"La situazione sta peggiorando. Gridate con noi che i diritti umani sono calpestati da persone che parlano in nome di Dio ma che non sanno nulla di Lui che è Amore, mentre loro agiscono spinti dal rancore e dall'odio.
Gridate: Oh! Signore, abbi misericordia dell'Uomo."

Mons. Shleimun Warduni
Baghdad, 19 luglio 2014

31 ottobre 2016

Iraqi Christians, scarred by Islamic State’s cruelty, doubt they will return to Mosul

Khalid Ramzi, a congregant, seemed to choke on the sermon. “We can’t fall into the same hole twice. We don’t want our children to be raised in violence and fear,” he said, standing outside the church in Irbil. “Only in our dreams can we go back to Mosul.”
When the militants swept into the city two years ago, Christians were ordered to convert, pay a tax or die. As the Islamic State pushed beyond the city, onto the plains of Nineveh, its advance scattered the rich patchwork of religious and ethnic minorities — Yazidis and Assyrians, Kurds and Shabaks — that made the area a microcosm of diverse Iraq and a place unlike perhaps any in the world.
Churches were torched. Yazidis were massacred or enslaved. Villages emptied as hundreds of thousands of people fled.
Iraqi forces advancing toward Mosul have recaptured some of the villages, raising the possibility of return for the minorities. But it is difficult to imagine the villages whole again, with their emptied streets and houses lying in ruin or despoiled by the militants.
A new order in Mosul and the surrounding region already has begun to take shape, before troops even have entered the city. With competing visions, powerful players including Turkey, Iran, the Kurds and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government are jostling for influence. The battle will forge its own reality, with the violence possibly sending hundreds of thousands of people searching for shelter away from their homes.
And the future of the region will be defined, in many ways, by who decides to return.
In Shaqouli, an ethnically mixed village about 12 miles east of Mosul, a few villagers drove back two weeks ago, with one, Asem Hussein, making a forceful case that his neighbors will eventually follow. Some sort of munition had caved in his living room, leaving a tangle of concrete and rebar, and all he had been able to recover was a few blankets and an air conditioner that somehow had survived.
“I am going to rebuild it and stay, and we will rebuild all ruined Iraqi villages,” he insisted. Shaqouli, he added, “will remain as mixed as it used to be — a mini-Iraq.”
But the mayor, Mamel Qassim, who is Kurdish, had written off the place as lost. It was partly personal: During the Islamic State occupation, the militants had used his house as their headquarters. As a result, it had been crushed by an airstrike, the debris littered with copies of a weekly paper that the militants distributed.
It was more than that, though. The Iraqi government — part of the sectarian political order that took hold after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 — was as weak as it ever had been, Qassim reckoned, and ill-equipped to protect minorities. Sunni Arabs from the village had fled or been forced to retreat toward Mosul along with the Islamic State, and the Kurds, like the mayor, had mostly moved to Irbil, in the semiautonomous Kurdish region.
Only the members of the Shabak minority, who were without any powerful patron or a region to call their own, seemed inclined to move back.
“It will never be good here,” said Qassim, adding that he intended to resign as mayor. “It will only get worse.”
Iraq’s news media has been awash with photos and videos in recent days showing soldiers recapturing churches desecrated by the militants — with the implicit message that it will soon be safe for Christians to return. In some of the Christian villages around Mosul, residents said they did intend to move back, but they portrayed the move as more a responsibility than a choice.
“We want to bring back the beauty of this area,” said Benham Shamani, a writer from Bartella, a majority-Christian town east of Mosul, invoking more than a thousand years of Christian heritage in the area.
“Only the original people of the area can return this beauty. Only the people of this area can rebuild it,” Shamani said.

In reality, though, Christians have been leaving Iraq for years, an exodus that began in earnest after the U.S.-led invasion. At the time, the country had around 1.5 million Christians; by the time of the Islamic State’s takeover of Mosul, they were believed to be fewer than 500,000. Now community leaders say at least a third of those who remained have left.
In 2014, France said it would grant asylum to Christians forced to flee Mosul. Some community leaders criticized the move, saying it would devastate what remains of Iraq’s Christians.
But even the community’s leaders concede it will be difficult to go back to Mosul.
To return to the city would be to “remember all the pain, all the threats, all the killing, all the letters with bullets inside. We’ll remember the looks on the street,” said another priest at the Irbil church, the Rev. Zakareya Ewas, as families milled about after the service.
The problems for Christians started before the Islamic State takeover, as the group’s predecessor, al-Qaeda, extended its grip in the city. Ewas said he received threatening phone calls and attempts at extortion. He stopped wearing his black robes and collar on the street. His wife covered her hair in an effort to blend in. Priests were murdered as Christians were targeted for their religion but also their perceived wealth, with many kidnapped for ransom.
Ewas, a Syriac Orthodox priest, fled Mosul as the militants took over in 2014. The cross in his old church has been pulled down, he said, and the building now is used as a shelter for the militants’ livestock.
His brother moved to Jordan two weeks ago after struggling to find work in Irbil — and after hearing several months ago that his yogurt factory in the city had been wiped out in a coalition airstrike.
“Now there’s nothing for him to go back to,” Ewas said, adding that there were many others like his brother.
If the Christians of Mosul did return, he said, “it will be just to sell their houses and leave.”

Kareem Fahim reported from Shaqouli, Iraq. Mustafa Salim in Irbil and Aaso Ameen Shwan in Shaqouli also contributed to this report.

First Mass in Two Years Held in Iraq's Main Assyrian Town

By Assyrian International News Agency

(AFP) A handful of faithful gathered in a burnt out church Sunday for the first mass to be celebrated in two years in Qaraqosh, which was once Iraq's main Christian town.
Iraqi forces retook Qaraqosh from the Islamic State group days earlier, as part of a massive offensive to wrest back the country's second city Mosul.
"After two years and three months in exile, I just celebrated the Eucharist in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception the Islamic State wanted to destroy," Yohanna Petros Mouche, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, said.
"But in my heart it was always there," Mouche, who officiated with four priests, told AFP.
IS jihadists took over swathes of Iraq in June 2014, also taking Mosul where the prelate was based.
He moved to Qaraqosh, a town with a mostly Christian population of around 50,000 that was controlled by Kurdish forces and lies east of Mosul in the Nineveh plain.
But a second jihadist sweep towards Kurdish-controlled areas two months later forced around 120,000 Iraqi Christians and members of other minorities to leave their towns and villages.
"We had no other choice but to convert or become slaves. We fled to preserve our faith. Now we're going to need international protection," Father Majeed Hazem said.
Donning a resplendent chasuble and stole, Mouche led mass on an improvised altar in front of a modest congregation mostly made up of members of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), a local Christian militia.

