Iraq is ground zero for the war on
Christians in the Middle East. The war-torn Muslim-majority country has
been a killing ground, where Assyrians and other Christians have been
targeted for extermination by jihadists.
The jihadist army -- often referred to as the Islamic State, ISIS,
ISIL or Daesh -- has systematically perpetrated atrocities against
Christians in the service of genocide. Now that Islamic State forces are
on the edge of defeat in Iraq, the time has come to investigate and
document their crimes against humanity.
Ewelina Ochab is dedicated to bearing witness to the crimes of the
Islamic State. She serves as legal counsel for ADF (Alliance Defending
Freedom) International, a Vienna-based legal organization that advocates
"for the right of individuals to freely live out their faith."
In an email interview, Ochab stated that ADF International "has been
at the forefront of the legal battle to recognize the ongoing ISIS/Daesh
atrocities against Christians in the Middle East such as genocide,
having successfully engaged with the European Parliament, the Council of
Europe, the U.K. Parliament, and many more."
Assyrians are a distinct ethnic group within the Middle East. They
have a rich and ancient culture that is being systematically destroyed.
Assyrians are the original indigenous people of Iraq, Syria and parts of
Turkey. They are not Arabs.
The vast majority of Iraqi Christians are of Assyrian ethnicity.
Within the Assyrian nation, there are many religious denominations,
including the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean (Roman Catholic),
Syriac (Catholic and Orthodox), Presbyterian, as well as Evangelical.
In 2003, there were approximately 1.4 million Assyrians and other
Christians in Iraq. Today there are perhaps only 120,000 left. There can
be no doubt that ethnic cleansing and genocide have taken place in
Ochab recently travelled to Iraq to meet with Christian survivors of
the Islamic State's genocidal campaign and to document the stories of
"In November, I visited Iraq where I met Iraqi Christian internally
displaced persons (IDPs) living in Erbil," Ochab said. And she met with
"a number of families" from Mosul and other communities. She also
visited a number of liberated towns and villages, including Quaragosh,
Karamless and Bartallah.
In addition, the genocide researcher "also met with several NGOs
helping Christians in the Middle East, including SOS Chretiens, a number
of NGOs collecting the evidence of the Daesh atrocities, including
Shlomo and Hammurabi Human Rights Organisations, and a number of
The ancestral home of Assyrian Christians is located on the Nineveh
Plain in northern Iraq. "After Daesh took over Nineveh Plain in August
2014, the Iraqi Christians fled to Erbil and other parts of Kurdistan,"
Ochab said. "Hundreds of Iraqi Christians have left the region for
Jordan, Lebanon and other countries. However, there are still many
internally displaced Iraqi Christians living in Kurdistan."
According to Ochab, "there are four camps for Iraqi Christians in
Erbil." And she found that the Christian IDPs are living in "small metal
containers." She said that they receive "some humanitarian assistance"
and are "reasonably safe."
Return to Nineveh?
"Those who stayed [in Iraq] the last two years and three months still
hope that they would be able to go back to their homes," Ochab said.
"However, I have seen their homes on the Nineveh Plain and it seems that
they will not be able to return any time soon."
Ochab visited several northern towns, and she reports that they have
been "destroyed" by Islamic State forces. "Daesh looted one house after
another without leaving any stone unturned. The houses, churches,
schools, and shops are looted, burnt down, and damaged."
The jihadists paid special attention to Christian houses of worship.
"In every church that I have visited, crosses are broken, the statutes
of Jesus and Holy Mary are destroyed, Holy Bibles and books burnt,"
Ochab said. "The destruction sent a very clear message: Daesh
specifically intended to destroy Christianity in the area and everything
that Christianity is associated with. This is genocide."
As Iraqi security forces, Kurdish units and Assyrian militias
liberate northern Iraq from the death grip of the Islamic State, the
full extent of the destruction is slowly being revealed. "It's been over
four weeks since some of the towns on the Nineveh Plain have been
liberated, however there is still a lot of work before people will be
able to go back and start rebuilding their lives," Ochab said.
