mercoledì, luglio 27, 2016
Archdiocese of Washington World Youth Day pilgrims in Poland have launched a social media campaign to show their solidarity with Iraqi Christians and others who suffer persecution.
The campaign uses the hashtag #WYDvoices4peace, and was launched Monday, July 25.
“With news of Iraqi Christians attending [World Youth Day], and Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl’s call to speak against the persecution in the Middle East, we will launch a social media campaign aimed at thanking the Iraqi young people for their witness and ensuring them we are raising our voices in prayerful support and praying for peace,” Sarah Yaklic, director of digital media for the Archdiocese of Washington, wrote in an e-mail from Kraków, Poland, where she is attending World Youth Day.
Cardinal Wuerl has been a persistent voice in drawing attention to the plight of Christians suffering in Iraq, the Holy Land and other countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He has frequently called on national and world leaders and all people of faith, not to remain silent or indifferent to the suffering of Iraq’s persecuted Christians.
At an Aug. 15 Mass for Peace, Religious Freedom and Tolerance at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Cardinal Wuerl lamented that “every day we learn more about the atrocities perpetrated against Christians and others in Iraq and in other parts of the Middle East.”
“It is almost incomprehensible that today, in organized military action, Muslim extremists are torturing and killing innocent and unarmed Christian women and children, attempting to force conversions to Islam and inflicting every type of inhumanity on fellow human beings,” Cardinal Wuerl said at that event.
Yaklic said that World Youth Day pilgrims, using the hashtag #WYDvoices4peace, can “pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters” and encourage others to do so as well.
The social media campaign was launched the same day that World Youth Day pilgrims visited the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz where approximately one million people – mostly Jews – were killed in during World War II. The extermination camp is where Edith Stein and Father Maximilian Kolbe were martyred. Both were later canonized. Edith Stein is known as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
The World Youth Day campaign for peace and solidarity came one day before 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel was beheaded in a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, by two assailants who slit his throat after bursting into a church and taking nuns and Mass-goers hostage. Several news outlets reported that ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
Cardinal Wuerl, writing in his July 25 blog about the #WYDvoices4peace social media campaign, said the effort was an opportunity to show “solidarity with our sisters and brothers from that land where the Church is suffering deadly persecution, and with all others who live in violence.”
Writing of the pilgrims’ visit to Auschwitz, Cardinal Wuerl said, “of the questions voiced after the Nazi genocide, which should strike at the conscience of us all, is why there was such a silence in the world about the atrocities that were occurring. Sadly, subsequent violence, persecution and genocide since then have also often been met with silence or the effective silence of not doing anything to foster peace and security.”
“We hear so much today of the word ‘solidarity.’ Solidarity is a particularly fitting word given the history of the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement in Poland, which Pope John Paul II recognized as a force for the authentic peace of human rights and freedom.,” Cardinal Wuerl wrote. “Solidarity takes on added poignancy and urgency with our sisters and brothers from Iraq joining their fellow young people in prayer at World Youth Day.”
Archdiocese of Washington pilgrims who visited Auschwitz on July 25 recorded videos and wrote messages that were posted on line and shared via Twitter, Instagram and other on-line social media sites using the #WYDvoices4peace hashtag.
“Today our solidarity with people of faith in places where there is clearly an effort to eliminate them is something that we simply cannot in conscience ignore,” Cardinal Wuerl wrote in his blog. “We need to raise our voices for peace. Please join our pilgrims in prayer and send a message using #WYDvoices4peace.”
Find World Youth Day information on social media using the hastags #WYDvoices4peace; #Krakow2016; #WYDUSA; #wydDC; and #USApilgrim.
Il 20 gennaio scorso immagini satellitari mostrarono al mondo l’irrevocabile scomparsa del più antico monastero cristiano in Iraq: i bulldozer dello Stato Islamico, probabilmente qualche mese prima, avevano portato via le macerie di Mar Elia, polverizzato dall’esplosivo che i miliziani avevano collocato al suo interno. Alle porte di Mosul, aveva resistito a 1400 anni di storia.
Da due anni l’Isis, strenuo nemico di qualsiasi forma di paganesimo ritenga di incontrare sulla propria strada, colpisce le pietre come le vite. Distrugge monasteri, moschee sciite, siti archeologici, Palmira come Ninawa, ma distrugge anche l’esistenza stessa di etnie e confessioni considerate miscredenti. Cristiani, sciiti, yazidi, kurdi, anche sunniti che non accettano di piegarsi all’ideologia del “califfo” e all’aperta strategia di divisione messa in atto nel corridoio di terre che, da Aleppo a Diyala, dovrebbe costituire l’entità statuale islamista. A Mosul i pochi cristiani rimasti sono stati costretti a convertirsi o a pagare una tassa per avere salva la vita. Da Qaraqosh sono fuggiti in massa, in una notte, dopo i primi missili che annunciavano l’arrivo degli uomini di al-Baghdadi. Da tanti altri villaggi non hanno avuto modo di scappare e le notizie di decapitazioni di cristiani e rapimenti di religiosi hanno segnato questi due anni di occupazione.
A marzo il Congresso degli Stati Uniti ha dichiarato genocidio quello in corso contro i cristiani e le minoranze in Medio Oriente: «L’Isis commette genocidio per auto-dichiarazione, ideologia ed azioni – aveva detto all’epoca il segretario di Stato John Kerry – Daesh è responsabile di crimini contro l’umanità e di pulizia etnica diretta a determinati gruppi, in alcuni casi anche contro i sunniti stessi».