'Damaged but still standing'
"I can't describe what I'm feeling. This is my land, my church," said Samer Shabaoun, a militiaman who was involved in operations to retake Qaraqosh.
"They used everything against us: they shot at us, they sent car bombs, suicide attackers. Despite all this, we're here."
Shortly before Sunday's mass, the soldiers now guarding Qaraqosh were surprised to find two elderly women in a bouse, one of them bedridden.
"We stayed the whole of the occupation by the Islamic State, from the first day. Sometimes they would bring us food," one of them said.
The bell tower of the church was damaged, statues decapitated and missals strewn across the nave floor, which is still covered in soot from the fire the jihadists lit when they retreated.
But some of the crosses have already been replaced and a new icon was laid on the main altar, where the armed militiamen took turns to light candles.
"This church is such a powerful symbol that if we hadn't found it like this, damaged but still standing, I'm not sure residents would have wanted to come back," Mouche said.

Christmas in Mosul?
"But the fact that it's still here gives us hope," the blue-eyed prelate, who wears thin-rimmed glasses and sports a neatly trimmed white goatee, said as he surveyed the damage in Qaraqosh after mass.
It could be months before former residents return to a town that needs to be cleared of explosive devices left behind by IS and whose infrastructure suffered badly.
The seminary library was completely burnt down and the ashes were still warm.
"This is barely a few days old -- the jihadists torched it when soldiers started entering the town," Mouche said.
In the course of his visit to Qaraqosh, the archbishop recited ritual phrases to "purify" various buildings, holding a cross in one hand and swinging a thurible of incense with the other.
Jihadists appear to have used the cloister-like back yard of the cathedral for target practice.
The ground was littered with casings, the pillars riddled with bullet impacts and IS instructors even left behind a board detailing the workings of a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
The Iraqi offensive on Mosul launched two weeks ago has yet to reach the city borders, and commanders have warned it could last months but Mouche was optimistic: "I hope to celebrate a Christmas mass in Mosul cathedral."

Four Priests and a Layman Rescue Over 100 Students in Iraq

Edward Pentin

A group of four Syriac Catholic priests and a layman were behind a daring rescue of over 100 students trapped in a university in northern Iraq after the area was targeted by ISIS fighters, it has emerged.
In an account shared with the Register (see below), one of the four priests, Father Georges Jahola, explained how they decided to mount the evacuation after it became clear that the Syriac Catholic students in the city of Kirkuk were in grave danger.
The jihadists had attacked the city’s governorate on Oct. 21, the same area in which the students were living, as a diversion from the liberation of Mosul. They killed 114 Iraqis, most of them security forces, but failed to take the city.
Pro-Iraqi government forces launched a military offensive Oct. 17 to liberate Mosul and its surrounding villages in Nineveh province after they were captured by ISIS in the summer of 2014. The continuing operation, in an area famous for having one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, could take at least two months, according to Iraq’s military.
The evacuated students had originally been studying in Mosul but had to flee to Kirkuk after the ISIS invasion in 2014.
During the Oct. 21 ISIS attack, seven Syriac Catholic girls spent a harrowing eight hours hidden underneath beds while ISIS fighters used their room as a hideout during an assault on the city. They told CNA that they credited the Virgin Mary for keeping them safe. Their ordeal has also been written about here.
The four priests and layman helped rescue the 7 girls as well as more than 100 Syriac Catholic students and refugees.
Here below is Father Jahola's full account of the evacuation:
My dear friendsI'd like to make a statement about the recent events in Kirkuk, and especially about the operation to free our students and rescue them after they were trapped in their dorms.
In the early morning of Oct. 21 a terrorist attack took place near the city's governorate where most of our college students dorms are located. The events developed rapidly: while those responsible for the dorm were assuring the students that things were OK, the attackers were slipping through into nearby buildings.
I was in contact with an inside source who had direct contact with those in the field who informed me around 10 o'clock that it was a high priority to evacuate all the students from the targeted area. I immediately contacted some people in charge, but they told me that the situation at the time was stable and there was no need to evacuate the residents for the time being.
But at around 1.30pm the same inside source contacted me again and informed me that the danger surrounding the students was increasing, and predicted that the situation was going to worsen.
We made direct contact with the students and discovered that the danger level was really rising, as the source said. So we decided to head directly to Kirkuk. Although we knew that a curfew was in force in Kirkuk, that the main check point was closed and no one was allowed to enter the city, we still decided to head there after contacting some people we know in the local security force to ease our entry to the city. Four of us left Ankawa [suburb of Erbil, 80 miles north of Kirkuk]: me, two priests, Father Emad and Father Putrus, and a brave fellow Bakhdidian. We left another priest, Father Roni, in Ankawa to be our link with the students there.
During the trip we were in contact with the students and the security forces in Kirkuk (I can not provide more details here). We entered Kirkuk and it was almost empty due to fear of the unknown as the terrorists had already flooded into multiple parts of the city. We were accompanied by the local security force and led to a coordination room. Once we came into direct contact with them, we were able to provide them with detailed information and coordinates about the students' locations and situation (also I don't want to go into further details here). The resident student responsible for the dorm was also communicating and coordinating with the local security forces, and was accompanying them (and maybe even accompanying the intervention force) during the operation.
The evacuation took about 12 hours starting form 6 o'clock in the afternoon until about 6:30 the next morning. During this time we prepared multiple buses and transportation to collect the rescued students from their dorms and transport them safely to Ankawa.
With the aid of the Lord, we were able to deliver the students safely to their families. When they arrived, they were welcomed by [Syriac Catholic] Bishop Youhanna Putrus Moushi and Bishop Dawod Sharaf, along with a group of the students' families and friends.
Praise the Lord for his gifts.
I am writing this to refute the rumors that are currently circulating in the social media that only one side followed this subject. Our team took care of this crisis, presenting all the interests and concerns of our Syriac community to our children and students whom we consider to be the future of our people and our Church.
Father Georges Jahola

Une première messe sans fidèles dans Qaraqosh libérée

By L’Orient-LeJour
Wilson Fache

La suie épaisse qui couvre les murs de l'église ne suffit pas à cacher les mots « État islamique » peints à main levée. Certaines dalles se sont brisées sous l'effet de la chaleur, les bancs ont été renversés et des pans de la voûte se sont effondrés, mais la cathédrale de l'Immaculée Conception trône toujours fièrement dans le centre de Qaraqosh. Après plus de deux ans d'occupation par les jihadistes du groupe État islamique (EI), des chants religieux araméens résonnent pour la première fois dans la plus importante ville chrétienne d'Irak.

