On June 10, 2014, Batool* was in
her classroom in Mosul, Iraq, preparing for the school week when she
received word: Bad people—barbarians looking for Christians to kill—were
coming. Batool immediately went home to pack up her life. As she
prepared to leave her house, her career, and her education—she was
midway through a PhD in biology—she knew she was likely saying a
permanent farewell to the only home she had ever known.
She is an
Assyrian Christian, which means the Islamic State (ISIS) and many other
Iraqi Muslims perceived her as a non-believer and an ally of the West.
Being Christian in Iraq means being a primary target of ISIS terrorism.
night, her house was marked with an “N” for “Nazarene” (ن in Arabic),
signifying that she follows Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not dissimilar from
the Star of David Jews were obligated to wear in 1930s Germany. The next
day, ISIS sent Batool’s sister a threatening note telling her convert
to Islam, pay the “jizya”—a tax on non-Muslims— or be executed. It was
time for them to leave.
Assyrian Christians Flee Their Homes in Droves
home city of Mosul stands on the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh.
Many will recall the biblical story of Jonah, whom God called to preach
to the Assyrians in Nineveh. The ancient city was the capital of the
Assyrian Empire, one of the great empires of biblical times, alongside
the Egyptians and Babylonians. Since Assyria was Christianized in the
first century AD, Mosul has been home to thousands of Assyrian
Assyrian Christians have long endured persecution for
both their ethnicity and their faith: the Iraqi Assyrian population, for
example, has dropped from 1.5 million in 2003 to approximately 200,000
today. From 1910 to 2016, the proportion of people in the Middle East
identifying as Assyrian Christian dropped from 14 percent to 4 percent.
Today the Assyrian diaspora exceeds 4 million.
How should America respond to this humanitarian crisis? Secretary of State John Kerry recently condemned Sunni jihadist groups’ persecution of Christians,
as well as the slaughter of Yazidis and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and
Syria, as genocide. But while this official declaration carried great
symbolic significance, few practical changes to U.S. foreign policy have
if American foreign policy were to change, it is not clear what its
object should be, particularly for Assyrian Christians. Although all
Assyrians yearn for a homeland in the Nineveh Plain, many differ in
their vision of their families’ and peoples’ future.
Assyrians dream to return to the Nineveh Plains and have a restored,
unified, and peaceful homeland. “I would love to return to the land of
my mother and grandmother. I would love to raise my daughters and
granddaughters in the place my people have lived for thousands of
years,” muses Janna, a young Assyrian mother to three girls and a
refugee living in Jordan.
Others Assyrians, scarred by the
betrayal from many of their Muslim neighbors and the trauma of
persecution in their homeland, instead hope for safety and security
abroad. “I wish to return home, but it is not possible. Please pray for
us,” asked Taghee, a woman who barely escaped Mosul the day ISIS
attacked. “But also help us. We must leave (Amman, Jordan).
Fast. We are not safe in Iraq while Daesh (ISIS) is in control. We have
no future, no work, no belongings. Pray for us and help our applications
Batool and her sister’s hope for the future is
less concrete: “I want to live in peace. What we have endured, no one
should have to endure.”
Not Everyone Ignores this Humanitarian Disaster
Americans are convinced they have a duty to prevent Christianity from
being extinguished in the Middle East, the cradle of its conception.
Earlier this September, the Washington DC-based nonprofit In Defense of Christians
(IDC) hosted its National Leadership Convention to “mobilize America
for the Christians in the Middle East.” IDC seeks to preserve
Christianity and Christian culture in the Middle East through grassroots
mobilization, coalition-building, awareness-raising, and congressional
resolutions. Other organizations, such as the Iraqi Christian Relief Council,
raise funds to provide emergency humanitarian aid, prayers, and
advocacy for Assyrian Christians in Iraq and other parts of the Middle
Other organizations encourage the United States play a more active role in preserving Assyrian Christians. One recent proposal
advocates U.S. support for creating a new semi-independent Iraqi
province on the Nineveh Plain to protect and resettle Assyrian
Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities ISIS has recently
displaced. A proposed congressional resolution aims to “support the
Republic of Iraq and its people to recognize a province in the Nineveh
Plain region, consistent with lawful expressions of self-determination
by its indigenous peoples.”
Such efforts encourage Assyrian
Christians like Batool. While there are inevitable challenges in helping
Christians—and Yazidis and Shiites—who are vulnerable to persecution,
these initiatives show that many in the West care about the plight of
Batool and her people. Batool, at least, is hopeful: “Some days we are
angry. Others we are at peace. Pray for our patience. God is in
*Some names in this piece have been changed for privacy and security.
Hudson is a graduate of the London School of Economics, where she
completed her masters in international comparative social policy as a
Rotary Global Grant Scholar. She has held posts with the American
Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society, and most recently was
lead education policy analyst at the Wisconsin Institute for Law &