In Iraq come in Siria la millenaria coesistenza delle confessioni religiose è un ricordo sbiadito. Nella piana di Ninawa le prime conversioni al cristianesimo risalgono al primo secolo dopo Cristo, arabi discendenti dalla popolazione assira della Mesopotamia insediatisi tra il Tigri e l’Eufrate. Quella che ancora oggi definiamo la culla della civiltà. Siriaci, caldei, assiri erano divisi in 230 villaggi, oggi quasi tutti svuotati. Ma è l’Iraq ad essersi svuotato: dalla caduta di Saddam Hussein, nel 2003, per mano dell’invasione statunitense, del milione e mezzo di cristiani iracheni ne restavano già nel 2014 solo 500mila. E oggi? Sarebbero 275mila, secondo l’ultimo rapporto pubblicato a primavera dall’associazione In Defence of Christians. C’è chi è fuggito all’estero, chi oggi è nei campi profughi a Erbil o a Baghdad, un destino lontanissimo dagli anni del partito Baath, quando i cristiani occupavano posti di rilievo in politica e economia.
Non molto dissimile la situazione in Siria, regione in cui la presenza cristiana è tra le più antiche, dove si dice che Paolo si convertì sulla via per Damasco: ortodossi, armeni, cattolici, siriaci, melchiti, caldei, prima della guerra civile i cristiani rappresentavano il 10% della popolazione, quasi due milioni di persone di cui oggi se ne contano solo 500mila. Scappati, anche loro, dall’avanzata dello Stato Islamico che ha occupato in poco tempo un terzo del paese e soltanto in questi mesi comincia ad arretrare sul terreno, ma non nella strategia militare e di propaganda. In molti hanno trovato rifugio nel centro del paese e lungo la costa, zone controllate dal governo del presidente Assad dove si sentono protetti.
Tra le città più colpite c’è Aleppo, primo centro economico e culturale della Siria, oggi ombra dello splendore che fu: solo un quarto della popolazione cristiana che qui risiedeva prima del 2011 è ancora presente, 40mila persone su 160mila. Gli altri hanno lasciato la propria terra, Aleppo e la Siria, per le violenze ideologiche dei gruppi islamisti di opposizione che occupano parte della città. Eppure per lungo tempo i cristiani siriani sono stati parte integrante dell’élite economica, politica e militare del paese, membri dei partiti laici, nazionalisti e socialisti. Il filosofo Michel Aflaq, considerato il fondatore del partito Baath di cui è parte la famiglia Assad, era cristiano.
martedì, luglio 26, 2016
By The New American
A total of 6,726 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States since the beginning of fiscal year 2016, which began last October 1. However, of this number, 6,625 (98.4 percent) were Sunni Muslims, and a mere 23 (0.3 percent) were Christians. The figures for Christians included 15 whose denomination was not specified, five Catholics, two unspecified Orthodox, and one Greek Orthodox adherent. Another 49 refugees were described in government data simply as Muslim, with 17 specifically being identified as Shi’a Muslims, and 10 were listed as being Yazidis (an ethnically Kurdish religious sect).
The United States pledged last year to resettle 85,000 refugees from all over the world during fiscal year 2016, which runs from October 1 through September 30. That number will include at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. However, the Wall Street Journal reported on July 13 that by March 31, which was halfway through the fiscal year, only 1,285 Syrians had arrived. After that, the pace rapidly increased. By June 30, the number of Syrians had jumped to 5,211, and the total number of refugee admissions had reached 49,791.
CNSNews, which reported this story on July 25, citing State Department Refugee Processing Center data, stated that as of that date, 1,515 Syrian refugees had been admitted since the beginning of July, and a total of 6,726 since FY 2016 began.
Similar figures were reported in a July 1 article posted by Breitbart News, which noted that of more than 2,300 refugees admitted by the United States in June, 99 percent were Sunni Muslim and just eight were identified as Christian. The report observed that the breakdown of refugees from Syria has drawn criticism because the percentage of Sunni Muslims among them is far greater than that of the Syrian population as a whole, which is about 75 percent Sunni.
That report quoted from a July 1 article by Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, who stated: “This is social engineering, not humanitarian relief. Syria was 10 percent Christian before the war. The Christians have been targeted and persecuted by several jihad groups. The refugees, then, should be at least 10 percent Christian and probably more than that.”
Some conservative political leaders in the United States have pointed out that only three percent of the refugees coming to the United States from Syria are Christian, although Syria is 10 percent Christian. This figure is suspiciously indicative of discriminatory policies on the part of the current administration because Christians in the Middle East have been the victims of widespread terrorism and violence and are especially deserving of refugee status.
In that article, we observed how the plight of Christians in Syria mirrored what happened in neighboring Iraq. Christians had freedom of religion and freedom from persecution under Saddam Hussein. However, since the 2013 U.S.-led invasion that deposed the Iraqi strongman, that was no longer the case, and the country became inhospitable for Christians, with more than half of them fleeing to neighboring countries. The exodus has continued in recent years as thousands of Christian refugees fled from ISIS terrorists in northern Iraq in 2014 and went into exile in the autonomous Kurdistan region. As we noted in our article:
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the rise of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, Christians in those lands have been driven from their homes, threatened with death unless they convert to Islam, have had their homes, businesses, and churches burned down, and have even been killed, sometimes by being beheaded. Few of these terrorized Christians have been afforded the opportunity to seek refuge in the United States.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who was a presidential candidate at the time, proposed on a CNN program last November 15 that U.S. assistance to Middle Eastern refugees should focus primarily on Christians fleeing the violence: “We should focus our efforts as it relates to refugees on the Christians that are being slaughtered.”
