July 23, 2014 3 Comments
One of the most horrific stories to come out of the ISIS conquest of central Iraq is the story of the Christians in Mosul (and the rest of the conquered area). There is no good parts of this story. Mafqud wa-Mawjud tells us some of the history of Christianity in the area. If you aren’t familiar with “The Church of the East” you will be amazed.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ISIS has consolidated its hold on the city of Mosul in northern Iraq and is busy converting the metropolitan center to its own extremist brand of Sunni Islam. Last week the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now styling himself Caliph Ibrahim, issued an order for Christians in the city to a convert to Islam, b pay the jizya tax on non-Muslims at an unspecified rate, or c be killed, although some awareness of the option to leave was displayed in the order as well. Reports that a church was torched are of uncertain veracity see a careful analysis of the photos circulating around the web at this blog, but images showing an Arabic ن for نصارى, nasara, meaning “Christians” spray-painted on various houses indicate that these houses were available to be seized. Nor are Christians the only ones to suffer: reportedly some Shiite men have disappeared, Shiite families have been told to flee or be killed, and Shiite homes have been emblazoned with another Arabic letter, ر for رافضي rafidi something like “heretic scum,” while reports are also circulating that ISIS has destroyed the Sunni shrine and tomb of Nabi Yunus the biblical prophet Jonah in the ruins of ancient Nineveh to the east of the Tigris. In this climate, most Christians chose to leave Mosul for the comparatively tolerant lands of Iraqi Kurdistan to the north, although refugees have reported being robbed of all their belongings at the checkpoint leaving the city.
The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Sako, who is presently the highest ranking ecclesiastical official of any denomination in Iraq, commented on the expulsion of the Christians, “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”
This comment may strike many Americans as odd, because they presume that Iraq and the Middle East more generally are necessarily Muslim regions, and Christianity there must be a recent European importation. But that is far from the case. Since the study of Iraqi Christianity is an area of expertise, I thought I would present here a brief timeline of Mosul and its Christians.
In antiquity, whatever settlement or fortification existed on the site of the center of modern Mosul was overshadowed by Nineveh, the old Assyrian capital. It is unknown when Christianity first arrived in Nineveh, although it had an important bishop by 554, when its bishop was one of the signatories to a council of the Church of the East. At that time, the bishop was under the authority of the metropolitan archbishop of Arbela modern Erbil to the east of Nineveh, and the patriarchate was in the capital of the Sasanian Persian Empire, south of modern Baghdad. By the early seventh century, there were also Syriac Orthodox Christians in the region we know of as Iraq, with their regional headquarters in Tagrit modern Tikrit, and an important monastery of Mor Matay outside Mosul. There was also an important monastery of the Church of the East outside Mosul, the monastery of Mar Gabriel and Mar Abraham, also called the “Upper Monastery,” which later became an important center for liturgical reform in the Church of the East.
I also note that Jessica’s co-author Chalcedon451 has written on this as well, here, and here. In addition there is a category there that deals with the history of The Church of the East, if you would like to know more of its history, it is quite fascinating, that category is here.
A short quote from Chalcedon451 will explain the symbol that is illustrated with this article. This is from his first linked article.
Upon the walls of the houses in Mosul, the Islamic symbol for ‘N’ (Nazarene) has appeared, (see the picture at the top of the piece) used, just as the Star of David was by the Nazis, as a sign that this place can be looted and its people attacked. The forces of ISIS have confiscated more than thirty churches, burning down one which goes back to antiquity. There were no twenty four hour news channels when the forces of Mohammed swept through the region in the seventh and eighth centuries, but even his forces were not this brutal. Across the whole of the Middle East, Christian communities as old as any that exist in the world are being exterminated.
I have come to have some doubts about the second war with Iraq, although I was a strong supporter of it. But, notwithstanding my, or your, beliefs on the validity of the war, it happened. What also happened is that America ran away from what we had wrought, thereby causing all the death and injuries to our soldiers and those of our allies, like the British who stood with us to be in vain. In addition, I see no reason why the martyrdom of the Iraqi Christians should not also be laid at the door of those who decided we should, in the inelegant military phrase, “bug out”. May God have mercy on their souls.
Frankly, at this late date there is little to do other than pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq, while sadly noting that many have been martyred and no doubt more will be.