Editors’ note: We received the following report this morning from Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana, an Iraqi-born priest of the Assyrian Church of the East now based in Germany. His report, which he has given us permission to post, provides a wide-ranging and comprehensive view of the tragedy now unfolding in northern Iraq, with some details that have gone largely unreported. It makes for sobering, heartbreaking reading.
We can only echo his words at the conclusion: Please keep Iraq’s suffering church and people in your prayers. The needs now are greater than ever. To learn what you can do for our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq, visit this link.
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Greetings from Duhok, Iraq.
I enclose for your information the attached report, which I hope will help bring a deeper understanding of the current crisis in Iraq.
I would like to share with you the following information/points:
First: All Mosul churches and monasteries — about 30 — have been seized by ISIS. The cross has been removed from all of them. Many of them are burned, destroyed and looted. Many others are being used as ISIS centers. The following are a few examples:
Mar Ephraim Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Al Shurta district (east side of Mosul): ISIS installed loudspeakers and is converted to mosque for prayers.
Syriac Catholic church in the old part of Mosul was looted and set on fire.
Mar Gewargis (St. George) monastery is looted.
Mar Thomas (St. Thomas) Syriac Catholic historical and old church was looted after the doors were broken. Now it is guarded by ISIS.
In addition, Mar Behnam (St. Behnam) Syriac Catholic monastery in the ancient Assyrian town of Nimrod is been controlled by ISIS.
For more information about Mar Behnam monastery, visit this link.
The religious Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs in Mosul have been destroyed. This is according to the ISIS Sharia. This destruction is endangering very ancient sites, such as the prophet Jonah’s tomb, which, according to many reports, was looted last week. The Shiite mosques (named “Hussayniya” in Arabic) are being demolished as well.
Second: All non-Sunni communities are being targeted by ISIS. In addition to Christians, this includes Yazidi (a very ancient religion) and Shiites.
Indeed, Yazidi had fled Mosul a couple of years ago (starting 2004 — 2010). They fled to Yazidi towns/townships/villages in Nineveh Plain, Duhok and Erbil. I doubt there were any Yazidi left in Mosul before 10 June. The Shiites in Mosul city and Nineveh governorate can be categorized as follows:
Turkman Shiites who were in Mosul city, Mosul west suburbs (Rashidiya, Gubba and Sherkhan) and in the big city of Telafar (North East of Mosul towards Syrian borders). Turkman Shiites were targeted and forced to flee. Their houses have been seized and many of them destroyed. In Talafar, Turkman Sunnis joined ISIS to persecute their fellow Turkman Shiites. Hundreds of Turkman Shiite families from the above-mentioned places, where they lived for centuries, fled towards Erbil in their way to be evacuated to Shiite provinces south of Iraq. The Iraqi central government (headed by Shiite and a Shiite Prime Minister Al Maliki) is facilitating this evacuation. A governmental flights program is ongoing to fly from Erbil airport to Najaf (Major Shiite city in the south of Baghdad) airport to evacuate these families and to be resettled in Shiite provinces. Another route is ongoing for the same purpose where convoys of buses and vehicles are evacuating these families through Erbil to Kirkuk to Sulemaniya and down to Khaniqin and then to southern provinces. This long route is because the road from Kirkuk to Baghdad is blocked.
Shabak Shiites are in Nineveh Plain, mainly from Mosul to Bartilla. Most of their townships are under Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] protection but there are few of their villages (between Bartilla and Mosul), which are under ISIS control or in the front line to ISIS. The Shabak Shiites of these ISIS-controlled villages fled. The Shabak Shiites who were living in Mosul fled as well. They fled to Shabak towns in Nineveh Plain and dozens of them fled seeking settlement in Shiite provinces south of Iraq. The same like Shiite Turkmans. The Turkman and Shabak Sunnis are not targeted.
This reflects how deep the sectarian conflict is and how long it will take to recover — if any recovery is to come. Can anyone really expect the Turkman and Shabak Shiites who are fleeing to Shiite provinces in southern Iraq — leaving their roots, existence and economy of a couple of centuries in — will return to Talafar and Mosul? Personally, I doubt it. What political impact does it have upon the Iraqi political and administrative structure? A big question.
The current situation reflects how the Iraqi structure was a fragile one. Is there really a common Iraqi people feeling that they are one people and one country?
The situation is clearly a deep social and political crisis. It is not a security or military battle between ISIS and Iraqi Army. The solution, if any exists, can only be achieved through reviewing and restructuring Iraq to convince all. This applies for Christians as well. The question and challenge is how to convince Christians that they have a future in Iraq. The nice words and sympathy statements are not enough. There should be deeds and practices.
According to a majority of Iraqi Christian politicians and people, the starting point is to grant the province (governorate) status for Nineveh Plain where the intensive Christian, Yazidi and Shabak demography exists.
The public relations statements — such as: we are all Iraqis and all Iraq is ours — are like a person who is issuing bank checks but he doesn’t have a bank account.
Third: Last night, ISIS tried to take over a medicine factory northeast of Mosul and west of Telkeif. There was a confrontation with Peshmerga who control and protect the area. ISIS terrorists were forced to go back after a short fighting. However, hearing the sound of the guns was enough to cause Christian families of Telkeif and Batnaya to escape and flee to the north in direction of Alqosh. The Peshmerga checkpoint nearby Alqosh prevented them and asked them to go back simply because there was no threats and no battles field. They went back to their homes. This reflects the fear and horror of the people.