Such suggestions prompted a strong, adverse reaction from President Obama, however. When speaking at the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, the next day, Obama condemned those who want a “religious test” for admitting refugees from Syria, labeling the idea as un-American. “When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who is fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that's shameful, that's not American,” Obama said. “That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests (for) our compassion.”
In response to Obama’s statement, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) replied: “To my political colleagues and all who wag their tongues in the public discourse: The religious test has already been imposed. It was imposed by radical Islamists — not, to be sure, by the entire Islamic world — but impose it these extreme religious misfits unmistakably did.”
Recognizing the unique plight of Christians and Yazidis in the Middle East, Rohrabacher continued:
I have introduced legislation that would require the State Department to designate Christians and Yazidis as targets for genocide, a step creating priority refugee status for them. Doing so imposes no religious test. It saves identifiable victims from religious persecution.
The Obama administration has other priorities, however. It has committed to admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of September and is certain to reach its goal. And if Christians are disproportionately excluded, that seems to be of little concern to this administration.
The Evangelical Brethren Unity from the German village of Herrnhut has granted church asylum to 17 Iraqi Christians who were to return to the Czech Republic after their application for asylum was rejected, Czech Radio said Monday, quoting the daily Saechsische Zeitung.
The church community has decided to take the step because the Iraqis are threatened with the deportation to Iraq where their lives are jeopardised, the daily said.
Czech Radio said German churches can grant asylum for a limited time if the deportation threatened their lives.
During the period, the authorities have to re-examine their standard applications for asylum.
In February, the 17-member Iraqi family came to the Czech Republic within a project helping the Christians threatened with persecution over their belief in the local region.
However, the Iraqis later left for Saxony, arguing that they did not feel welcomed in the Czech Republic.
They asked for asylum in Saxony, but German authorities rejected their applications and ordered their return to the Czech Republic.
According to the German church, the news was broken to the Iraqis from the Czech Republic that they would be deported to Iraq due to their "alleged ingratitude."
"The deportation back to Iraq could mean long incarceration, torture or even death for members of the Orthodox Christian family," the church said.
This is why it offered church asylum to the group a week ago.
Un Comitato di dialogo permanente tra i rappresentanti dei centri religiosi sciiti e il Patriarcato caldeo, per affrontare insieme i problemi vissuti dalle popolazioni locali, in un contesto di amichevole collaborazione. E' questa la proposta concreta emersa durante la visita resa lunedì 25 luglio al Patriarca caldeo Louis Raphael I da quattro autorevoli rappresentanti delle istituzioni accademiche sciite di Najaf (Iraq) e Qom (Iran). La delegazione era composta dallo sheikh Aladdin Jazairi (che ricopre anche incarichi nel Movimento al Nujaba, a cui fa riferimento anche una milizia sciita), dallo sheikh Jassim Mandalawi, e dagli sheikh Hamid Reza e Hamid Albabai, dirigenti del Centro per il dialogo di Qom, la città iraniana dove sono concentrate importanti istituzioni accademiche dell'islam sciita.
Il modello di dialogo messo in cantiere si configura come complementare a quello già in atto tra le stesse realtà accademiche sciite e le istituzioni vaticane. “Noi cristiani d'Oriente” riferisce all'Agenzia Fides il Patriarca Louis Raphael I “possiamo e dobbiamo essere attori privilegiati nel dialogo con le realtà dell'islam. Viviamo qui, parliamo la stessa lingua, siamo assillati dagli stessi problemi e dagli stessi mali, conosciamo le cose dall'interno. Sono utili tutte le occasioni per creare strumenti di dialogo a livello locale, che possono anche servire a sciogliere tanti nodi incontrati dalle comunità cristiane, in questi tempi drammatici”. Il Primate della Chiesa caldea prende atto che al momento “i sunniti hanno tanti problemi con la liberazione delle loro città dal Daesh, ma, in futuro, un eventuale comitato di dialogo eventualmente avviato con gli sciiti potrebbe coinvolgere anche loro e diventare uno strumento di dialogo tra cristiani e musulmani”. Il Patriarca caldeo ipotizza anche alcuni punti su cui il dialogo potrebbe focalizzare l'attenzione: “Ai rappresentanti sciiti ho detto con amichevole franchezza che non c'è futuro, se non si aggiorna il linguaggio della predicazione religiosa. Ho accennato loro all'esperienza dei cristiani: alla lunga, se questo aggiornamento non avviene, le persone si allontaneranno dalla religione. La predicazione e anche il dialogo devono essere concrete, tener conto del momento storico e dei problemi reali: prima delle questioni strettamente accademiche e teologiche, possiamo iniziare a confrontarci sulle questioni sociali, comprese quelle della giustizia e del riconoscimento dei diritti della persona. Quelli sono i terreni su cui dobbiamo iniziare a sperimentare soluzioni condivise”.
lunedì, luglio 25, 2016
Il patriarca caldeo Mar Louis Raphael Sako esprime “le più sincere congratulazioni” e i “migliori auguri” al popolo irakeno per l’inserimento di alcuni siti archeologici e naturali dell’Iraq nella lista dei siti Patrimonio dell’Umanità Unesco. Nella nota, inviata per conoscenza ad AsiaNews, sua beatitudine cita “la palude di Ur dei Caldei, Eridu e Uruk” fra i nuovi siti Unesco. “Questo - aggiunge - è un grande risultato, perché [per l’Iraq] l’archeologia rappresenta una ricchezza” e il turismo supera “in ricchezza” il petrolio e potrebbe essere la vera, grande risorsa per rilanciare il Paese, se pacificato.
