Since the takeover of Mosul, June 2014
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by IS insurgents since early June. The BBC estimates that around one quarter of Iraq’s Christians are currently on the move. Many have just the clothes on their backs – no food or water, no bedding and no means of keeping cool in a region where the temperature in the area is currently more than 40 degrees celsius every day, with no chance of rain. Others are living in the open, or wherever they can find shelter. Open Doors continues providing humanitarian aid to refugees, practical support to local churches and prayer.
Sahar Mansour, a Chaldean Catholic who fled Mosul in June, told the Catholic News Service that she had heard horrific accounts of violent forced conversions of Christians who were unable to flee Mosul because of ill health or disability.
“I did not imagine that one day I would live like this,” she said. “…without human rights, drinking salty water out of wells, without electricity and a house, in this heat.”
10 June: Members of Al Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), seize Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, 400km north-west of the capital Baghdad. An estimated 500,000 residents join a mass exodus out of the city. Some 250 families find sanctuary in monasteries surrounding Mosul, while others head to nearby Christian villages, east to places such as Qaraqosh and Erbil or north to places like Dohuk, in the relatively safe Kurdish region.
11 June: The jihadist militants seize Tikrit, the capital of Salaheddin province – 150km from Baghdad. Despite a battle with the Iraqi army, ISIS maintain control of the city.
15 June: The Chaldean Catholic Church’s Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, in Kurdish-governed Northern Iraq, is reported as saying that for the first time in 1600 years there has been no Mass said in Mosul today, Sunday. Up to a thousand Christian families are reported to have fled Mosul, out of the few thousand Christian families remaining (from a population of around 35,000 Christians in 2003).
21 June: A member of Iraq’s High Commission on Human Rights, Dr. Sallama Al Khafaji, tells Arabic news website Al Sumaria that ISIS has begun to demand a special ‘non-Muslim’ tax from Christians in Mosul. In a custom rooted in medieval times, under strict Islamic law, Christians are required to pay protection money and are not allowed to publicly express their faith.
29 June: The jihadists declare an ‘Islamic caliphate’, or Islamic state – extending from Aleppo in northern Syria to Diyala province in eastern Iraq. The group changes their name to IS (Islamic State), and declares their chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‘caliph’, a political and religious leader “for Muslims everywhere”.
18 July: Christians begin to flee Mosul after mosques relay an ultimatum giving the minority the option of converting, paying special taxes for non-Muslims as a ‘protection fee’ or leaving. The statement from IS concludes, “…if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.” Houses belonging to believers are sprayed with the Arabic letter ن – ‘N’, standing for Nazarene, or Christian.
24 July: Amongst other religious and historical buildings, IS militants blow up a Muslim shrine in Mosul said to be the burial place of the Biblical prophet Jonah, also recognised in Islam.
4 August: IS conquers several towns including Sinjar near the Syrian border and Tel Qasab. Around 50 Christian families are understood to live in Sinjar, where the militants take control of the Syriac Church and cover the cross with a black IS flag. Reports of killings, kidnappings and other horrors are rife – one man tells the Telegraph all but five members of his 85-strong family have been taken by IS; 100 have been killed from his village alone. Among those fleeing throughout the night are tens of thousands of members of the minority Yazidi sect (Sinjar being a majority Yazidi town), who head toward nearby Mount Sinjar.
7 August: The Guardian reports Qaraqosh, Iraq‘s largest Christian city, has been “all but abandoned”. Around 50,000 Christians are amongst the residents who leave the city in the early hours of the morning, before IS militants arrive in convoys. Eyewitness reports say churches in the city are quickly occupied, their crosses taken down and religious relics and manuscripts destroyed.
7 August: United States President, Barack Obama, authorises limited airstrikes, primarily to attack IS positions surrounding Mount Sinjar, and to defend US citizens in the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil. “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” the President tells a Washington news conference. “This is going to take some time.”
7 August: IS militants take control of Mosul Dam, the largest dam in Iraq.
10 August: Reports continue of the desperate conditions faced by the Yazidi stranded on Mount Sinjar. Aid drops have begun, but are inadequate for survival in the searing heat. In the face of a humanitarian disaster, Iraqi army helicopters have brought in medical help; with the aid of US airstrikes, the Syrian Kurdish YPG (the People’s Protection Unit militia) has made enough headway to escort thousands of Yazidis off the mountain, into Syrian territory
12 August: 18 Christian families from Sinjar are reported to be in Dohuk by a local agency, Ankawa. The families say that none of their women or daughters were taken by IS militants, contrary to some reports.
14 August: Residents of the town of Kojo say they have been given until today to convert or face death. It is understood a number of other towns have been set similar ultimatums.
23 August: Churches in countries including Australia, Germany, South Africa and the United States mobilise for a Day of Prayer for Iraq. See the event on Facebook.
Sources: Open Doors, World Watch Monitor, Agence France-Presse, Guardian, BBC, Telegraph, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, ABC News US, Iraq Oil Report