As ISIS ma­neu­ver­ers to ex­tin­guish Yezidi and Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties around Mo­sul

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

One of the unique fea­tures of Iraq was al­ways its rich eth­nic, re­li­gious and cul­tural di­ver­sity that spanned thou­sands of years and across mul­ti­ple civil­i­sa­tions. Re­li­gious co-ex­is­tence gen­er­ally pre­vailed un­til the fall of Sad­dam and the rise of ex­trem­ist groups.

The Chris­tian com­mu­nity from the Chaldeans, Assyr­i­ans, Man­deans and var­i­ous other sects have dwelled in the Nin­eveh plains for more than 1700 years with Nin­eveh it­self a cen­tre of many bib­li­cal prophets and events.

The Chris­tian num­bers dwin­dled from as high as 60,000 be­fore the fall of Sad­dam Hus­sein to around 30,000 by June of this year.

On the hand, Yezidi Kurds, num­ber over 300,000 and are one of the world’s old re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties with roots in Zoroas­tri­an­ism and a mix of other faiths.

Per­se­cu­tion of the Yezidi and Chris­tian mi­nori­ties over the past decade or so is not new with thou­sands driven out, mur­dered or faced with in­tim­i­da­tion and threats.

How­ever, the Chris­tian and Yezidi fate took a new twist as the Is­lamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) came storm­ing along in Iraq, chang­ing not only the po­lit­i­cal and ge­o­graphic makeup of Iraq but its re­li­gious frame­work.

In re­cent days, thou­sands of Yezidis were bru­tally killed and driven out of their homes as Sin­jar was over­run, with thou­sands more stranded and dy­ing of thirst and star­va­tion in ap­palling con­di­tions on Sin­jar Moun­tain.

Vian Dakhil, a Yezidi MP, made a pas­sion­ate plea as the hu­man catas­tro­phe in­ten­si­fied, “There is now a cam­paign of geno­cide be­ing waged on the Yezidi…We are be­ing slaugh­tered…” Thou­sands of Pesh­merga were mo­bilised as part of an on­go­ing counter-of­fen­sive against ISIS po­si­tions.

In re­cent weeks, ISIS is­sued a “dhimma” by which Chris­tians and other mi­nori­ties were given the choices to con­vert to Is­lam or pay the “Jizya” pro­tec­tion fee, and in the event they re­fused “then there is noth­ing to give them but the sword”.

By noon dead­line of the next day, Chris­tians were flock­ing in the thou­sands to the safety of Kur­dis­tan.

Pa­tri­arch Louis Sako told the AFP, “For the first time in the his­tory of Iraq, Mo­sul is now empty of Chris­tians,» whilst em­pha­sis­ing that “this has never hap­pened in Chris­tian or Is­lamic his­tory.»

In the past few weeks, ISIS has de­stroyed re­li­gious relics and build­ings dat­ing back thou­sands of years. One of those re­port­edly de­stroyed was the tomb of Jonah. His­tory takes thou­sands of years to build but in the blink of an eye is for­ever de­stroyed.

From Sas­sanid Per­sian rule to rule un­der the Umayyads, Ab­bassid, Ham­danid dy­nasty, Seljuks, Per­sian Safaw­ids and the Ot­toman Em­pire, Chris­tian and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties have largely pre­served their faith and com­mu­ni­ties.

Baghdad did lit­tle to of­fer the Chris­tians and other mi­nori­ties pro­tec­tion since 2003 and un­der the the lat­est wave of per­secu- tion against Yezidis and Chris­tians, the West and Baghdad watch on as the Is­lamic State is carved in front of their eyes and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties are driven out of their homes.

The West in par­tic­u­lar could have done much more over the past sev­eral years to help al­le­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of these com­mu­ni­ties. Now with yet another hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis un­fold­ing at the hands of ISIS with thou­sands of Yezidi’s un­der great dan­ger, global pow­ers can­not af­ford to sit idle.

“The world must act, speak out, con­sider hu­man rights” warned Chaldean Catholic Bishop Sh­le­mon War­duni.

In­deed, Chris­tian per­se­cu­tion is not new, but the re­cent events fi­nally caught global at­ten­tion. With ISIS gun­men now oc­cu­py­ing Qaraqosh, the largest Chris­tian town in Iraq, the plight of the Chris­tian com­mu­nity there can­not be ig­nored. The ques­tion now is whether wide­spread con­dem­na­tion will be met with any real ac­tion or in­ter­na­tional re­sponse on the ground.

Ex­press­ing grave con­cern, Pope Fran­cis in his weekly pub­lic prayers de­cried the plight of the Chris­tians, “To­day they are per­se­cuted. Our broth­ers are per­se­cuted. They’ve been driven away. They must leave their homes with­out be­ing able to take any­thing with them.”

With its own rich his­tory, Kur­dis­tan has al­ways been a sanc­tu­ary for mi­nori­ties and a sym­bol of re­li­gious and eth­nic co-ex­is­tence. It is the duty to pro­tect any hu­man, re­gard­less of re­li­gion or eth­nic­ity when they are faced with death and re­pres­sion es­pe­cially when they come run­ning to you as men of un­der­stand­ing, com­pas­sion and pro­tec­tion. How­ever, Kur­dis­tan can­not shoul­der the bur­den alone with ISIS be­com­ing any­thing but a lo­cal cri­sis and now a grave global con­cern.

Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Govern­ment (KRG) Prime Min­is­ter Nechir­van Barzani vowed the full sup­port and re­sources of his govern­ment re­sources to help the dis­placed fam­i­lies, and asked «the peo­ple of Do­huk and Er­bil prov­inces to rush to help the dis­placed Chris­tian fam­i­lies.”

Barzani ap­pealed for in­ter­na­tional help to sup­port the ever grow­ing num­ber of refugees in Kur­dis­tan.

Barzani added, “We also en­cour­age them to sup­port the KRG in order to in­crease its relief ef­forts and be able to prop­erly as­sist these fam­i­lies in times of crises.»

Mean­while, Kur­dis­tan Pres­i­dent Mas­saud Barzani made a pas­sion­ate pledge to the flee­ing Chris­tians, “We will all ei­ther die to­gether or we will live to­gether with dig­nity.” Barzani also vowed to “de­fend Shin­gal and our Yezidi broth­ers and sis­ters.”

Rather than at­tempts at halt­ing the drive to­wards Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence, on the con­trary the West should sup­port a new Kur­dish state that not only will fi­nally give the Kurds a well-de­served and long­de­nied home­land, but would af­ford unique pro­tec­tion and preser­va­tion of mi­nori­ties and age-old his­tory.

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