Il 17 luglio scorso a Istanbul (Turchia), in concomitanza con la 40ma sessione del World Heritage Committee, l’Organizzazione Onu per l’educazione, la scienza e la cultura ha scelto 21 nuovi siti da inserire fra i patrimoni dell’umanità.
Tra i nuovi ingressi, la maggior parte di questi si trova in Asia e Medio oriente; in particolare, la Cina continua a scalare la classifica e ora è seconda al mondo per numero di siti, a una sola lunghezza dall’Italia tuttora in testa con 51.
I nuovi siti Unesco in Iraq sorgono nell’area in cui, secondo la Bibbia, si trovava il Giardino dell’Eden. Dopo quattro anni di incontri, campagne, promozioni e lettere aperte, i vertici dell’organismo Onu hanno deciso di inserire le paludi di quella che un tempo era la Mesopotamia fra i patrimoni mondiali. L’inclusione riguarda sette elementi: i tre siti archeologici delle città di Uruk, Ur e Tell Eridu (le rovine delle città sumere e degli insediamenti che si svilupparono nel sud della Mesopotamia tra il IV e il III secolo a.C.) e quattro aree naturali. Si tratta di un complesso unico dal punto di vista culturale e anche ambientale, luogo di incontro tra i fiumi Tigri ed Eufrate in cui si è creato nei millenni un ecosistema fondamentale per il Paese.
Notevole la biodiversità del luogo, che negli anni ’50 arrivava fin quasi a 9mila chilometri quadrati di estensione. Saddam Hussein ha quasi distrutto l’area, perseguitando gli abitanti della zona - i Marsh Arabs, Arabi delle paludi - e prosciugandone una vasta porzione. Ora l’area della palude ha recuperato il 40% della sua estensione originaria e il governo punta ad arrivare fino a 6mila km2 di estensione.
Accogliendo con gioia la decisione degli esperti dell’Unesco, il patriarca caldeo si rivolge ai politici irakeni, al governo e a tutte le istituzioni “perché preservino” il patrimonio turistico, storico, naturale e archeologico del Paese. È necessario, avverte mar Sako, tutelare “le reliquie e i siri sparsi in tutto il Paese, per mantenerne integro il valore e la storia”. E per raggiungere questo obiettivo, conclude, sono fondamentali “la pace e la stabilità”.
venerdì, luglio 22, 2016
That Middle Eastern Christians—along with Yazidis and others—face genocide by ISIS was officially recognized earlier this year in a designation of the U.S. Secretary of State, and in resolutions of both Houses of Congress. Yet, a prominent international voice is now denying this, asserting that ISIS, rather than aiming to eradicate Christians, offers to protect and respect them through a traditional Islamic tax option, or jizya. These findings seem preposterous to anyone familiar with ISIS’s worldview—recall the 2015 ISIS videos of its beheadings of the Coptic Orthodox and the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in Libya. Nevertheless, they are gaining traction to the detriment of the affected Christian communities and to the world’s understanding of ISIS’s ideology. In a June 15 report concerning ISIS’s genocide in Iraq’s Nineveh Province, a small but highly influential international group, the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, insists that ISIS does not intend to destroy the Christian community, which would mean that, under the genocide convention, the terror group has not waged genocide on that minority. The report confidently declares that ISIS unconditionally recognizes Christians’ “right to exist as Christians,” including those within its territory, “as long as they pay the jizya tax,” because, it suggests, the terror group respects Christians (and presumably Jews) as “People of the Book.” Another unsubstantiated and insupportable claim is that there are “Christian communities still living in ISIS-controlled territory.” The report even denies that the ISIS attacks against the Christian minority are religious, asserting instead a political motivation for its violence against that minority—to punish them for getting too close to “non-aligned forces.”Apart from its footnote-free, summary conclusion, the Commission report, entitled “They came to destroy”: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis, is silent on the Christians. Here is the conclusion in its entirety:
While the Christian communities still living in ISIS-controlled territory live difficult and often precarious existences, are viewed with suspicion, and are vulnerable to attack if ISIS perceive they are seeking protection from non-aligned forces, their right to exist as Christians within any Islamic state existing at any point in time is recognised as long as they pay the jizya tax: Under ISIS’s radical interpretation of Islam, however, it is impermissible for Yazidis to live as Yazidis inside its so-called caliphate because they are not People of the Book.
As it pertains to the Christians, this conclusion is demonstrably false. No one denies that the Yazidis face ISIS genocide but the idea that “Christians and Jews” do not because they have ISIS’s respect as “People of the Book” first surfaced in a report by the U.S. Holocaust Museum genocide prevention office during the debate leading up to the official U.S. genocide designation last winter and was refuted by the evidence then. Its adoption by the Commission now gives what is essentially unexamined ISIS propaganda new currency in international circles, with significant implications.
Internationally, the Commission is considered a highly respected authority. It was established in 2011 by the United Nations Council on Human Rights to advise the world’s preeminent human-rights body. It counts among its four commissioners such notables as Karen Koning AbuZayd, an American who served for as Deputy Commissioner General of UNRWA, a controversial UN body for Palestinian refugees with a reputation, including under her leadership, of abetting Holocaust denial and Hamas terror, but which allowed her to obtain the rank of UN Under Secretary General of the UN.
Already the research library of the British Parliament has cited the Commission as its principal source on the plight of Christians in ISIS’s territory, and adopted the Commission’s conclusion in the library’s July 15, 2016 briefing paper on “Religious Persecution in the Middle East.” If allowed to stand unchallenged, the Commission’s conclusion can be anticipated to influence policymaking within and outside the United Nations.
