The Islamic State’s (ISIS/ISIL) invasion of Iraq has left 90% of the nation’s Orthodox Christians displaced, fleeing religious persecution and ethnic cleansing, according to Ghattas Hazim, Greek Orthodox Bishop for Baghdad, Kuwait, and their surroundings, who must now travel into that territory and unite his congregation.
In an interview with Al Monitor, Hazim confirmed that current estimates of Christians belonging to his congregation in Iraq have reduced dramatically, with 90% of them being displaced from their homes. Islamic State terrorism and religious persecution have forced some to flee; others have begun to move, expecting their fate to be similar to those already in ISIS-conquered territory.
In Baghdad, he said, only 30 of 600 Christian families remain, while in Mosul, which is widely believed not to contain any Christians who are not elderly or otherwise unable to move freely, it appears that fewer than ten Christian families remain. Basra reportedly is not home to a single Christian anymore.
“The return of those who have been displaced back to their homes is linked to the political and security situation. We cannot urge anyone to go back now, in light of this ongoing war in different regions in Iraq,” Hazim told the outlet. He himself, however, is returning to Iraq, and he promises to publicly deliver an update on the situation as he tries to contribute to the reestablishment of Christianity in a region widely considered the religion’s cradle. He noted there is some hope in Erbil, Iraq–a Kurdish city home to many Christians even before the mass exodus from Mosul. Erbil, Hazim said, “welcomes our sons who move there from all over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.”
The Christian leader also expressed disappointment at what he considered insufficient effort on the part of the global Christian community, particularly those in the West, to help Middle Eastern Christians. “It is not true that the West is facilitating the emigration of Christians,” he said. “I know many Christians and Orthodox in particular who went to embassies and did not get visas. Others resorted to the United Nations and other international organizations in order to emigrate and it did not work out.”
The Christian communities of Iraq have been under siege since the rise of the Islamic State terror group in the nation, after a number of pivotal defeats of the Iraqi army. In July, Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of the Iraqi Catholic Church warned that Islamic State violence may lead to “the very dangerous elimination of the possibility of co-existence between majorities and minorities.” By the end of the month, the Islamic State had captured Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, and forced all Christians to accept death, exile, or conversion.
“They took our money, gold, even the earrings from their [women’s] ears. They took everything, even mobile phones. We don’t know if we are going to go back,” said one Christian man fleeing Mosul. “Until now we have no idea if there can be a return.”