Islamic State’s Genocide: Iraq’s Christians

Father Douglas al-Bazi, a Chaldean cleric, originally from Baghdad, but now living in Erbil, addressed a Washington, DC, forum on Wednesday. The topic was the Islamic State’s (IS) genocide against Christian and other religious minorities.

WASHINGTON, United States (Kurdistan24) - Father Douglas al-Bazi, a Chaldean cleric, originally from Baghdad, but now living in Erbil, addressed a Washington, DC, forum on Wednesday. The topic was the Islamic State’s (IS) genocide against Christian and other religious minorities.

Millennial-old Christian communities in Iraq and Syria face the prospect of extinction, whether from IS’ brutality or emigration. Fr. Bazi pleaded for urgent action, explaining that for people to endure hardship, they must have hope, but “my people are starting to lose hope.”

It has been nearly two years, since IS stormed Mosul and declared its caliphate. Fr. Bazi warned that if the US takes too much time to defeat IS, “There will be no minorities left to save.”

Some 5,000 Christian families have emigrated from Iraq since 2014.

Long a priest in Baghdad, Fr. Bazi left the city for the Kurdistan Region in 2013, where he became head of the Mar Elia church in Ainkawa. A year later, IS’ brutal campaign in northern Iraq began, and a tidal wave of terrified humanity poured into the Kurdistan Region. Along with 16 other churches, Mar Elia shelters many of the 125,000 Christians who have fled IS.

Indeed, “the bulk” of Iraq’s Christians are now in the Kurdistan Region, a Vice President for the Knights of Columbus (KOC) explained at the forum.

The KOC, a Catholic fraternal order and charity established in the US in the late 19th century, responded quickly to IS’ assault. Already on Aug. 11, just three days after President Barack Obama ordered the start of airstrikes against IS, the KOC announced the start of its relief effort.

The KOC has raised over $10.5 million for humanitarian aid for IS’ victims. These funds from the KOC and other Christian charities are crucial, because a formal, legal distinction exists between Internally Displaced People (IDPs)—i.e. those displaced within their own country—and refugees, who have fled to another country.

Over two million people have found safe haven in the Kurdistan Region. The vast majority—1.8 million—are Iraqi IDPs, with another 250,000 refugees from Syria. The bulk of international aid goes to the refugees. Thus, the IDPs are critically dependent on aid from private sources.

Fr. Bazi related the story of his own torture in Baghdad in order to make vivid to his American audience the travails of his community. His church in New Baghdad, a Shiite district on the east bank of the Tigris River, was bombed twice. He was then shot in the leg, and, finally in 2006, at the height of Iraq’s sectarian conflict, he was kidnapped, along with another priest. They were held for nine days.

For four days, he was given no water. On the sixth day, his captors began to beat him with a hammer. They hit him in the face, and broke his nose and his teeth. Then they said to him, “Don’t be worried, Father. You have many teeth, and we have all the night,” before attacking him again.

Fr. Bazi and his companion were released after the church paid a $170,000 ransom.

When asked by Kurdistan24, just who had kidnapped him, Fr. Bazi gave a surprising answer: it was a “gang who worked for others.” Indeed, he had asked them who they were and why they had taken him.

They answered, “Actually, we don’t know you personally. We have a list, and your name is on it. In front of your name is a number. How much they are going to give us, to bring you here.”

He had been kidnapped by a gang of thugs for money!

They also said, “We use police cars, ambulances, and we are known at the checkpoints.” It seems his kidnappers had ties to a faction of the Iraqi government. But Fr. Bazi is a cautious man and did not state that outright.

He is also an extremely sympathetic figure, and the KOC’s work is truly indispensable.

However, when the subject shifted to a longer-term solution to the current crisis (and therefore to politics), the discussion seemed a bit unreal. Fr. Bazi suggested the solution was an Iraqi state in which the government was based on “equality between people.” The KOC spokesman went even further: “Creating a legal system in a society with ideals laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the first and 14th amendments to the US constitution that exists in practice, as well as in theory.”

Such an ideal was one of the objectives in the US-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein. The war did not succeed in achieving that. It was also an objective of the Arab “spring,” which mostly did not succeed either (as Kurdistan24 discussed on the fifth anniversary of those events.)

Indeed, nowhere in the Middle East does that ideal exist. In fact, both Iraq and Syria appear to be falling apart and any effort to patch them back together likely to fail. On the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot treaty that created those two states, many people are now heralding its demise. But these factors were curiously absent from the discussion.

 

Laurie Ann Mylroie, Ph.D., taught at Harvard University and the US Naval War College. Most recently, she served as a cultural advisor to the US military in Afghanistan.

 

Editing by Delovan Barwari