« Cette église c'est un symbole pour nous. Je vous le dis honnêtement, si on ne l'avait pas trouvé telle qu'elle est maintenant, si elle avait été vraiment détruite, les gens de Qaraqosh n'auraient pas voulu rentrer », assure Mgr Petros Mouché, archevêque syriaque-catholique de Mossoul, de Kirkouk et du Kurdistan. Accompagné de quatre prêtres, l'archevêque est de retour à Qaraqosh en ce dimanche pour la première messe depuis la chute de la cité et le départ de ses habitants. Et son sermon fait directement référence à ceux qui ont brûlé la ville où il est né il y a 73 ans.
« Nous sommes réunis ici aujourd'hui pour nettoyer cette ville de toute trace de l'EI, de la haine dont nous avons été les victimes. Il n'existe pas des hommes grands et des hommes petits, il n'y a pas de rois et d'esclaves. Ces pensées doivent disparaître », insiste-t-il en posant ses yeux bleus sur chaque membre de son audience composée d'une poignée de miliciens chrétiens et de responsables politiques. Bientôt, le parfum de l'encens se mêle à l'odeur des cendres, alors que le craquement des pieds sur des morceaux de bois brûlés résonne dans la nef.
Fourmillant de soldats mais vidée de ses habitants, la ville, libérée il y a un peu plus d'une semaine, porte les stigmates de plusieurs jours de combats acharnés. Des voitures calcinées jusqu'aux os reposent sur des tas de gravats, face à des façades de maison criblées de balles et noircies par les flammes. Des tirs retentissent encore de temps à autres, et le grondement des avions coalisés n'est jamais loin. Pour le père Majeed Hazem, large carrure couverte d'une longue toge noire, il semble certain que cette première messe signe « un nouveau départ et démontre au monde la résilience des chrétiens malgré les injustices vécues ».
« Au fond de leur cœur... »
Sous l'une des arcades de la cour extérieure de la cathédrale, des centaines de douilles jonchent le sol. À l'autre extrémité, des mannequins défigurés tiennent à peine debout : l'endroit servait de stand de tir aux jihadistes. « Ils ne respectent décidément rien », grogne Imad Michael, qui, à 71 ans, est entré dans les rangs des Unités de protection de la plaine de Ninive, une milice chrétienne qui fait office de police dans la ville fantôme. « En vrai, ce ne sont pas des musulmans, ce sont des infidèles », lâche Imad Michael en brandissant sa kalachnikov vers le ciel. De quarante ans son cadet, le jeune Michael Jelal, arme d'assaut à l'épaule et la fatigue dans les yeux, espère désormais un retour rapide des habitants.
« J'avais beaucoup d'amis avant, mais ils sont tous partis à l'étranger », regrette le milicien de 21 ans.
 « Beaucoup d'organisations humanitaires sont venues nous voir pour nous proposer de déménager au Liban, en Australie ou au Canada, mais j'ai refusé. Nous voulons que nos familles reviennent ici, nous voulons aussi que ceux qui sont partis à l'étranger rentrent », ajoute Michael en s'appuyant sur un poteau électrique tordu. Mais il faudra d'abord aux forces de sécurité nettoyer la ville des bombes improvisées que l'EI y a placées. Une église voisine, où s'empilent tubes métalliques et sacs de nitrate de potassium, leur servait d'ailleurs d'atelier de production.
« Au fond de leur cœur, les gens veulent rentrer, mais ils veulent d'abord que les infrastructures soient reconstruites. Et avant de reconstruire les infrastructures, la zone doit être sécurisée. Nous savons que la ville est remplie de mines », explique Mgr Mouché avant de reprendre la route vers la ville d'Erbil, où il vit en exil. 
Sur le chemin du retour, le convoi qui accompagne l'archevêque croise sur la route une dizaine de voitures stationnées derrière la tranchée qui faisait encore office de ligne de front il y a une semaine à peine. La route qui mène à Qaraqosh reste désespérément fermée aux civils, malgré les protestations des quelques habitants qui espéraient rentrer chez eux. « Ma maison a brûlé, je veux simplement la voir », soupire un père de dix enfants qui n'est pas rentré chez lui depuis plus de deux ans. « J'essayerai de revenir demain », ajoute-t-il avec un sourire triste.

