Christians in the Middle East suffered greatly under ISIS due to religious persecution. Now many displaced Christians are seeking refuge outside of the region fearing for what the future holds
The number of Christians across the Middle has been dwindling for decades due to a series of wars, the rise of extremist and nationalist ideologies and the environment of discrimination felt by various communities. Nevertheless, the greatest impetus for the recent emigration of Christians in Iraq and Syria was the rise of ISIS and groups driven by similarly extremist and discriminatory ideologies over the past few years.
The Christians of Mosul and the Nineveh Province as a whole have been embedded in the history of the region ever since the initial spread of Christianity to Mesopotamia. Various groups of people adhere to the Christian faith in northern Iraq, especially the Assyrians. They became a primary target for ISIS as they did not fit into their totalitarian and warped vision of an “Islamic State” that would only tend towards incorporating people of their own ilk and shared vision.
Several massacres were committed against the Christians in northern Iraq by marauding ISIS militants. Their cultural monuments and churches were desecrated and used as military or weapons storage bases by the terrorist group.
Nevertheless, since the eradication of ISIS in most of northern Iraq, some communities have joined hands to reestablish bridges of trust and foster an environment where diversity may thrive. For instance, soon after the liberation of Mosul, Muslims contributed to the restoration of Chaldean Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which had its cross removed by ISIS.
In another show of cooperation between communities, Muslim academics and activists from Mosul attended Mass in the Assyrian Christian town of Bakhdida to express solidarity and unity. When Bakhdida was liberated from ISIS militants in October 2016, there were fears that the town would never fully recover. Over two years of ISIS occupation had left it a virtual ghost town and at the time, many of the residents were still unsure of returning due to the continued presence of ISIS militants in Mosul and bitter memories of the past.
Such acts of cooperation and tolerance are not only limited to Nineveh Province. In Anbar Province, locals in the town of Habbaniyah called for the return of their Christian, Kurdish and Shia brothers who had suffered under the rule of ISIS.