A review of the evidence and interviews with the Christian leaders directly involved reveals that ISIS’ claims of a jizya option are a deception and a propaganda ploy. ISIS’s demands for payments, which it calls “jizya,” are actually examples of extortion. Under traditional Islam, there was a conceptual distinction between the two that made an enormous difference for the survival non-Muslim minorities.Under what is called the Pact of Omar (named after a 7th-century Caliph), there was an arrangement for coexistence with Jews and Christians as respected “People of the Book.” Men or their community paid a progressive tax, or jizya, in exchange for the protection of their families’ lives and property and for their religious rights. They did not have religious freedom, were harshly discriminated against, and were compelled to adhere to Muslim mores in ways would be seen today as flagrant human-rights violations. Yet for 1,300 years, from the Muslim conquest of the region in the 7th century until the mid- 19th, Christianity was practiced and perpetuated in this region under such arrangements.ISIS has never offered a traditional jizya option to any of these Christians, at any time. Neither protection nor religious rights are assured under the pseudo-caliphate of the Islamic State. Today there is a complete absence anywhere in ISIS-controlled territory of functioning churches, active clergy, and intact Christian communities. As shown below, in the three major areas—Nineveh, Raqqa and Qaryatayn—where ISIS claims to have “offered a jizya option,” the offer has always, within a short time, been followed by the rape, murder, kidnapping, enslavement, and dispossession of Christians—all acts evidencing the crime of genocide.
Nineveh Province, Iraq
On July 17, 2014, twelve days before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed his caliphate from Mosul, the capital of Nineveh Province, ISIS first raised the jizya issue in Iraq. The group summoned Mosul’s Christian leaders to the city’s civic center purportedly to set out its demands. The Reverend Emanuel Adelkello, a priest with the Syriac Catholic Church (the largest in Northern Iraq) had direct dealings with ISIS on behalf of the Christian community. He wrote to me that the Christian leaders throughout Nineveh consulted among themselves and decided it was a “trap.” Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshi wrote that it required too great a leap of faith: They could “never trust Daesh [members] no matter how many good intentions they try to show.”Reverend Adelkello states they were specifically fearful that ISIS intended to “keep women there so that they could be taken freely by the ISIS fighters [since they] had made public statements that according to the Koran it was their right to take the Christian women as they pleased.” He writes that the Christians also “believed they would likely be killed if they showed up.” None did.ISIS then broadcasted from mosque loudspeakers an ultimatum to the Christians: Leave by July 19 or face death or forced conversion to Islam. The Archbishop says that ISIS also spread the “lie” that he had signed a jizya agreement with ISIS. He believes this was done to deceive Christians into staying in order to hold them for ransom and sexual abuse.Virtually all the Christians who could do so fled. In Mosul, ISIS destroyed or shut all 45 churches, confiscated Christian homes—which they had already marked with the red letter “N” for Nazarene—and manned checkpoints to steal possessions and cars from the fleeing Christians. A Sunni imam of Mosul who protested their treatment was killed.Following an ISIS blitzkrieg, the terror-driven mass exodus of Christians was repeated less than three weeks later throughout the rest of Nineveh Province. ISIS made no further jizya announcements in Iraq. The Holocaust Museum report recounts an interview with one Nineveh Christian man, who said he tried to pay jizya so that he could stay with his businesses but ISIS refused, confiscating his businesses after he fled.
The Commission of Inquiry characterized those Christians who didn’t make it out of Nineveh as having chosen to live under ISIS and pay jizya. The Christians on the scene refute this and describe a dire situation.
Only 25 to 50 Christians, nearly all reported to be elderly or suffering from infirmities that prevented them from making the trek out, remained behind in Mosul. They are now barred from leaving. Church leaders are adamant that these Christians don’t pay jizya; ISIS has robbed them of all their wealth and otherwise fails to protect or respect them.
The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, who was among those deported from Mosul, is categorical in asserting that no Christian community, or even family, remains in Mosul to pay jizya, and disputes Kurdish media reports that families remain in the city and are paying an annual jizya of $170.
On May 11, 2016, the Patriarchate said:
There are no more Christian families in Mosul…only a few individuals who were unable to escape…. Fifty disabled Christians are left at a medical facility because they were unable to escape…[and] it has been impossible so far to rescue them. Some Christians abducted by Daesh [ISIS] are still being held, but no family.
Assyrian Iraqi parliamentarian Yonadam Kanna agrees and adds that elderly Christians who stayed were forcibly converted. The Iraqi Chaldean priest Reverend Douglas Bazi, who aids refugees in Erbil, says that one Mosul family with disabled members was told they could remain Christian if each family member paid $8,000, each month, which was so exorbitant they could not exercise the “option.” Other exiled Church leaders report that the Mosul Christians are now destitute, starving and dying from neglect, isolated in their houses. Needless to say, they can’t go to church, since none remains.
When in the first two weeks of August 2014 ISIS stormed the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain, there were several thousand Christians who didn’t evacuate in time and they were shown no mercy.