Fourth: Yesterday, there was a bishops’ meeting in Erbil. It was headed by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I to discuss the situation. In addition, there was a meeting of all Christian political parties for the same purpose. The parties called upon a demonstration for tomorrow in Ain Kawa and to go to the United Nations office there, demanding that the International community protect the Iraqi Christians.
Fifth: The following is a summary from my visit last week to Qaraqosh (Hamdaniya), Bartilla and Bashiqa. In Qaraqosh I met Mr. Anwar Hadaya, the Christian member of Nineveh Governorate Council; Bishop Jerjis Qas Mousa, Syriac Catholic Patriarchal Vicar; and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Saliba Shamoun. In Bartilla, I met Mr. Monther, President of Syriac Community Council of Bartilla; board members of the council; and Father Jacob of the Syriac Orthodox Church. The council is the acting body and reference for the Syriac community of Bartilla. In Bashiqa, I met Syriac Orthodox Father Daniel and his church committee.
I will try to summarize the information that I learned from the people I met:
The major Christian town in the region. It has 45,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, 97 percent of them Christians. They confirmed the majority (almost 80 percent) of the inhabitants returned to Hamdaniya after they fled it because of the confrontation between ISIS and Peshmerga.
They confirmed the confrontation was initiated by ISIS, as it thought occupying Hamdaniya will lead to a fast and dramatic fall of other Christian and Shabak (Shiite) townships of Karmles, Bartilla and surrounding villages, and reaching Bashiqa (mixed Christian, Yezedi and Shabak town).
The current security situation is calm but the fear and horror is there as well. The suffering of the people includes the basic needs of daily life, such as:
Hamdaniya, Karmles, Bartilla, Bashiqa and surrounding villages were connected to Iraqi Electricity Network coming from Mosul. Now it is been cut by ISIS. They do not have electricity. The generators are not providing enough hours and the price is too high because the diesel is very expensive.
The above-mentioned towns were provided from Salamiya water station (a huge one on Tigris). The main pipe was connected from Salamiya to Hamdaniya and from there was pumped to Karmles, Bartilla, Bashiqa, etc.
Salamiya is currently controlled by ISIS, who cut the water from this region.
They told me that at first they were in contact by telephone with the Iraqi staff at the Salamiya water station. The Iraqis were providing them with water for one or two hours every day. But then the Islamic princes instructed the staff to cut off the water completely. The princes spoke over the phone and insulted the Christians who were calling the Iraqi staff. They told them: You don’t deserve to drink water.
So, there is no drinking water at all. The alternatives are the wells. However, the possible alternatives are different from one town to the other. For Hamdaniya, the alternative is to dig water wells and connect them to the existing pump station.
Of course, ISIS is not providing the hospital of Hamdaniya with medicine. There is a huge shortage and great need for medicines.
There are no salaries paid to the governmental offices, simply because there is no Iraqi government in Mosul. Islamic State does not pay Hamdaniya, nor other regions that are not under ISIS control.
Indeed, we also learned from sources inside Mosul that ISIS sorted out the lists of governmental offices staff and will not pay for any non-Muslim staff, even if that person shows up at work. We don’t think there are Christians to stay in Mosul and work in Islamic State offices. In addition, the banks are closed and the people do not have access to their cash. The private sector is almost paralyzed. All of this together makes the challenges of life very hard on the people.
The cleaning and other services have totally collapsed. The machinery and vehicles are not working. In addition, the coworkers from the surrounding Sunni villages are not working as their villages are controlled by ISIS and are not able (even if we suppose they like) to come to Hamdaniya.
The tendency to migrate is there, and is expected to increase. Many families are not migrating now because they don’t have their cash in hand as it is in the banks. In addition, they are waiting to sell their properties before they depart. The properties market is frozen for now.
The future scenario
Depends on the political agreements/disagreements between Iraqi political powers. So far, the indicators are for more and deeper conflicts and disagreements between Shiites on the one side, and Sunnis and Kurds on the other side. However, it is not expected ISIS will try to expand the control to Nineveh Plain for the following reasons:
the Peshmerga will prevent such attempts
the Iraqi military pressure on ISIS in Tekrit will push ISIS to avoid such battles against Peshmerga
the region is not an Arab or Sunni region to accept or cooperate with ISIS
In addition, many Sunni powers are in opposition to [Prime Minister] Al Maliki are in Erbil. This reduces the tension of Sunni areas against Kurdish and Peshmerga controlled regions.
The suffering is the same. Shiite Shabaks of Bartilla had already seized land and properties of Christians. The Iranian council was a regular visitor to Bartilla. All Shiite political parties have centers in Bartilla. This created a Sunni position against Bartilla.
The poverty is everywhere in Bartilla. However, hundreds of Shiite Shabaks from Mosul, Bartilla and surrounding villages fled to south of Iraq to the Shiite provinces of Najaf, Karbala, etc. This plan to flee the Sunni region and to be hosted in southern Shiite provinces is a clear solid indicator on how deep the conflict is, and how long it will take. No one is expecting the Shiites of Mosul and Nineveh Plain, now fleeing to the south of Iraq, will return.
Water needs of Bartilla
The alternative in Bartilla is to install units to purify the water they can get from the existing wells. They asked for two units to be installed in two of the wells they have in the church property. Lacking the drinking water, electricity, medicines, etc., has increased cases of disease.
Bashiqa and Bahzany
The same problems: Some 210 displaced Christian families from Mosul are hosted by the church. This is good but it is an extra burden upon the church, whose resources are limited. The solution of the water problem in Bashiqa is to provide a tanker to transport the water from the existing wells.
Keep Iraq’s suffering church and people in your prayers.
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana