By Mardean Isaac
Following the invasion of northern Iraq by the Islamic State, Assyrian Christians and other minorities have found themselves in grave peril. On June 10th, the Islamic State captured Mosul from the Iraqi state. Those Christians who returned after the dwindling of violence following that original onslaught – lacking the means to secure accomodation elsewhere – found their property tagged with an ‘N’ for ‘Nassarrah,’ the Quranic word for Christians.
Last saturday, the Islamists declared that Mosul’s Christians had three choices: to convert to Islam, pay a hefty jizya tax, face murder, or flee permanently. A mass exodus of Christians ensued.They were not permitted to keep any of their possessions.
Louis Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, has declared that no Christians remain in Mosul.As evinced by the seizure of the ancient monastery of Mar Behnam, the apparent destruction of the tomb of Jonah, and several other acts of vandalism and looting perpetrated on historic churches, Iraq’s architectural heritage is also threatened by the extremist group.
The Assyrian town of Qaraqosh, located in the Nineveh Plains around 32 km from Mosul, was emptied of almost all of its inhabitants as ISIS assailed it on June 26. Around 40,000 people fled north, often with nothing but the clothes on their back.
The migration was desperate and chaotic, and the destination entirely uncertain.
These recent events follow a broader pattern of persecution and atrocity unleashed against the Assyrians. Since the 2003 invasion, 73 churches have been attacked or bombed across Iraq. Dozens of priests have been kidnapped or murdered. Thousands of Assyrians have been the victims of violence, and regions and cities, including neighbourhoods Baghdad, have been largely emptied of their indigenous Christian inhabitants.
Marginalised and discriminated against for asserting their ethnic identity under the Fascist Ba’ath regime, the Assyrians now find themselves on the receiving end of violence because of their religion.
Assyrians have absolutely no means of self-defence, let alone legal or political recourse. A chronic failure to create and buttress local security forces populated by members of local communities has led to a state of desperate insecurity in Iraq. As the country’s army and security forces disintegrate, minorities, who are bereft of the patronage fuelling militia activity as well as any effective representation in the state, have been left exposed to violence and dispossession.A similarly grim fate is being forced upon the Assyrians of Syria as large swathes of that country fall to Islamist militants.More than half the Christians of Iraq have fled, and the same exodus is being repeated in Syria. For the first time in history, there are more Assyrians in diaspora than in their ancient homelands of Iraq and Syria.I am a British-Assyrian writer and the UK leader of a new campaign, A Demand for Action, spearheaded by the tireless Swedish-Assyrian journalist Nuri Kino, which seeks to protect Christians and other minorities in their ancestral homelands.We are not affiliated with any existing political organisaions or religious groups: we are a free association comprised of the Assyrian diaspora in over a dozen countries who have organised over social media.. On a daily basis, we disseminate media, coordinate e-mail and letter campaigns, write and publish articles, and contact parliamentarians, ministers, officials, and persons of authority and influence.
Please join our group to strengthen our efforts and keep abreast of developments as well as responses to them.
If we do not act immediately to protect and support the Assyrians of Iraq and Syria, they will be exterminated. And with their extermination, the legacy of one of the oldest indigenous peoples on the planet will disappear. This tragedy will never be lifted from the conscience of the world. We must act now.
To support us or for more information regarding our campaign, please visit our Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/DemandforAction – or follow us on
Twitter: https://twitter.com/demandforaction. Links to further articles on the plight of minorities in Iraq and Syria can be found here: http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2014/s14070019.htm