An unknown number of the very young and very old died during this escape and, in the panic, were left where they fell. Others, ISIS killed outright. Washington’s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick told me that he spoke with an Iraqi Christian woman, now displaced in Kurdistan, who witnessed jihadists crucifying her husband on their home’s front door. A Sunni tribesman told of the fate of one senior left behind, an 80-year-old Nineveh Christian woman whom ISIS burned alive last year for not following its sharia.Aggregate numbers have yet to be collected for any ISIS depredations. Nineveh’s Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Amel Nona estimates that a “huge number of Christians” who could not get out when ISIS invaded his diocese were killed. Syriac Catholic Patriarch Younan reported that ISIS killed over 500 Christians, all civilians, but the number could be much higher.Using a State Department questionnaire from the Darfur genocide, the Knights of Columbus interviewed several hundred (out of 120,000) Christian refugees in Kurdistan. As its March 9, 2016 Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East Report documents, survivors reported that their sons, cousins, fathers, or brothers went missing after being led away by Isis jihadists. Based on relatives’ testimony, KofC lawyer Scott Lloyd says: “Dozens and perhaps hundreds of Christians, mostly men, were demanded as hostages in exchange for their families’ [freedom] to leave. They haven’t been seen since.”While ISIS’s practice of sexual slavery mostly targeted the Yazidis, Archbishop Moshi states that over 20 Christian girls and women were captured and remain held, despite Church ransom offers of $30,000—far above the slave prices on the ISIS-published list. One was three-year-old Christina, whom, her mother learned from a cell phone call from another captured Christian woman, was sold at a Mosul slave market. In another case, three months after being kidnapped, a daughter called her mother to say that she had been “converted” to Islam and “married” to a Muslim man.A Christian mother who managed to escape told of horrific abuse at a sex-slave detention center, under the direction of a sheikh who performed “marriages,” in accordance with ISIS’s strict rules. She told Minority Rights Group International:
That night I was married to eight different men and divorced eight times. Each man raped me three or four times. When all this was over, we were taken back to the room where all the girls were being held. They made us walk naked through the big room where all the men were sitting. We were barely able to walk. This scenario was repeated every week—it was like a nightmare.
Author Mindy Belz interviewed several Nineveh Christians escapees. She relates: “One father described being tortured while his wife and two children were threatened after the family refused to deny their faith.” ISIS militants raped the mother and 12-year-old daughter of another family, causing the father, who was forced to watch, to commit suicide. Father Bazi says that many Christian women and girls were raped but are too shamed to reveal it.
Forced conversion to Islam was so prevalent that special ministries were established in Kurdistan to counsel escapees burdened by the guilt. In September 2014, a family of 12 Assyrian Christians who spent a month under ISIS in Bartella reported being robbed, forcibly converted before a sharia court, and put under house arrest for 17 days without food. They told of seeing a badly beaten Assyrian man who refused to convert being bound and driven off in a truck—to be killed, they assumed. In another report, 14 men in a group of 48 Christians who had been held hostage for two weeks converted to Islam after ISIS militants tried to rape the girls, including a 9 year old.By August 2014, Patriarch Younan had begun pronouncing the Christian situation a “genocide.” Virtually the entire Christian population, and every trace of its unique 2,000-year-old civilization, has been eradicated from the ISIS-controlled Nineveh Province, the historic homeland of Iraqi Christianity. The vast majority of Nineveh’s Christians—like the vast majority of Yazidis—has been completely dispossessed and driven from their homes into Kurdistan or across the borders.
Raqqa and Qaryatayn, Syria
Raqqa is upheld as the prime example of an ISIS-controlled area implementing a jizya arrangement with Christians, due to a dhimmi contract posted on the Internet in February 2014 that set out the purported jizya terms. But, as evidenced by the blurred-out signatures of some 20 Raqqa Christians at the bottom, only a few dozen Christians had survived the prior seven months of ISIS occupation and al-Nusra’s before that. As in Mosul, when ISIS raised the jizya issue, the Christian community was already virtually extinct. Their numbers have dwindled since, and now the dozen or so left are all elderly, held as captives, and used as human shields.
The dhimmi document presumed the existence of churches with its detailed list of forbidden things to do involving them: bans against ringing bells, displaying crosses, and making repairs. Yet ISIS had destroyed all the churches and none was open. The last cleric left when ISIS arrived. It is in Raqqa where the Italian Jesuit Reverend Paolo Dall’Oglio was presumably murdered by jihadis the year before.
The State Department’s former counterterrorism expert Ambassador Alberto Fernandez describes the Raqqa jizya document as essentially a pathetic “Salafi Caliphate publicity stunt”:
[T]here are no images whatsoever of what could be described as normal Christian life in ISIS-controlled territory—no functioning churches, no monasteries or working priests, and no Christian families or Christian schools—all of which had existed throughout Islamic history.
Reports in spring 2016 state that the few remaining Christians were under house arrest. Voice of America mentions the dhimmi contract but then states:
IS has also confiscated their land and used them as human shields to deter international coalition and Syrian warplanes from hitting its positions in Raqqa and elsewhere.
Fernandez explains that ISIS’s leader raised the jizya issue in Raqqa to appear more “Caliph-like.”
The pact seems more aspirational, and more about preparing the stage for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s assuming the mantle of the Caliph, which happened only four months later, than a real document regulating the life of an actual community. Just as the Caliph Omar in the 7th century produced an agreement to regulate the life of a protected minority, so would the Caliph-in-Waiting do the same. The only thing missing were actual Christians.
The respected outlet “Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered” that monitors ISIS in its “capital” also repeats the jizya terms but makes clear that these payments did not spare the city’s Christian minority from ISIS’s brutal bigotry. “Christians are the most vulnerable group in the country,” observes the group’s Hussam Issa.
John was a college-age Christian whose family agreed to the “jizya” arrangement. He related that he survived for 18 months by carrying an official ISIS protection document obtained by extortion payments, which, using ISIS’s terminology, he called “jizya.” John described living in “constant fear,” forced to conform to ISIS haircut and dress codes and behavior rules. While he was able to meet socially with other Christians, he was unable to go to church or receive the sacraments. He relates how he once watched a street demonstration with crowds shouting “Allahu Akbar”: “But when an IS [Islamic State] man saw me being silent, he stopped the car. I had to say ‘Allahu Akbar’ too.” He made his secret escape one night in early 2016—the last young Christian to leave.