Qaraqosh, la prima messa nella cattedrale devastata dallo Stato islamico

Per gentile concessione del L’Orient-LeJour. Wilson Fache 

Lo spesso strato di fuliggine che copre i muri della chiesa non basta a nascondere la scritta “Stato islamico” dipinta a mano libera. Alcune piastrelle si sono sbriciolate sotto l’effetto del calore, i banchi sono stati rovesciati e parti del tetto sono crollate, ma la cattedrale dell’Immacolata concezione svetta sempre con fierezza nel centro di Qaraqosh. Dopo oltre due anni di occupazione dei jihadisti dello Stato islamico (SI),per la prima volta risuonano degli inni sacri in aramaico nella più importante città cristiana dell’Iraq. 
Mons. Petros Mouché, arcivescovo siro-cattolico di Mosul, di Kirkuk e di tutto il Kurdistan, sottolinea che “questa chiesa è un simbolo per noi”. “Ve lo dico in modo chiaro - aggiunge - se non l’avessimo ritrovata come è ora, se fosse stata davvero distrutta, la gente di Qaraqosh non avrebbe voluto rientrare”. Accompagnato da quattro sacerdoti, l’arcivescovo è tornato a Qaraqosh ieri per la prima messa dalla caduta della città e dalla fuga dei suoi abitanti. E nella sua predica ha fatto un riferimento diretto a coloro i quali hanno bruciato la città dove è nato 73 anni fa. 
“Ci siamo riuniti qui oggi per pulire questa città da tutte le tracce dello SI, dell’odio di cui tutti noi siamo stati vittime” ha aggiunto il prelato. “Non esistono grandi uomini e piccoli uomini, non vi sono re e schiavi. Questa mentalità deve scomparire” prosegue, posando gli occhi blu su ciascun elemento del suo pubblico formato da un manipolo di soldati delle milizie cristiane e di responsabili politici. Presto, il profumo dell’incenso si mescola con l’odore di cenere, mentre lo scricchiolio dei piedi sui pezzi di legno bruciato risuona nella navata. 
Brulicante di soldati ma svuotata dei suoi abitanti, la città liberata da circa una settimana porta le cicatrici di diversi giorni di feroci combattimenti. Auto carbonizzate fino alle lamiere riposano su cumuli di macerie, di fronte a facciate di case crivellate da colpi di proiettile e annerite dalle fiamme. Di tanto in tanto risuonano ancora alcuni spari e il rombo degli aerei della coalizione non è mai lontano. Per p. Majeed Hazem, larghe spalle avvolte in un lungo abito nero, sembra certo che questa prima messa segna “un nuovo inizio e mostra al mondo la resistenza dei cristiani, malgrado le ingiustizie subite”. 

“Nel profondo del loro cuore…” 
Sotto una delle arcate del cortile all’esterno della cattedrale, centinaia di cespugli ricoprono il terreno. All’altra estremità, manichini sfigurati si reggono a malapena in piedi: l’androne era utilizzato dai jihadisti come poligono di tiro. “Non rispettano nulla brontola  Imad Michael che, a 71 anni, è entrato nei ranghi delle Unità di protezione della piana di Ninive, una milizia cristiana che funge da avamposto di polizia nella città fantasma. “In verità, non sono musulmani ma sono degli infedeli” afferma Imad Michael sollevando il suo Kalashnikov verso il cielo. Quarant’anni in meno di lui, il giovane Michael Jelal, con la sua arma d’assalto sulla spalla e la fatica negli occhi, ora spera in un rapido ritorno degli abitanti.
“Prima avevo molti amici - sottolinea con tristezza il 21enne miliziano - ma sono partiti tutti e si sono trasferiti all’estero”. 
“Molte organizzazioni umanitarie - aggiunge p. Michel, appoggiandosi su un palo della luce tutto storto - sono venute a trovarci e ci hanno proposto di trasferirci in Libano, in Australia o in Canada, ma ho rifiutato. Noi vogliamo che le nostre famiglie tornino qui, noi vogliamo anche che tornino pure quelli che sono partiti per l’estero”. Tuttavia, prima sarà necessario che le forze di sicurezza ripuliscano la città dalle mine antiuomo che lo SI ha disseminato per il terreno. Una vicina chiesa, dove sono stati ammucchiate pile di tubi metallici e di sacchi di nitrato di potassio, era usata come officina di produzione [degli ordigni rudimentali]. 
“Nel profondo del loro cuore, le persone desiderano rientrare ma vogliono prima di tutto che siano ricostruire le infrastrutture” spiega mons. Mouché, prima di riprendere la strada in direzione della città di Erbil, dove vive ancora oggi in esilio. “E prima di ricostruire le infrastrutture - aggiunge - la zona deve essere messa in sicurezza. Sappiamo benissimo che la città è disseminata di mine”. 
Sulla via del ritorno, il convoglio che accompagna l’arcivescovo incrocia per la strada una dozzina di auto parcheggiate dietro la trincea che, solo una settimana fa, fungeva da linea del fronte. La strada che conduce a Qaraqosh è ancora oggi assolutamente vietata per i civili, malgrado le proteste di alcuni abitanti che speravano già di poter fare rientro a casa. “La mia casa è bruciata, voglio solo vederla” sospira un padre di dieci figli, che non torna nel luogo natale da oltre due anni. “Cercherò di farlo domani” aggiunge, con un sorriso triste.

Leader cristiani: dopo Daesh, Mosul e Ninive siano modello di unità e libertà religiosa

