Displaced Iraq Christians in Frontline Prayer for Return

August 6, 2015  

Christian clerics prayed in the ruins of a monastery not far from jihadist positions in northern Iraq Thursday to mark a year since the exodus of Iraq’s Christians from nearby ancestral lands.

“We want the good people to hear our prayers from this place so they hurry and liberate our areas as quickly as possible,” Yohanna Boutros Moshe, the Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, told AFP.

Moshe led a small group of clerics in prayer in the hilltop ruins of a 4th century monastery that lies in a position of Kurdish peshmerga forces.

On June 9 last year, the Islamic State (ISIS) group launched a massive offensive that forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

The following day, the jihadist group seized of Mosul, the country’s second city, which was home to significant community of Christians.

Many were forced from their homes two months later, when ISIS expanded further by attacking Kurdish-held positions, including the Nineveh plain.

The region stretches from Mosul towards Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, and was home to the bulk of Iraq’s Christian community, one of the world’s oldest.

“It is dear to our hearts because we received it from our sons who shed their blood until they preserved this area and we are proud of them,” the archbishop said.

The monastery where the symbolic prayer was held is the closest point to Qaraqosh, which was Iraq’s largest Christian town until ISIS seized it last August.

“I feel sorrow and pain until this hour; I feel as though I am drunk and do not know until now why I was forced from my area because we did nothing wrong or attack anyone and we were peaceful with everyone,” he said.

The Nineveh plain was also home to members of other Iraqi minorities, such as the Yazidis, Shabak and Kakai.

Other waves of violence in recent years have already driven many Iraqi Christians into exile. There were around 1.5 million in 2003 but fewer than a third remain.

Last year’s violence led many of the newly displaced Christians to seek to emigrate, a trend clerics in Iraq and elsewhere fear could be a fatal blow to Christian presence in the country.

The peshmerga, backed by air strikes from a US-led international coalition, have recaptured some land in northern Iraq.

Yet the fightback has been sluggish in recent months and the focus of efforts to retake territory lost to ISIS has focused on Iraq’s western province of Anbar.

Residents of Mosul and outlying areas had hoped Baghdad and Arbil would make a big push to wrest the region back from ISIS as early as late last year.

But more than a year after ISIS took control of large parts of Iraq, many analysts say the fight for Mosul is still a long way away.

AFP contributed to this report.

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