Raqqa’s female Christians faced an even tougher fate. ISIS defectors report that the rape of Christian “infidels” was common and approved by the ISIS sharia court. Some were girls as young as 12 years old.
The touted Raqqa “jizya” arrangement proved to be a deception. Last October, ISIS made a similar propaganda show in Qaryatayn. ISIS’s publicity campaign surrounding the dhimmi contract signing there was extensive, as detailed by MEMRI. In an ISIS video of the signing, the narrator proclaims:
The Caliph of the Muslims displayed kindness and generosity, and agreed to accept their jizya tax, and to allow them to live under the rule of the Caliphate as part of the dhimma contract.”
There, too, ISIS claims were false.
That fall, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Jean Kawak attested that the Qaryatayn Christians were being “treated like slaves.” He said they were held there against their will. The facts revealed in April 2016, after the town’s liberation, support those assessments.
As reported by Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, the 300 Christians remaining in the city after ISIS captured it were immediately subjected to abuse and violence by the jihadists. He said 21 were killed trying to escape, or refusing to convert to Islam or submit to the “caliphate’s” rules.
In October 2015, with Muslims’ help, Qaryatayn’s Christians set up an underground railroad and began escaping in small groups to Homs. They sent out the young girls first after being warned that jihadi leaders desired them as “wives.” Their priest Jacques Mourad was imprisoned and tortured and the town’s 5th-century Mar Elian monastery and churches were demolished. The bishops continue to try to ransom a group of the town’s Christians, whom ISIS imprisoned elsewhere last fall.
The Commission takes ISIS propaganda at face value and asserts, without evidence, that “Christian communities” are living under ISIS today and paying jizya. It mistakenly credits the terror group with making an exception from its standard ultra-violence for the Christian minority, out of respect for “People of the Book,” and seeking to coexist with them through traditional jizya arrangements. It accepts as fact that ISIS does not intend to destroy the Christian community. It offers unfounded reassurances that ISIS attacks against “vulnerable” Christians are not religiously motivated. And its unsupported summary conclusion, laden with such false premises, precludes any finding that ISIS is waging genocide against Middle Eastern Christians. It only refrained from repeating the ISIS video’s praise of al Baghdadi’s “kindness and generosity.
In truth, there is a complete absence of intact Christian communities in ISIS territory, which is prima facie evidence that there was no jizya option for the Christians. Testimony and reports from the Christian survivors and their clergy confirm this.
What ISIS refers to as “jizya” is extortion and ransom from a few disabled or elderly individuals, and others who did not escape in time. Those who did not escape have been killed or forced to become jihadi “brides,” human shields, slaves, hostages, or Muslims against their will. They are barred from practicing their Christian faith.
ISIS not only intends to destroy the Christian communities under its control, it has done so, and should be held accountable for the genocide against the Christians, as well as for that against the Yazidis. The Commission of Inquiry needs to answer why, in its conclusion on the Christians, it obscured the dangerous ideology of the Islamic State and served as an echo chamber for its propaganda.
Rome: Imagine a five-star general, under assault, with no weapons of defense — except faith.
Think of an Old Testament prophet living today, describing the evil destroying his community — but few listen.
That general or prophet is the fierce and noble leader of the Syriac Catholic Church of Antioch, Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan, age 71, whose Church comprises some 200,000 souls worldwide.
Patriarch Youssef sat down with the Register in Rome to provide an update and overview of the situation facing Syriac Catholics in their main homelands of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. (The Catholic bishop of Antioch traditionally carries the title “patriarch” — one of five patriarchs of Antioch, three Catholic and two Orthodox.)
His cri de coeur is unnerving.
Conditions for Syriac Catholics still living in Iraq and Syria has gone “from bad to worse” in the last year, according to the patriach.
Good news for the Church this year came when a kidnapped priest escaped the Islamic State (IS) after five months of captivity: The related bad news was IS’ destruction of the 1,500-plus-year-old monastery where he was abbot.
A July 3 truck bombing in Baghdad killed more than 230 people, including Catholic faithful — the most deadly attack in the city in several years.
It occurred 400 meters (1,312 feet) from the Syriac-Catholic cathedral, still mourning an atrocious massacre six years ago: Masked invaders assaulted the cathedral during Sunday Mass and viciously murdered a priest on the altar, along with another priest and 46 others, during a three-hour siege.
Despite obvious awareness of the hatred toward Christians surging through the Muslim community then, the United States appeared to be taken by surprise at the sudden emergence of IS two years ago.
In the summer of 2014, some 150,000 believers were forced to flee from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, where the largest concentration of Iraqi Christians lived. About 50,000 Syriac Catholics lived in the city of Mosul alone.
“They are all gone, uprooted from their ancestral lands, by the Daesh invasion,” said the patriarch solemnly, shaking his head. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, with a derogatory connotation of “lacking dignity.”
Displaced Christians found refuge in Kurdistan (a region in northern Iraq), in Jordan and in Lebanon. Most had only a few hours of warning, escaping with few possessions.
The patriarch regularly visits his flock in refugee camps and provisional apartments in places such as Beirut and Amman, where Catholic humanitarian programs such as Caritas have been helpful: “They have been waiting to go back [to their homes], but it seems that it’s not going to be soon,” he said. “Their morale is way down.”
Most have given up hope for normalcy and are trying to get visas to the U.S., Europe or Australia.