I cristiani sono una “componente originaria dell’Iraq” e sono ancora oggi, nonostante le violenze e le sofferenze patite per mano dei jihadisti dello Stato islamico, “pionieri di moderazione e apertura”, capaci di “accogliere e unire” oltre le differenze. È quanto affermano alcuni leader di diverse denominazioni cristiane del Paese, che si sono riunite ieri ad Ankawa, quartiere cristiano di Erbil, nel Kurdistan irakeno, su invito del patriarca caldeo mar Louis Raphael Sako. Nel comunicato finale, inviato ad AsiaNews, i partecipanti hanno anche espresso “gratitudine e sostegno” alle truppe impegnate nell’offensiva contro Daesh. 
All’incontro, promosso dal primate caldeo, hanno aderito il patriarca assiro  mar Georgis III Saliwa; il vescovo siro-cattolico di Mosul mons Youhanna Peter Mushi; mar Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, vescovo siro-ortodosso di Mosul; mons. Bashar Matti Warda, arcivescovo caldeo di Erbil; mons. Basilio Yaldo, vescovo ausiliare di Baghdad; mons. Timathaous Qas Isha, dell’Antica chiesa Assira dell’est. Unico assente fra i leader della regione il capo della chiesa Armena-ortodossa, impegnato in un viaggio pastorale. 
La nota congiunta dei vertici cristiani irakeni segue l’appello diffuso nei giorni scorsi dal patriarca Sako, il quale ha affermato una volta di più che le terre della piana di Ninive “sono cristiane”. Parole che non sono casuali ma frutto delle dichiarazioni di leader della regione, che intendono spartirsi l’area eliminando ogni traccia della presenza cristiana. Fra questi il presidente turco Recep Tayyp Erdogan, secondo cui Mosul deve essere solo per “arabi e curdi sunniti, insieme ai turcomanni”. E ancora il progetto di spartizione fra curdi e turchi delle zone a est e ovest di Mosul. 
Ecco, di seguito, il comunicato congiunto diffuso dai leader cristiani irakeni al termine dell’incontro. Traduzione a cura di AsiaNews:
I cristiani sono una componente originaria dell’Iraq. Le loro chiese e i loro monasteri hanno caratterizzato la loro presenza in molte città dell’Iraq; alcuni di questi si sono mischiati ad altri, ma [i cristiani] erano e restano ancora oggi pionieri di moderazione e apertura, capaci di accogliere e unire andando oltre le differenze. I cristiani hanno vissuto a Mosul e nelle cittadine della piana di Ninive per diversi secoli, in un’atmosfera di stabile pluralismo e di collaborazione con i loro vicini, anche se vi sono stati alcuni episodi di violenza e persecuzione. 
Le atrocità commesse contro di loro da Daesh [acronimo arabo per lo Stato islamico, SI] e dagli altri gruppi terroristi, la cacciata dei cristiani dalle loro terre e l’esproprio delle loro case e proprietà li hanno danneggiati e feriti nel profondo. Questi atti costituiscono un crimine contro l’umanità. 
1) Sosteniamo con forza le richieste del nostro popolo sofferente e timoroso per il proprio futuro. In tutta onestà, ci impegneremo al meglio delle nostre possibilità per rendere la componente cristiana allo stesso livello delle altre anime dell’Iraq, a prescindere dal loro numero. L’articolo due della Costituzione irakena “garantisce appieno la libertà religiosa e la pratica del culto per ciascun credente”. Quesi principi non devono rimanere solo parole vuote!
Ci aspettiamo di salvaguardare i nostri diritti e le nostre libertà, e di garantire la nostra protezione con i fatti, non solo a parole, affinché possiamo restare nella nostra terra e contribuire alla rinascita del nostro Paese perché abbiamo le capacità, il potenziale e la competenza per farlo sia a livello di governo centrale che nella regione curda. 
2) I profughi cristiani di Mosul e delle città della piana di Ninive vogliono tornare nelle loro case, in condizioni di tutta sicurezza e avendo ricevuto un compenso adeguato per quanto hanno perduto, e la ricostruzione di ciò che è stato distrutto da Daesh. Essi cercano una via pacifica per continuare a vivere accanto ai loro vicini, nel rispetto e all’insegna della buona volontà e della collaborazione, come pari cittadini. Assicurare che queste garanzie vengano rispettate dovrebbe essere priorità dello Stato irakeno e del governo regionale del Kurdistan. 
3) In riferimento all’amministrazione della piana, i cristiani sono alla ricerca di una soluzione accettabile in accordo con le disposizioni stabilite dalla Costituzione irakena. Noi, in quanto pastori, riteniamo che sia meglio posticipare la discussione ad una fase successiva alla liberazione e al ritorno degli sfollati e alla loro sistemazione; inoltre, prima di parlare del futuro è necessario bonificare i terreni dalle mine jihadiste, ricostruire le case e le infrastrutture. Tutto questo dovrà essere discusso attraverso un dialogo pacifico e sereno con le parti interessate. 
In questa occasione, vogliamo celebrare i nostri eroici combattenti che militano nelle forze armate irakene, nelle truppe Peshmerga curde, il gruppo di Mobilitazione popolare e le Unità nazionali, assieme alle guardie cristiane che sono giunte da tutte le parti dell’Iraq. Esprimiamo loro tutta la nostra gratitudine e il nostro sostegno. Possa il Signore nostro proteggerle affinché possano liberare tutte le zone dell’Iraq. 
I partecipanti all’assemblea hanno espresso parere unanime sulla necessità di organizzare un incontro con i deputati cristiani presenti nel Parlamento irakeno e all’interno del governo regionale del Kurdistan, oltre che i capi di tutti i partiti cristiani. 

Chaldean patriarchate
Press Release regarding Mosul and towns of Nineveh

Press Release regarding Mosul and towns of Nineveh Plain

Inviting by the Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, a meeting has been held on Sunday, 30 October 2016 at the Chaldean Patriarchate headquarters in the town of Ankawa / Erbil. The attendees were:
1. His Holiness Patriarch Mar GeorgisIII Saliwa Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East
2. Mar Youhanna Peter Mushi, Bishop of Mosul for Syrian Catholics
3. Mar Necodems David's Sharaf, Bishop of Mosul Syrian Orthodox
4. Mar Bashar Matti Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Arbil
5. Mar Basilious Yaldo the Chaldean Patriarchate Auxiliary Bishop
6. Mons.Timathaous Qas Isha from the Ancient Church of the East. The Erbil Armenian orthodox Priest in Erbil was missed for travel.
At the end of the meeting, the presence issued the below Press Release:
Press Release regarding Mosul and towns of Nineveh Plain

 Christians are an original component of Iraq. Their churches and monasteries have continued their presence in many Iraqi towns, some of them faded in others, but they were and still are pioneers of moderation and openness to welcome regardless of differences.

Christians have lived in Mosul and the towns of the Nineveh Plain for many centuries in an atmosphere of stable pluralism and cooperation with their neighbors despite some episode of violence and persecution.
The atrocities that have been committed against them by Daesh and other terrorists, by way of displacement and seizing their homes and properties, has harmed and wounded them. These acts constitute crimes against humanity.
1. We stand by the demands of our suffering and anxious people about their future. Frankly, we will endeavor with all our influence to make the Christian component equal on the same level as other Iraqis, regardless of the number. Article 2 of the Iraqi Constitution "guarantees full religious rights for all individuals and the freedom of religious practice". This should not remain only words!
We expect to safeguard our rights and freedoms, and guarantee our protection with deeds, not speeches, so that we remain in our land and contribute to the revival of our country since we have the skills, potential, and competence to do so whether within the central area or the Kurdish region.
2. The displaced Christians from Mosul and the towns of the Nineveh Plain want to return to their homes on condition of safety and compensation for what they have lost and the reconstruction of what was destroyed by Daesh. They seek a peaceful continuation with their neighbors and to live together with respect, goodwill and cooperation as equal citizens. The priorities of the Iraqi State and the Government of Kurdistan should be to ensure these guarantees.
3. Regarding the administration of the Plain, Christians are looking for an acceptable formula in accordance with the provisions of the Iraqi Constitution. We as pastors feel that it is better to leave this issue to the post-liberation and the return of displaced people and their resettlement, after leaving the mines, the restoration of their houses and infrastructure. This will be discussed through a peaceful and serene dialogue with the interested parties.

