teams by experts in how to deal with this cultural heritage that has been here for thousands of years. How to document it, to protect and to restore: sites, old objects, churches, monasteries, synagogues, masques and manuscripts in a right way.
3. To equip them with modern and sophisticated tools to do such skillful work.

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giovedì, dicembre 01, 2016

 

Is Europe doing enough to protect persecuted Christians?


.- European leaders gathered this week at a conference in Vienna to discuss Christian persecution and its resounding effect on Europe, particularly emphasizing the need to seriously address religious discrimination and genocide around the world.
“The persecution faced by Christians around the world must be recognized and treated by the international community with the seriousness it deserves,” Ellen Fantini, executive director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians, stated Nov. 29.
“The pressure faced by Christians in Europe is much more subtle – what Pope Francis has called ‘polite persecution.’”
The conference, entitled “Embattled: Christians Under Pressure in Europe and Beyond,” drew more than 100 attendees. It was held at the archbishop’s palace in Vienna, with the hope of informing the public, lawmakers and officials of the ongoing threats of religious persecution.
The event was organized by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in partnership with ADF International, Open Doors, Aid to the Church in Need, and Christian Solidarity International, which additional support from the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.
In the spotlight at the conference was a North Korean native, Timothy C., who was forced to leave his country or face imminent death because of his religion. Other similar stories surfaced throughout the event, including those of Nigerian Christians killed by Boko Haram.
According to Jan Figel, the EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom, over 100,000 Christians are killed every year due to religious persecution. Figel underscored the importance of not remaining silent during times of persecution, and pointed to the example of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“Those who do not understand religion and misuse religion cannot understand what is happening in the world,” Figel stated during his opening keynote address.
Figel’s statements were echoed by Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson, who called the current persecution and killings of religious groups in the Middle East “genocide.”
“We must never hesitate in the defense of religious freedom. In the end, it is about standing up for a value-based foreign policy based on human dignity and human rights,” Adaktusson stated.
The Swedish MEP also spoke of his time in Northern Iraq, saying the evidence of persecution was significant. In the Middle East, Adaktusson noted that he saw “the signs of deliberate destruction and contempt for the beliefs of others,” pointing to destroyed churches, books, and crosses at the hands of the Islamic State.
In addition, Auxiliary Bishop Stephan Turnovszky of Vienna highlighted the marginalization of refugees in Europe, who are “often subjected here to violence, threats, and discrimination on the basis of their Christian faith.”
The conference additionally called into question European governments' role with regard to conscience, freedom of speech, and parental rights, which have been increasingly restrictive and invasive. While the government has enhanced its control, Bishop Turnovszky believes that Europe is failing to protect people because of their religious convictions.
Moving forward, Gudrun Kugler, member of the Vienna Regional Parliament, encouraged individuals to contact public officials in order to raise awareness of religious discrimination, and to start making strides to prevent persecution.
Kugler believes both individuals and organizations should work to “create space for Christians in Europe and to address the atrocities committed against Christians around the world.”

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