Thousands of Christians are fleeing northern Iraq and communities they have lived in for almost 2,000 years following militant group ISIS’ ultimatum last week that they convert to Islam, pay a tax, or be killed for their faith.
“We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” an ISIS statement was read out at Mosul’s mosques, BBC News reported.
A number of Christian leaders and persecution watchdog groups have made rallying calls for the international community to do all it can to help protect Iraq’s Christians. Many are reportedly fleeing to the autonomous region of Kurdistan, which for the most part has managed to secure its borders and escape the militants’ attacks.
“Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Irbil,” Patriarch Louis Sako told AFP news agency.
“For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” he said.
The patriarch added that Islamists have been seen branding Christian houses with the letter “N” for “Nassarah,” a term used for Christians in the Quran.
Sako estimated that as many as 60,000 Christians lived in Mosul prior to 2003 and the U.S.-led operations against dictator Saddam Hussein. By June 2014, that number had fallen to 35,000, while another 10,000 fled following ISIS’ initial attacks.
Churches in Mosul have also been attack and ransacked, Chaldean Archbishop Nona told Human Rights Watch.
“Each car carried three gunmen, most of them with masks. They broke open the doors and took some small statues from inside the property and broke them outside. They took control of the premises and placed their black banners on the roof and entrance,” Nona said of an attack on his archdiocese compound.
“They told neighbors, ‘this is our property, don’t touch it’.”
Iraq could soon split into three separate regions as a response to the ISIS attacks, a Kurdish government official recently predicted.
“Baghdad seems to be pushing us into that direction, and we’re closer than ever,” said Karim Sanjari, minister of Interior for the Kurdish region, according to Christian relief group World Compassion Terry Law Ministries.
Jason Law, vice president of Operations for World Compassion, told CP last week that Iraq splitting up into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish states is a real possibility.
“In my personal opinion, I think that is the only solution. Out of the people I have spoken with, that seems to be kind of the consensus. Everyone believes this is the only solution,” Law continued.
“I think that’s the answer, and I think we’re seeing those lines being drawn now. It’s unfortunate that it’s taking war to do that, but I do believe that’s the solution.”