by Deniz Serinci
Protests are ramping up around the world against Islamic extremists who have purged Iraqi Christians from lands they have inhabited for 2,000 years.
Demonstrations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been held in England, Canada, Germany, France, Unites States, Sweden, Denmark and Australia since the militia began threatening Christians in Mosul to convert or be killed and blew up a tomb believed to be the burial place of the Biblical prophet Jonah last week. ISIS took control of Iraq’s second-largest city, where Christians have lived for the past 2,000 years, in June.
In many protests the demonstrators displayed the Arabic letter “N” for “Nasrani,” which means Christian in Arabic. With slogans such as “Save the Christians of Iraq” and “Stop ISIS!” the protests have also attracted many Arab and Kurdish Sunni and Shia Muslims, Yezidis, Faylis and other minorities showing solidarity with persecuted Christians.
“I’ve come here to show that we all stand together and say no to discrimination, regardless of religion and ethnicity,” Khalil Yassin, an Arab Sunni and leader of the Iraqi Cultural Centre in Copenhagen, told Rudaw.
“I show my support for my Christian brothers and condemn in the strongest terms ISIS’ threats and actions,” Mossa Rashid, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Denmark, said.
The protests began after Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad and the leader of Iraq’s biggest church, issued a plea for international support.
“The control exercised by the Islamist jihadists upon the city of Mosul, and their proclamation of it as an Islamic State, after several days of calm and expectant watching of events, has now come to reflect negatively upon the Christian population of the city and its environs,” Sako maintained.
Copenhagen Catholic Bishop Czeslaw Kozon said more western leaders need to denounce ISIS’ attack on Christians.
“Once again we see that persecution of Christians is not historical, but is happening right now,” he said. “It is worrying that so few are aware of what is happening and that there is very little press coverage.”
Most of those who fled Mosul in recent weeks are now in the Kurdistan Region. Mosul is the capital of Nineveh province, which was once home to around 60,000 Assyrians, Chaldeans and other Christians.
“We are grateful to anyone who provides assistance to Christians in need,” Kozon said.
There are about 4,000 Iraqi Christians in Denmark. Despite the distance, they are impacted by the violence in Mosul and elsewhere, said Marcus Sabri, the organizer of the demonstration in Copenhagen and a leader in the Iraqi Christian Mar Abba parish.
“These are inhumane acts against Christians in Iraq. That is our country, where we have always lived. These are our historic buildings, heritage and churches that are being destroyed by ISIS,” Sabri said.
Jens Juul Petersen, a Danish aid worker who works on Iraq, said Iraqi Christians are often wrongly viewed as “western lackeys … despite the fact that they are among the world’s oldest Christian communities.”
Christians in Iraq are splintered among different groups, aren’t closely tied to the Vatican and don’t have a unified stance that would help them lobby for western support. They also don’t have militias, making them more vulnerable to Islamic extremists, Petersen said.
Alan Pary, a poet originally from Sulaimaniya, is a self-described Chaldean-Kurdish-Christian living in Denmark. He also criticized silence of western leaders.
“It’s horrible that ISIS comes in and expels people from their homes. The west went into Iraq in 2003 to create freedom, but now there is terror and turmoil,” he said.
In Paris, where two senior ministers offered asylum to Iraq’s Christians last week, 100 members of the French parliament joined demonstrators against ISIS. In addition, protests took place in Washington, outside of the British Parliament in London, and in front of the United Nations building in the Kurdistan Region capital, Erbil.
In Australia, the National Council of Churches urged the government to pressure the UN Security Council to address the plight of Iraqi Christians. The council has donated $30,000 to the Christian refugee camps in Erbil.