At the end of June Pray Tell reported on the current conflict in Iraq and what it means for one of the oldest Christian communities. Since June, the situation has deteriorated further leading Pope Francis to send an envoy to Iraq to show solidarity with Christians in the region.
CNN and other news sources reported Friday that Qaraqosh, the last Christian stronghold in Iraq protected by Kurdish forces, has fallen to ISIS.
Amid the news, the Vatican announced that it would send Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq during the Iraqi war, to Iraq with the hope of comforting Christians who are being forced from their homes by ISIS.
Archbishop Bashar Warda, the bishop of Erbil, had some chilling words to say about the latest ISIS attacks and what it means for this ancient Christian community. Archbishop Warda in an interview with The Guardian expressed his horror and surprise concerning the recent attacks:
“We did not expect that one day Mosul would be without Christians and that the Nineveh plains would be emptied of minorities,” Warda said of the stretch of land surrounding Mosul that had been hailed throughout the ages as a cradle of civilisation. “Trust is broken between the communities. Especially with the Arabs. For 2,000 years, all these minorities had lived together.”
Gesturing outside his window where the human detritus of war lingered, he said: “These people could tell you they have had neighbours for 40 years who were the first to steal from their homes and celebrate the arrival [of Isis].”
Christians are not the only ones experiencing persecution. According to The Guardian,
up to 40,000 Yezidis [are] marooned on a mountaintop near the city of Sinjar that had been home to the sect for several thousand years.
Food and water has been slowly reaching the Yezidis in recent days. But with Isis fighters encircling them below, they have no way down the mountain. According to the Yezidi community, scores of people, among them children, have died there since Sinjar was overrun by the jihadists last Sunday.
The Yazidi practice a syncretic religion that is similar to Zoroastrianism.
Speaking about the once thriving Christian community in Nineveh, the archbishop noted that “there are maybe one or two [Christians] in Qaramless…And none that we know of in Mosul. This is the end.”
On Thursday the U.N. Security Council condemned the attacks on and persecution of minorities in Iraq. But words will not save the minorities who remain nor will they prevent further ISIS advances in the region. The Iraqi government has asked for international assistance to stem this crisis. France and other Western nations appear willing to help.
Today it was announced that the U.S. military carried out more airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. Kurdish forces are reported to have recaptured a few towns from ISIS. The U.S. government has also helped evacuate the Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar.
Amid U.S. military action in Iraq, several members of Congress have come forward to express concern about U.S. military involvement in the conflict. Rep. Keith Ellison (D) from Minnesota has said: “I am wary of mission creep and the possibility of being further embroiled in a situation that has no military solution.” Speaker of the House John Boehner has also expressed concern about further military involvement.
Something must be done to help religious minorities in Iraq. While attacks against Christians in Iraq might not be as news worthy or politically important as the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we ought to give it the attention it deserves. To turn our backs on one of the oldest Christian communities would be unforgivable. Furthermore, we must take some ownership for what has happened to Christian communities in Iraq. They have been in steep decline since the War in Iraq. The least we can do is attempt to prevent their extinction.
Afrim Bunni, an Iraqi immigrant to the U.S., summed it up well in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. After noting the damage the War in Iraq caused to Christians communities in the region, Bunni spoke candidly about the U.S. saying: “They broke it, they should fix it.”
Hopefully we can.