Meanwhile, Christian communities in Syria have also been devastated, despite warnings from local leaders, including the patriarch, that the country’s rich diversity of ethnic and religious groups — and the complex balance of power relations between them — could easily be disturbed if outsiders meddled.
According to the patriarch, fundamental errors in Syria came from Western politicians insisting that democracy can be exported, when it can’t; from Western media describing an “Arab Spring” style opposition movement and the existence of moderate rebels, who aren’t viable (if they exist); and from an intentional misunderstanding of political Islam and its objectives.
“In Syria, the situation was much more complex than in Tunisia or Egypt or Libya,” he said, adding that the media turned a war “inflicted on Syria” into an “Arab Spring” fantasy, starting in March 2011.
“Even Catholic leaders [in the United States and Western Europe], lured by the media and your hypocritical politicians, would tell us [Christian leaders in Syria]: ‘The Syrian regime has to go,’ assuming it was a matter of months,” which was inappropriate because “you have no right to interfere in an independent country that is still recognized by the U.N.,” said the patriarch.
“Western politicians said, ‘We have to export democracy,’ but what kind of democracy do you export to a country that has never known the separation of religion and state? If you don’t have that separation, you will have no democracy, and you will end up denying the rights of non-Muslims. What kind of democracy is that?” asked the patriarch.
“American, French, English, European Union politicians — they knew that, and now they harvest what they have sowed,” he said.
It’s more accurate to look at Syria from the perspective of the struggle throughout the Middle East between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims, suggested the patriarch.
“One of the most moderate, laicized countries in the region, Syria, has been ravished by one of the most sectarian wars,” he summarized.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite, a branch of Shia Muslim concentrated in Syria, where Sunnis are the majority.
By advocating the removal of Assad, the Obama administration aligned itself with “rich countries like Saudi Arabia or Qatar, fomenting violence and hatred,” said the patriarch.
Behind much of the region’s conflict are “the Wahabbism of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other [Persian] Gulf states,” whose “best allies” are Western countries, he said.
Wahabbism is radical Sunni Islam, a movement that emerged in the 18th century thought and preaching of Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the Arabian Peninsula. It forms the religious basis for the Islamic State.
He says Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, especially the U.S., together decided “the Syrian country, ruled by a kind of socialist party, where they were fighting against illiteracy, where you had medical care for all, a peaceful country, where you could go wherever you wanted to go, 24 hours a day without any problem — they find it has a dictatorship they have to knock down,” intoned the patriarch.
The patriarch thinks “political correctness” often prevents people in the West from perceiving dangerous phenomena related to Islam.
As the interview took place, the bodies of nine Italians killed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, by Muslim terrorists were arriving in Rome, the patriarch pointed out. Why did this happen?
“Go to the depth of the problem: It is not a question of poverty,” the patriarch observed. “Those five criminals were of good families. They were also students. It’s not a question of politics: The foreigners were apolitical; they helped the textile industry in Bangladesh.”
“It is a matter of Islam, radical Islam, and most of the Sunni Muslims are radical. Why? Because they take their Quran literally. In the Quran you have verses that promote tolerance toward non-Muslims, the people of the book, like us [Christians], like Jews, and you have verses that are very intolerant, very violent,” he explained.
“A Muslim has to learn the Quran literally. Each letter of the Quran is the word of God, and if you have people memorizing verses like ‘Go and kill the infidels’ — and those who do not say, ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is great], or ‘There is one God, Allah, and there is one prophet, Muhammad,’ are the infidels, this is the problem,” he said.
He thinks Western governments that have relationships with Muslim-majority governments need to insist those governments confront the promotion of violence and “reform your book of religion.”
Evidence of Indifference
The patriarch sees evidence that wealthy Muslim countries don’t care about the Syrian people in their lack of involvement in the refugee crisis.
People like German Chancellor Angela Merkel “don’t have the courage to tell countries like Saudi Arabia — which has plenty of land and plenty of money, and is much closer to the majority of refugees, in terms of language, culture and religion — to find a temporary place for the refugees, since they are telling us Assad will soon be gone. Okay, then, give them a place to live until they can go back to their country,” observed the patriarch.
“No. It is a lie, a lie. They are not concerned with the fate of the Syrian people,” only with a political takeover of the government.
The patriarch hopes Catholic leaders from the Middle East can have an encounter with the Holy Father “to tell him about the tragedy, so he can alert the world.” In fact, Pope Francis launched an effort to promote political, rather than military, solutions in Syria.
The patriarch is especially fed up with “lying, hypocrisy and manipulation of public opinion” in the West, with regard to Syria, Iraq and even Lebanon, where tension is increasing.
Western politicians “still instigate the prolongation of an absurd war in Syria out of geopolitical opportunism,” knowing there is no moderate opposition “to topple a legitimate government,” he said.
Although he was quick to thank the Catholic Church in the United States, especially institutions that have volunteered “to help our people stay [in the Middle East] and keep going as Eastern Churches of the apostolic time,” he said Catholics have to be more assertive “to tell the truth, beginning with the elected people and the media.”
The dedicated Church leader recounted, “I keep telling the U.S. bishops, ‘I thank you for your humanitarian aid, but it is not really what we need.’”
He continued, “We need them to stand up for the values of the Founding Fathers, defending human rights, religious freedom and the truth, while talking to those countries where Muslims make the majority.”
“We need Catholics to stand up — no more silent majority; since you live in a democratic country, you have to tell the truth” on our behalf, the beleaguered patriarch requested.
Senior Register correspondent Victor Gaetan is an award-winning