On this occasion, we salute our heroic fighters in the Iraqi armed forces, the Peshmerga, and the Popular Mobilization and National Units and our Christian guards who have come from all over Iraq. We express our gratitude and support to them. May Our Lord protect them to release all Iraqi territories.
The participants have agreed to hold a meeting of the Christian deputies in Iraqi parliament and Kurdish regional government and the heads of parties.

28 ottobre 2016

Iraqi archbishop remains firm and hopeful: 'there will always be Christians in Iraq!'

By Aid to the Church in Need

 Iraqi Christians, stranded in Kurdish Iraq, have some reason for hope now that the battle for Mosul and the Nineveh Plane has begun. However, the Chaldean archbishop who, for two years now, has played a pivotal role in taking care of the humanitarian and spiritual needs of the exiled community, urges caution in painting too rosy a picture for Iraq’s embattled minorities.
“Iran, Turkey and the Kurds all have a stake in Mosul” and the surrounding area, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, the Kurdish capital, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need; even after Mosul is retaken from ISIS—and odds are that will happen before the end of the year—a bitter power struggle would likely put Christians seeking to return to their abandoned homes in harm’s way.
For now, the prelate stressed, no concrete plan is in place to protect the Christians and other minorities upon their return to Mosul and the Nineveh Plane. He predicted that it would at least take close to a year before a significant degree of homecoming would be possible.
Meanwhile, the archbishop—who was in New York as the guest of Cardinal Timothy Dolan—continues to care for the flock in Erbil and surroundings, which means drumming up considerable funding to ensure that IDP families can pay their rent, that homes can be heated, that there will be food on the table, and that schools are functioning. For the past two years, the Archdiocese of Erbil has received more than $31 M in funding from Aid to the Church in Need, in addition to support from 16 other Catholic organizations from around the world.
Contrary to some reports, the archbishop insists that 80 percent of the people under his care wish to remain in Iraq. But he adds that “even if the number drops to 10,000 families” or some 60,000 people—down from the current estimated total of 250,000 Christians, including those living in Baghdad—“there will always be Christians in Iraq.”
Archbishop Warda stressed that the Christians bound to stay are not just those who cannot afford to leave—on the contrary, he cites a good number of affluent families who are determined to remain in Iraq, be it in Kurdistan or Iraq proper.  A good number of them have already started successful businesses in Erbil. A clear sign of confidence in this future for the local Church, the archbishop has established the Catholic University of Erbil and fundraising for the institution brought him to the US.
Leaving aside the intractable enmity between Shiites and Sunnis—and the growing tensions between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia—Archbishop Warda said the biggest obstacle in the way of long-term security for Christians and other minorities is Islamic radicalism. “Islam needs reform and, unlike Christian violence that was committed o misinterpretation of Scripture,” he said, “there is a call to violence in the Koran—and that needs addressing.”
It will be a task for courageous Muslim leaders, he suggested, and “maybe, just maybe, Christians can lend them a hand.” Surely, the study of the Koran and Islamic tradition will figure prominently at the new Catholic University of Erbil.

Monteduro (ACS - Italia) La fondazione darà seguito alla risoluzione sull'Iraq del nord approvata ieri dal Parlamento europeo

“Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre è lieta per l’approvazione della Risoluzione del Parlamento europeo sulla situazione nell’Iraq settentrionale, in particolare a Mosul. Ieri l’organo legislativo europeo ha scritto una bella pagina!”, è il commento del direttore di ACS-Italia Monteduro. “La Risoluzione, fra l’altro, ribadisce l’importanza di coinvolgere le organizzazioni di ispirazione religiosa in interventi umanitari coordinati, in particolare per le minoranze etniche e religiose sfollate. Siamo grati al Parlamento per questo, perché l’impegno della Fondazione, a livello internazionale, è molto forte. Basti pensare che fra i progetti approvati fra il 1° giugno e il 1° ottobre di quest’anno figurano il sostegno finanziario per l’affitto semestrale di case per i profughi interni cristiani presenti ad Erbil, per un totale di 1.600.000 euro, e il sostegno finanziario per fornire cibo a 12.000 famiglie cristiane e non cristiane, sempre appartenenti alla categoria degli sfollati interni, principalmente a Mosul, per un totale di 3.800.000 euro.” aggiunge Monteduro.
“L’allarme lanciato dal coordinatore umanitario delle Nazioni Unite circa la mancanza di adeguati finanziamenti a fronte di una possibile emergenza umanitaria senza precedenti derivante dall’offensiva a Mosul viene raccolto ancora una volta da Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre, che ha a cuore la sorte degli iracheni”. Il direttore della sezione italiana della Fondazione manifesta apprezzamento anche per “l’attenzione rivolta dal Parlamento europeo alle minoranze etniche e religiose affinché siano incluse nel futuro assetto amministrativo e possano partecipare al processo politico, dopo il necessario ripristino dei loro diritti di proprietà.”
La Risoluzione, fra l’altro, invita gli Stati membri dell’UE a esercitare pressioni in vista del deferimento alla Corte penale internazionale del genocidio perpetrato in Iraq, Siria, Libia e altrove dall’ISIS. “Siamo contenti, perché negli ultimi mesi abbiamo lanciato diversi appelli in tal senso – commenta Monteduro - Domani, 29 ottobre, in una grande città europea come Milano, terremo un evento internazionale intitolato “Help Christians”, scritta che in questi giorni campeggia anche sul “Pirellone”. Dopo l’approvazione di questa Risoluzione inizieremo i lavori del convegno più confortati!”.

