Five years on from the conquering of Christian communities in Iraq by the so-called Islamic State, Christians in the country remain at the “point of extinction,” Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said.
“The ISIS attack led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians from historical homelands and rendered us, in a single night, without shelter and refuge, without work or properties, without churches and monasteries, without the ability to participate in any of the normal things of life that give dignity; family visits, celebration of weddings and births, the sharing of sorrows,” Warda told papal charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“This was an exceptional situation, but it’s not an isolated one. It was part of the recurring cycle of violence in the Middle East over more than 1,400 years,” he said.
ISIS captured the Christian communities of the Nineveh plains on August 6, 2014. Christians were not able to return to the area until the fall of 2016, when Iraqi forces and their allies recaptured the area. To date, about 40,000 Christians have returned; many have emigrated.
Christianity has been present in the Nineveh plain in Iraq – between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan – since the first century. However, since the ousting of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Christians have been fleeing the region.
In Warda’s eyes, the imposition of sharia led to the decline of that Golden Age: “A style of scholastic dialogue had developed, and this could only occur, because a succession of caliphs tolerated minorities. As toleration ended, so did the culture and wealth which flowed from it.”
Warda said Muslim leaders throughout the centuries have decided “according to their own judgement and whim” whether non-Muslims will be tolerated, and if so, to what degree.
“Argue as you will, but extinction is coming, and then what will anyone say?” he continued.