For a third Christmas in a row, the church bells will not ring in Mosul, Father Emanuel Youkhana laments.
He recounts that around June 2014 the numerical religious minorities
such as Yazidis and Christian around Iraq's second biggest city began to
face a horrific onslaught by the group calling itself IS (Islamic
State), or Daesh in Arabic.
Mosul was once one of the major centers of Christianity in Iraq and
it had once again become a place of genocide against them, he said.
"Since October this is now the second month of liberation," said
Emanuel, but he said much apprehension still remains for what will
happen after IS is defeated militarily.
"As pleased as we are that our homelands from which thousands of
Christians were forced to flee from the extremists, are being retaken,
we are very concerned about what lies ahead," Father Emanuel said at the
United Nations in Geneva on 12 December.
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, leader of the Assyrian Christians and
head of CAPNI (Christian Aid Programme Northern Iraq), spoke at a 12
December press conference and later at a seminar about a report of the
World Council of Churches (WCC) and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), a member
of the ACT Alliance.
'PROTECTION OF MINORITIES' REPORT
The report, which was first released in Oslo on 28 November, is
titled, "The Protection Needs of Minorities from Syria and Iraq". It was
funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"We were quite sure that we would one day be enabled to go home to our towns and villages. We live in this hope," Emanuel said.
Many of Iraq's religious minorities live in the north, including Christians and Yezidis.
The Assyrian Christians who constitute the most populous Christian
group in Iraq speak their own languages and do not necessarily identify
as Arab, the report explains.
Consequently, they regard themselves, and are regarded by others, as a distinct ethnic group.
The Yezidis are predominantly Kurdish speaking, with homelands in
Iraq and the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Since 2003, much of the Yezidi
homeland of Sinjar has been under the control of the Kurdish Regional
Government (KRG), although it officially remains under the jurisdiction
of the central government of Iraq.
While many Yezidis are willing to identify as Kurds, they see
themselves as a distinct ethnic group but they have faced turmoil under
IS and even before that as they have been "totally unjustifiably accused
of being devil worshippers".
Emanuel reiterated that Christian leaders in Iraq estimate that, as
of November 2016, there are fewer than 250,000 Christians remaining in
According to estimates in the WCC-NCA report around 70 percent of the
Christians in Iraq have left the country since 2003 and most of those
who remain are internally displaced.
Emanuel showed photos he had taken of damage in Christian areas and
he said that regretfully sectarian messages had been painted on some of
the walls by members or the Iraqi national arm fighting Iraq.
He even noted there were German messages sprayed on the walls, "put there by German Jihadis".
"As much as we are pleased that the military operation have started
we hope there will not be attempts by the victors to change the
demographics of the area," said Father Emanuel.
"We may not be able to restore the Christian demography [as it was
before] but we can restore the Christian values and add value to this
place," said the Assyrian church leader.
He noted that there were a number of main religious and ethnic
minorities around Mosul – the Iraqi indigenous community; the Jewish
community; the Mandians or followers of John the Baptist, the Yazidis
and the Christians.
'IN IRAQ BEFORE ARABISATIZATION'
"They all lived in Iraq before Arabization."
None of these peoples had been introduced in the Iraqi school curriculum.
"We were even neglected before Daesh came to uproot us physically. I don't want this to be repeated."
He said that over 100 years, three generations of his family had
faced genocide attempts – first under the Ottomans, then after the
formation of the Iraqi State in 1933 and now the latest attempt by IS.
Peter Prove, the director of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on
International Affairs said that Iraq faces a "litmus test" after the
fighting for Mosul ends. "Society diversity is the best bulwark against