Bassora, prima vittima della legge anti-alcol: Uomini armati uccidono un negoziante cristiano

Foto Chaldean Nation
In Iraq si registra la prima vittima (cristiana) della controversa norma, approvata di recente dal Parlamento, che ha messo al bando la vendita, l’importazione e la produzione di alcol. A confermare la notizia sono fonti del Patriarcato caldeo interpellate da AsiaNews, secondo cui la vittima si chiamava Nazar Elias Jaji Al Kas Putrus e possedeva un negozio di alcolici a Bassora, nel sud del Paese. 
Egli era un siro-cattolico originario di Qaraqosh, antica città assira che sorge nei pressi di Mosul, nella piana di Ninive, nel nord dell’Iraq. Nazar Elias era nato nel 1969, era sposato e padre di cinque figli. 
Due anni fa, con l'invasione dello Stato islamico (SI) di Mosul e dei villaggi cristiani della piana di Ninive, egli aveva dovuto fuggire cercando riparo (e sicurezza) a Bassora, città del sud a larga maggioranza sciita.
A differenza della maggioranza delle famiglie assiro-caldee che si sono riversate nel Kurdistan irakeno, egli aveva deciso di trasferirsi al sud, dove ha aperto un negozio  per la vendita di generi alimentari, fra i quali vi erano anche alcolici. Una attività esercitata solo da cristiani e da membri di altre minoranze religiose, perché - secondo quanto prevede l’islam - ai musulmani è vietato il consumo e la vendita di alcolici anche se la norma non viene applicata con rigore nel Paese.
Secondo quanto riferiscono le fonti del Patriarcato egli “è stato assassinato alle 11.30 di sera del 26 ottobre scorso”, a soli tre giorni di distanza dall’approvazione in Parlamento della norma anti-alcol. “Uomini armati, a bordo di un motociclo e a volto coperto” gli si sono avvicinati e “hanno aperto il fuoco”, uccidendolo “a sangue freddo”.
Dietro l’omicidio, avvenuto “nei pressi di un ristorante e sulla pubblica via”, vi sarebbe proprio “la professione esercitata dall’uomo”, che di recente è finita nel mirino dell’ala conservatrice della leadership irakena. 
“L’omicidio di Nazar Elias - proseguono le fonti di AsiaNews - non è il solo caso di violenze avvenuto nelle ultime ore nel Paese a causa della legge anti-alcol. Anche a Karrada, quartiere della capitale Baghdad, anonimi assalitori hanno fatto esplodere un negozio in cui si vendeva alcol”.
Il patriarcato caldeo definisce la legge anti-alcol una “norma liberticida” e che “in un tempo critico come questo”, in cui è in corso l’offensiva nel nord “contro Daesh” [acronimo arabo per lo SI] “fa male a tutti e, in particolare, all’unità nazionale”. “È una legge folle - conclude la fonte - come quella della carta di identità relativa ai minori” in base alla quale i figli di una coppia in cui uno dei due genitori sia musulmano, diventano essi stessi musulmani.
La legge contro la vendita di alcol è stato oggetto di feroci critiche anche da parte del presidente della repubblica, il curdo Fuad Masum, ed è già stata impugnata da un gruppo di parlamentari. A guidare la protesta il deputato cristiano Yonadam Kanna.

27 ottobre 2016

As Daesh flees Mosul, a priest returns to his parish

By TRT World
Shawn Carrie

The gardens of the church lay in cinders. Its 4,000-year-old sculptures and iconic stone carvings were defaced, windows smashed and doors ripped out of their frames, clothes and goods strewn about the ground covered in dirt and ash. A hadith, or a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, “Cleanliness is half of faith,” is written on the wall of a sleeping area.  
Church bells rang in the Assyrian village of Karemlash, in the Hamdaniyah district of Mosul’s outskirts for the first time since militants took control of the village and expelled its residents. Today, Father Paul Thabit returned to the church where he is the parish priest to find the remnants of what has been converted into an operations base by Daesh.
“I can't describe my joy. My hopes have been realised,” said Father Thabit. “I always held onto hope that we would return — and today it came true.”
The Church of the Holy Saint Mart Barbara had been overtaken by Daesh earlier this year. Twenty-seven kilometres east of Mosul, the unassuming village in the Assyrian Christian region of the Nineveh Plains is just close enough to the main highway from Erbil to seem within the safe zone, but just close enough for the militants, based in Mosul, to make a grab for it.
As Iraqi tanks rolled into the town, they found a ghost town. Empty of civilians, the village appeared to be used solely as an outpost for Daesh to run car bombs out of — evidenced by a still-smoldering pickup truck sitting just outside the front gates where the Iraqi flag now flies. Officers of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) said that fighters had fled without mounting a resistance, leaving behind their weapons and equipment and attempting to burn the stone houses.
On Wednesday, Iraqi army minesweepers were sweeping through the village house by house to clear the area of buried mines and booby traps, which have been a signature leftover seen in towns abandoned by Daesh.
Inside the church, Daesh members had burrowed through a hill to create a labyrinth of five tunnels, each about two metres wide, for weapons storage, sleeping, and to escape through the back of the church behind the hill and out of the village.
“They were using the church for everything —  for sleeping, for relaxing, for hiding from airstrikes,” said Nasser Hussein Diab, an ISF platoon sergeant, as he pushes aside a dusty sofa as wide as one of the tunnels. “They made sniper positions, a bomb-making workshop, a bakery, a well for water, whatever you want.”
As Father Thabit toured the destruction around the church, a spontaneous ceremony started to form when a preacher from the local Shia mosque stopped by to greet him, followed by a throng of soldiers beckoning to take a selfie with the returning imam. One officer brought over an Iraqi flag, and the two men’s candid conversation turned into impassioned speeches to the crowd of soldiers and press. Smiling toward a cross laden with flowers, he spoke with a hearty bellow, half to the imam, and half giving a sermon.
 “We put up this cross today to show we are united, and that we want to live in peace,” Father Thabit said.
“Sunni, Shia, Assyrian, Yazidi, all the minorities of Iraq — there is no difference between us.”

