Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan visits Washington to highlight plight of faithful in Iraq

Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan travelled to Washington to meet US government representatives to highlight the plight of Christians in Mosul.

He spoke out about the “mass cleansing” of Christians from the Iraqi city by what he called “a bed of criminals”.

“We wonder how could those criminals, this bed of criminals, cross the border from Syria into Mosul and occupy the whole city of Mosul … imposing on the population their Shariah (law) without any knowledge of the international community,” he said on Friday, referring to Islamic State fighters, formerly known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL.

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“What happened is really kind of a cleansing based on religion. You have heard about what they did: proclaim — they announced publicly with street microphones, the ISIS — there’s no more room for Christians in Mosul, that they either have to convert, pay tax, or just leave. And they have been leaving now since then with absolutely nothing,” he added.

“It is a shame that in the 21st century, you have such kind of behaviour,” the patriarch said. “It’s mass cleansing based on religion, not only for Christians, the Christian minority, but for other minorities,” among them the Yezidi, an ethnic group of 700,000 based in Iraq’s Mesopotamia region.

In Mosul itself, “there is no more Christian presence,” Patriarch Younan said. “It’s tragic because it’s the largest Christian city in Iraq; it was what you call the nucleus of Christian presence for many centuries. And we have at least 25 churches in that city. All are abandoned. No more prayers, no services, no more Masses on Sundays in Mosul because no clergy, no people there that are Christian.” The Islamic State, he said, “took advantage of the Christians who are defenseless in that country, and they have no other means to stay in that country. They have nowhere else to go. They have been taken out with force and injustice.

“Christians used to make at the time of Saddam (Hussein), especially before 1980, about 2.5 percent. That means almost 1.4 million. Now they account for less than 300,000. This is a kind of tragic dwindling of their number,” Patriarch Younan said. “It’s just because of Christian belief and that they are different from the majority.”

Mosul’s Christians have fled to neighbouring Kurd-controlled areas. “The Kurdistan government took care of them, trying to help them,” Patriarch Younan said. “Of course they are still in dire need of assistance for those refugees being forced to leave without any means.”

Among Patriarch Younan’s appointments in Washington was one with Rep Jeff Fortenberry, who is crafting a bill calling for internationally protected zones for threatened religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.

The patriarch said he has suggested a joint meeting of Eastern Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs to advocate for the region’s vulnerable populations, most of whom are adherents to their respective faiths.

“We have to take our responsibility very seriously together,” Patriarch Younan said. “We are on very good terms, the patriarchs. We are aware of the biggest challenges we are facing or our communities are facing, and we have to go throughout the world and bring the voice of our people to those who have a word to say on the international scene, whether the United Nations, United States, European Union, Russia, China, the Vatican” — and even top Sunni leaders in Egypt and Shiite leaders in Iran.

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