Between anger and resignation

Between anger and resignation

Before the 2003 U.S. invasion, 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq. Today, fewer than 300.000 of them left. They are fleeing not only the IS terrorists, but also the indifference of their Muslim neighbors.

Archbishop Thimothaeus Mussa al-Shamani has resigned. The dignified man with the short gray beard heads the Archdiocese of Bartilla and Mar Mattai, located in the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Mol. In 2014, the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS) had captured Mol and other Iraqi cities. The western part of Mol is still ruled by their regime of terror, which declares Christians "infidels" and Shiites "apostates".

Lack of perspective

"I think in five years there will be no Christians left in Iraq, the young all want to leave, this development cannot be stopped," says al-Shamani. He smiles gently, leans on his magnificent crosier and sighs softly. "The bishops used to be much more militant, now you sense a lack of perspective," says Bundestag Vice President Claudia Roth.

The Green politician has been concerned with the situation of minorities in Iraq for years. Earlier this month, she and German Development Minister Gerd Muller (CSU) met with representatives of the Christians and the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq.

Christians are not much different from the Yazidis: Although the IS terrorists have now been driven out of a number of Iraqi towns and villages, they too are reluctant to return to their ancestral settlements. They do not trust peace. And they feel their existence is threatened not only by IS.

Fear of return

"People are afraid to return to their villages," says Bashar Warda, archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic diocese of Erbil. For the political conditions that would have led to the IS's grab for power have not changed to this day. The regime in Baghdad is corrupt, "and as long as this system exists, we cannot expect a better solution".

The Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Mol, Nicodemus David Scharaf, goes one step further. "I'm not saying it's the same situation today as it was before the conquest (by IS), but it's gotten worse," he rumbles. The corruption of the Iraqi government had increased.

His red beard quivers with excitement: "The extremist discourse of the Islamic brothers has not only remained, but grown stronger," he scolds. Sunnis and Shiites, they all would not have shown solidarity in the past three years, when Christians fled from their villages in the province of Nineveh to escape the terrorists.

On his smartphone, Scharaf has pictures of a destroyed church in the eastern part of Mol, from which the IS fighters have since been driven out. He says: "I had writings in my church from the 2. Century after Christ birth, which were not only valuable for the Christians, that is world cultural heritage. Everything was set on fire or stolen. They have destroyed everything that made up our lives."

Sharaf thinks IS's "caliphate" can be destroyed with military aircraft if necessary. But no one has yet developed an effective antidote to the ideas of Islamist terrorists.

Help from the federal government

Development Minister Muller wants to help the Yazidis and Christians. The federal government is promising money so that the atrocities can be documented – the abduction of the Yazidi women who were abused as sex slaves by IS fighters, the kidnapping of young boys who are being retrained as terrorists by IS. So that reconciliation one day becomes realistic.

Muller says: "The protection of minority rights, that is a very central point, which must be observed."And: "We are not resigned to the fact that there are to be no more Christians in Mol."

Alone with the persons concerned the last hope dwindles gradually. "Only ten Yazidi women have been freed so far by the offensive in Mol, because many Yazidis have been taken by IS to other areas it still controls, such as Al-Rakka in Syria," reports Yazidi writer Mirza Dinnayi of the organization Airlift Iraq.

Yazidis persecuted like Christians

"We have heard that there is a plan for the stabilization of Mol, but we have not been involved at all," complains Yazidi journalist Chidr Domle. The Yezidis feel marginalized, repressed, like an insignificant little group that no one cares about anymore. They also fear that the power struggle between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the northern Iraqi Peshmerga and Turkey will escalate further in their villages in the Shinjar Mountains.

Before the US-led invasion of 2003, multi-religious Iraq was a finely woven tapestry, with Shiite and Sunni Islam as the dominant colors. But this carpet owed its special beauty to the many small splashes of color.

After the founding of the State of Israel, Jews had gradually left the country. Today, many of Iraq's Christians, Yezidis, Sabaeans and Shabak are seeking a new home. A large number of them are drawn to Europe. Last year alone, 29,000 Yazidis were recognized as refugees in Germany.

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