Ever since the sixth century and the first Islamic Empire, Iraq has been a predominantly Muslim country. However, it also plays host to many Christian minorities who have lived there as long as their Islamic counterparts. With the recent rise of ISIS, or Daesh, people in the West have finally started paying attention to persecution of Iraqi Christians which began in 2003.
Yousif Anees, a Christian living in Iraq, spoke to Young Perspective about the situation on the ground, saying that before the instability of Al-Qaeda and the fall of Saddam Hussein many Muslims boasted having Christian neighbours as it was a sign of “safety”.
However, as instability spread across the country, the situation deteriorated. Anees described this dramatic change to us in a series of examples and horrifying pictures culminating in the Lady of Deliverance Massacre in Baghdad in 2010, which killed 58 people.
With the rise of Islamic State the situation became worse, with some people fleeing to the West. In June 2014, Mosul fell to Islamic State, following the withdrawal of government troops, leaving a sizable Christian population under ISIS control. Anees explains that: “After a few days Daesh issued a statement through the net and the preachers [of the mosques] that Christians who were inside Mosul had three options.” Those left in the city could pay tribute, convert to Islam or face the sword.
Anees continued: “They wrote on all the homes and property of Christians the Noon letter in Arabic, ن , which means the first letter of the word Christian Nasrani”. This system of segregation was only the start as, within a day, all Christians who failed to flee the city were stripped of their money, gold and possessions, while hospital patients were “even stripped of their medication”.
Following violent attacks on the city of Qaraqosh among others, panic began to spread through the Christian community. Anees described the carnage saying; “One mortar fell on a house, killing two children and young woman. After this incident, people panicked. At sunset people seemed to escape from the city to the northern cities of Iraq, in the Kurdistan region. People began [to] run off using cars, motorcycles and others jogging, walking tens of kilometers only with their own clothes.
“This was the displacement of more than 100,000 people in one night … I still remember that I have received a call at early morning 4 o’clock that our cities have become under Islamic state control. How ?! When ?! I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming.
“The most pain came when I saw the people, children and women, young and old have filled the streets of cities in Erbil under the scorching sun, with no water, no food.” To deal with this churches opened their doors to become hospitals and European aid agencies also pitched in, however, the government offered no support. Yousif Anees says it is like the government is trying to force them out of their own country.
All of this was 19 months ago, since then Anees and those outside IS-held territory have heard nothing. They don’t know if those they knew are alive or dead. With Easter Sunday upon us, a celebration of forgiveness for Christians, Anees finished his interview with a message of tolerance.
He said: “As Christians we believe that we will win our victory not in war and not through the sword. Our victory is the victory of love; it is the resurrection. We say: Lord forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. Lord, open their minds to the light, the light of love, light the light of peace and humanitarian”