Following a 2,000 year history in the city, the last Christians left Mosul this week according to reports from local observers. The exodus comes as Islamic State (IS) militants, who captured Mosul last month, announced they would impose Sharia law in the city.
The group began painting the letter N, for Nassarah, on the homes of Christians in the area so they could be easily identified. Those who failed to convert to Islam or leave were threatened with the death penalty; their remaining property would be seized by IS. The extremists also blew up a sacred tomb that was believed to be the biblical prophet Jonah’s burial place last week.
An Iraqi security officer guards the Church of the Virgin Mary in the northern town of Bartala, near Mosul, in 2012. (Photo: AFP)
More than a decade ago, 60,000 Christians lived and worshiped in and around Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Following the advance of IS last month, only about 20 Christian families remained in the area, according to the UN. Overall, Iraq’s Christian population has decreased from one million in the early 1990s to less than 300,000 in the past decade.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the persecution of minorities in Iraq. In a unanimous statement last week, the Council denounced “in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of individuals from minority populations and those who refuse its extremist ideology in Iraq by ISIL and associated armed groups.” On Monday, France offered asylum to the fleeing Iraqi Christians near Mosul. Laurent Fabius and Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s foreign minister and interior minister stated their outrage over the abuses IS has committed in Iraq. They declared that the “ultimatum given to these [minority] communities in Mosul by ISIL is the latest tragic example of the terrible threat that jihadist groups in Iraq, but also in Syria and elsewhere, pose to these populations that are historically an integral part of this region.”
IS is fighting to overthrow the Iraqi and Syrian governments and establish a Sunni Caliphate across the Middle East. The terrorist group has vowed to continue its fight to Baghdad although it appears to have paused its offensive after invading several Sunni areas in Iraq. Though mostly stalled, the Iraqi military’s major effort has been directed toward pushing the militants out of the city of Tikrit, located only 80 miles north of Baghdad.