"The Nineveh Plain Units [Assyrian militias] are checking houses for
explosives and Daesh tunnels, and making the safe houses," continued the
genocide expert. "Some of the houses destroyed by Daesh would need to
be checked whether their construction is safe and sound for people to
live in. The Daesh tunnels would have to be sealed off. The list of
necessary works goes on."
After meeting with Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan, Ochab
concluded that they "require urgent assistance to be able to move on
with their lives. What struck me the most was that no one is interested
in what these people have been through. They were unbelievably grateful
to talk about their stories with me," she said.
"They said that the rest of the world has forgotten about them,"
continued Ochab. "However, another issue that resurfaced during my time
in Jordan was the lack of organizations or bodies that would document
the stories of the victims."
According to the human rights defender, ISIS/Daesh reportedly carried
out crucifixions, torture, sexual abuse, murder and kidnappings. "The
fact that there is no fact-finding commission that is documenting the
atrocities committed by ISIS/Daesh is of concern."
Without a thorough investigation, asserted Ochab, the extent of the atrocities perpetrated by ISIS will never be known.
"Many of the victims do not know where to go, or where to report the
atrocities. Many of them also feel let down and discouraged to talk
about the atrocities as the world stands by and watches," she said.
Canada responds to genocide
"Canada is appalled by the atrocities and widespread abuses committed
by Daesh, including those committed against religious and ethnic
communities," Chantal Gagnon, press secretary to Foreign Affairs
Minister Stephane Dion, stated in an email. Although Gagnon noted that
"Yezidis have suffered terrible and particular losses that require
special attention," she did not specifically mention Assyrians or other
Christian communities in Iraq.
"In the immediate term, it is important that the survivors of these
grave abuses are provided with the assistance they need," continued
Gagnon. "In particular, women and children who have suffered sexual
violence and slavery require urgent psychosocial and medical
To that end, Canada has been working with humanitarian partners,
including the UN and non-governmental organizations, to assist survivors
of sexual and gender-based violence in Iraq since 2014. "With Canadian
support, our partners have established centres in camps and host
communities across Iraq, where women and girls are able to access
psychosocial support, specialized medical care and legal and other
services," Gagnon said. "Support to women and girls affected by violence
will remain at the centre of our humanitarian assistance to Iraq in the
years to come."
Canada supports criminal investigation
"Through the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs),
Canada is currently supporting the Commission for International Justice
and Accountability (CIJA) and its efforts to prepare for the criminal
prosecution of breaches of international criminal and humanitarian law
committed by Daesh," stated Gagnon. "The Commission for International
Justice and Accountability has developed legal case files focusing on
Daesh criminality in Syria and Iraq, including sexual slavery."
In addition, the CIJA in Iraq has attempted to bolster the
investigative capabilities of the Kurdistan Regional Government's War
Crimes Investigative and Prosecutorial Unit. "Some courts in the
Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) have already begun hearing cases relating
to these crimes under Iraqi terrorism law," Gagnon said.
"Canada shares the view of the U.S., UN, U.K. and EU, that the
situation must be the subject of an independent investigation and
determinations of criminal responsibility must be made by a competent
court or tribunal," Gagnon said of the crimes perpetrated by Islamic
In addition, said Gagnon, Dion has written to the president of the UN
Security Council on two separate occasions "to request that the UN
Security Council establish a mechanism to investigate violations of
international law by Daesh in Iraq and Syria, to determine whether these
violations constitute acts of genocide or other serious international
crimes, to identify the perpetrators of such crimes and measures to
ensure accountability, including a referral to the International
Criminal Court as appropriate."
The Foreign Affairs minister's representative stated that Canada has
"acknowledged international findings from the UN-mandated Independent
International Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations and
crimes perpetrated in Syria (COI) that indicate Daesh continues to
perpetrate genocide against the Yazidis."
However, the Trudeau government has yet to acknowledge that Assyrians
and other Christians in Iraq are victims of genocide. There can be no
justice for the survivors of genocide unless the world fully
acknowledges the extent of the crimes perpetrated against them by the
"Without a special fact-finding commission, specifically focused on
the ISIS/Daesh atrocities, the victims of ISIS/Daesh genocide will not
get justice they deserve," Ochab said.