‘Pray for my people, help my people, save my people’

By Angelus News
Maria L. Torres

Upon facing imminent death, they say that images encompassing a lifetime of memories, of joys and sorrows, flash before our eyes in an instant.
For Father Douglas Bazi, that experience was very real, happening in the moments it took for his body to fly backward many meters through the air … propelled by a bomb blast that destroyed his beloved church in Baghdad.
“[Terrorists] blew up my church, St. Mary’s, right in front of me,” said Father Bazi, an Iraqi-born Chaldean Catholic priest, during a recent visit to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. A bag had been left beside the main gate, he remembered, prompting Father Bazi and a church guard to walk toward the entrance to investigate.
Luckily, they were still seven or eight meters away when the bomb detonated.
“When we awoke there was a lot of dust and we were [temporarily deafened] by the blast,” described Father Bazi, his eyes both intense and caring, his manner gentle and kind — and seemingly driven to share the story of “my people,” the oft-forgotten Christians in Iraq, during his humanitarian trip to select U.S. cities.
“We were shouting at each other, ‘Are you OK?’ and we were watching each other say the words, but we were not able to hear anything,” he told Angelus News.
And that story is just one of innumerable tales of tragedy his people are living through every day, from decades back to the present day, explained Father Bazi. As a boy growing up in Iraq, with aspirations of someday becoming a pilot, war was a “habit” — the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War and the embargo against Iraq.
Although war had been a way of life for decades, things became unimaginably worse from the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq to the present.
“Everything changed in Iraq; [everyone] was fighting each other,” he said, including the Shiites against the Sunnis and the emergence of Al-Qaeda. “And as Iraqi [Christians we] are always in the middle. … We were between two fires always.”
And those fires grew and became more menacing with each passing year.
On Nov. 19, 2006, while serving as pastor at a church called Mar Elia, Father Bazi was on his way to visit some friends. Suddenly the highway in front of his car was blocked by two vehicles. In quick succession armed men exited and ran up to his car, spouting obscenities — and Father Bazi found himself with an AK-47 in his face. They grabbed him and dragged him into the trunk of a car.
“They took me I don’t know where,” Father Bazi recalled earnestly. “When we arrived … they came [and told] me: ‘We are going to open [the trunk], but if you are going to open your eyes, we will put bullets between them.’”
He was blindfolded, pulled out and onto the ground, where he was struck in the face and felt blood gushing when they broke his nose. They took him inside a house, where they chained his hands together and put him in a “stinky” storage room with a toilet, where he would spend almost 10 days, not knowing if he would survive.
Father Bazi endured a barrage of constant accusations from his extremist Islamic kidnappers, from being called an “infidel” to “an American spy.” They withheld water and food for four days. And he was psychologically manipulated.
“During the day I’m like a spiritual father to them. … They would come in and ask me questions. ‘What should I do with my wife?’” he said. “I was tied and blindfolded, giving advice to them.” 
And at night he would endure physical torture at the hands of those same advice-seeking captors when their leaders would arrive. Some of his teeth were hammered out. He was burned across his body. He was struck so savagely his back was broken.
Yet the next day his tormentors would always go to him and ask for forgiveness.
“This is the situation,” said Father Bazi. While many are Islamic zealots, blindly following a completely warped version of religious ideology, others are driven more by extreme poverty and desperation, and “are being used by other people.”
Through it all Father Bazi said he was prepared to accept God’s will. He found spiritual solace in praying the rosary continuously, using the chain that bound his hands — the large lock was for the Our Father and each link was for a Hail Mary.
“It is better to be dead and in the hands of God, than to be alive in the hands of the devil,” he said. His only request: If they killed him, “just let my people know.”
But that never happened, as he was finally released on his ninth day of captivity.
“I think God left me alive because he thinks that I’m still useful,” said Father Bazi.
He returned to his parish, returned to his people and suffered the emotional trauma of his experience largely in silence. It wasn’t until ISIS took over Mosul in 2014, and he was interviewed by an Egyptian TV channel, that he began to share his story.
Father Bazi currently resides in Australia and is an international speaker on Christian persecution and genocide in Iraq, Syria and the Middle East.
“But when I talk about myself, I am always saying, ‘Please don’t look to my story; look to my people, the people behind my story,’” he pleaded. “My people, they are struggling, much more than I am.”
Today the Diocese of Erbil is caring for displaced people (“I never call them refugees,” he said) who have escaped from the Islamic State. They are presently assisting about 75,000 men, women and children. Thanks to generous monetary support from around the world via charitable agencies, they have built four schools, three clinics and one trauma center, and to date they have relocated the affected families in his diocese from temporary tents into stable housing.
“I hope that this year also we will have a hospital. Always the Catholic Church has a big heart,” he said, noting that they offer help to any and all in need, including Syrian Catholics, Orthodox, Armenian, Yazidis and Chaldeans.
Earlier this year, after the U.S. government finally declared that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, Father Bazi’s former parish gratefully responded by recording a special “thank you” video message featuring church children and mailing it to the State Department.
“Now, because of the media, [more people are] realizing, ‘Oh there are Christians in Iraq,’ because many people thought we are Muslim and we became Christians a couple of years ago,” he said smiling. “We are Christians from the first century!”
Despite the suffering Father Bazi has endured and witnessed, he does not wallow in bitterness, he stressed. And despite the unfathomable losses his people continue to face, there is one thing they never lose: their faith in God.
“My people lost everything in one day. Even so, not one of [them] blames God for what happened,” he said. “My people they will tell you, ‘We thank God because he saved us.’ … They lost everything [and] they are saying, ‘Thanks God.’”
And in spite of the chaos, destruction and tragic loss of life that still plague his native country, Father Bazi speaks vehemently against revenge.
“Those people are killing us because they think we are ‘infidels,’” he said, adding that to respond in kind, through vengeful slaughter, is not the Christian answer.
“If we want to live together, then we have to believe in forgiveness, but forgiveness does not mean that we are [weak or that we forget],” said Father Bazi. “I cannot change the past, but forgiveness can change the future. Let’s give a chance to our kids [for] a future and live together. This is forgiveness.
“My people will forgive, but they will not forget who will stand with them,” he continued. “In our culture, when we are enduring the pain, we don’t actually remember who put us in pain, but remember who [pulled] us from that pain.”
Above all, Father Bazi hopes that people will not forget the plight of his homeland.
“Pray for us,” he asked. “Pray for my people, help my people, save my people.”
Those who would like to help support Christians in the Middle East, can go to: www.kofc.org/Iraq.