Königstein/Sutton, 11th June 2015. Governments should step up efforts in Iraq to “free” Mosul and neighbouring Nineveh from so-called Islamic State so Christians and others can fulfil their dream of returning home – according to a leading archbishop from the region.
Marking the first anniversary of the fall of his city to the Islamist terror group, Syrian Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Mouche made an impassioned plea to the “people who have the responsibility” to remove IS and enable people forced out to return and rebuild their lives.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan said that 12 months on from their expulsion by the militants, Christians displaced to Kurdish northern Iraq still longed to go back to home.
He insisted that forcing out IS was the “best solution” for 120,000 displaced Christians effectively expelled from Mosul on 10th June and Nineveh, where towns and villages including 13 largely Christian ones were seized by IS on the night of 6th August.
Underlining the misery of Christians who left their communities with nothing, Archbishop Mouche said: “The only solution that will make them happy and give them dignity is to go back to their homes…
“We ask everyone to put pressure on the people who have the responsibility to free the [towns and villages] as soon as possible so the people can come back and live in peace in their… homes and continue their lives there.
“This is the best solution.”
In an appeal to Christians in the West, he said: “I ask you to pray for us… especially for our political leaders to help them find the solution that will allow us to go back to our cities.”
Meantime, one of Archbishop Mouche’s priests from Mosul, Syrian Catholic Father Georges Jahoula reported that on Tuesday (9th June) IS marked the first anniversary of its capture of the city by converting the Syrian Catholic church of St Ephraim into a mosque.
Archbishop Mouche said that Christians would be willing and able to go back to their communities in Nineveh if IS was forced out – but only if the Islamists were also removed from Mosul, which has huge influence over the region. But he said that in Mosul a breakdown in relations with other communities meant Christians were reluctant to return even if the city was liberated from IS. The archbishop’s comments reflect ongoing frustration felt by a number of senior Middle East clergy about what they perceive as the West’s reluctance to commit to a full-scale intervention against extremism in the region.
Archbishop Mouche said that if the West was unable to redouble efforts against Islamic State, it should open its doors to Christians and others seeking asylum. He said: “I am calling on the international community: if they cannot protect us, then they must open their doors and help us start a new life elsewhere.
“But we would prefer to be in Iraq and be protected in Iraq.”
The archbishop described the shock and distress he felt when he and his community were forced to flee Mosul at virtually no notice as Islamic State swept in and began demanding Christians convert to Islam or leave.
Since Mosul fell the Archbishop has found life tough. He said: “I am like someone who is dreaming or drunk. I can’t understand what is going on around me. It is a nightmare.”
Commenting on the widespread reports of destruction of religious artefacts and buildings by IS, he said his contact with the city had been severed. He said: “All our heritage is in Mosul, in Qaraqosh [formerly the main Syrian Catholic town in Nineveh] but especially in the monastery of St Behnam, which dates back to the fourth century AD.
“I have heard that some parts of the monastery, which is quite famous and old and contains thousands of Scriptures, were destroyed. “But we have no news about our churches and monasteries because we have no-one left in Mosul to report on it.”
He was speaking after video footage emerged showing the scale of oppression people face under IS in Mosul.
Archbishop Mouche thanked Aid to the Church in Need which has prioritised action for Christians and other suffering faith communities in Iraq, especially those who fled Mosul and Nineveh for Kurdish northern Iraq.
The charity has provided food, shelter and medicine for Christians displaced in Iraq and others who have fled to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere.
ACN has supported the construction of eight schools for displaced Iraqis in the Kurdish north – five for Ankawa, a largely Christian suburb of the capital, Erbil, and three for Dohuk in the far north.
Archbishop Mouche said: “They need everything: houses, medicine, education, transport.”
Clare Creegan and John Pontifex,