Christians targeted as political tension builds in weeks leading to parliamentary polls.
ISTANBUL, March 5 (CDN) — Political tensions ahead of parliamentary elections in Iraq on Sunday (March 7) have left at least eight Chaldean Christians dead in the last three weeks and hundreds of families fleeing Mosul.
“The concern of Christians in Mosul is growing in the face of what is happening in the city,” said Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako. “The tension and struggle between political forces is creating an atmosphere of chaos and congestion. Christians are victims of political tension between political groups, but maybe also by fundamentalist sectarian cleansing.”
On Feb. 23 the killing of Eshoee Marokee, a Christian, and his two sons in their home in front of other family members sent shock waves across the Christian community. The murder took place amid a string of murders that triggered the mass exodus of families to the surrounding towns and provinces.
“It is not the first time Christians are attacked or killed,” said the archbishop of the Syrian Catholic Church in Mosul, Georges Casmoussa. “The new [element] in this question is to be killed in their own homes.”
The capital of Nineveh Province some 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Mosul has been known as the most dangerous city for Christians. At least 275 Assyrian Christians have been murdered by Islamic insurgents since 2003, according to a report prepared by the International Committee for The Rights of Indigenous Mesopotamians.
While in 2009 the organization listed 16 deaths, since January there have been at least 13 murders, eight of which took place the second half of February.
The movement of internally displaced persons to surrounding areas started in mid-February and tripled between Feb. 24 and Feb. 27 to about 683 families, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Although the rate of displacement into areas around Mosul has slowed, the report estimates that 720 families had fled the city as of March 1. This represents about 4,320 people.
Christian Students Affected
The murders have not only driven families away from the cities but have also kept students away from university. Three of the Christians killed in February were university students. As a result, around 2,000 Christian students are staying away from their classes until the tension in Mosul eases.
“We believe that the attack against these students was somehow related to the political situation in Mosul,” said General Secretary of the Chaldo-Assyrian Student and Youth Union Kaldo Oghanna. “This has affected our people in Mosul badly, and they have left the university.”
Oghanna said that the union has proposed that the Ministry of Education open a new university in a safer area of the Nineveh plains for the nearly 3,000 Christian undergraduate students and 250 graduate students studying in Mosul. He also said that they have appealed to the university’s administration to make necessary exceptions for the Christian students who have not attended classes in the last few weeks.
Although some local Christian leaders say they expect the tension to ease after Sunday, security may not improve as the Christian community is caught in political tensions between Arabs and Kurds vying for control of the province. Archbishop Casmoussa said regardless of who is behind the murders, the Christian community demands justice.
“We urge the Central and Regional Government to pursue the murders and their masters and judge them according to Iraqi laws, even if they are supported by religious or political parties,” Casmoussa said. “Enough is enough. Are we to pay the price of political struggles or ambitions?”
Sako said that in other cities security has improved, and that Christians are eager to cast their votes.
The election on March 7 will decide the 325 members of the Council of Representatives of Iraq, who will then elect the prime minister and president of Iraq. Of these seats, five are reserved for the nation’s Christian minority, estimated at around 600,000. Most of them live in the Nineveh plain.
At the beginning of the Iraq war, there were about 1.2 million Christians living in Iraq. Iraq’s population is roughly 30 million.
Report from Compass Direct News
Daughter’s ransom negotiations lead to release of Kirkuk pediatrician after 29 days of torture.
ISTANBUL, September 22 (CDN) — Islamic kidnappers in Kirkuk, Iraq last week dumped a Christian doctor in critical condition in front of a mosque after 29 days of torture and threats to him and his family.
Thanks to his 23-year-old daughter’s negotiations with the terrorists, 55-year-old Sameer Gorgees Youssif was freed but with wounds, hematomas and bruises covering his body; throughout his captivity, he lay bound and gagged.
He was abducted at around 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 18 as he was walking home from his pediatric clinic in a relatively “safe” district of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, sources told Compass.
The kidnappers, presumably insurgents, beat him and stuffed him in the trunk of a car amid an electrical blackout in the neighborhood. As they sped off, the abductors killed one of the doctor’s neighbors, identified only as Askar, with a single gunshot to his heart. He died immediately.
Sources said Askar, a Christian man in his fifties, heard the doctor yelling for help and, thinking it was one of his sons, ran to the car to stop it as it sped away.
Youssif, a father of two, is the fourth Christian doctor confirmed to be kidnapped in Kirkuk in the last two years; kidnapping of Christians in general and holding them for ransom is a regular occurrence in Iraq.
“This is a daily activity,” said an anonymous Iraqi Christian of the abductions taking place in Iraq. “They do it all the time. I don’t know what kind of government we have. They are not providing protection, and they are even afraid of insurgents.”
Hikmat Saeed, a Christian who was kidnapped in late August, was released on Sept. 11, and Salem Barjo, another Christian taken in August, was found dead on Sept. 3, according to Middle East Concern. Both men were abducted in Mosul.
The doctor’s family did not report the incident to the police, fearing negative repercussions in the event that officers were also involved in the crime.
The kidnappers called Youssif’s wife a few days later, demanded half a million dollars in ransom and threatened to kill him if they did not receive the money.
When asked where she would find such a huge amount, insurgents reportedly responded, “You are a woman; you can go and beg at the mosques or churches,” said an anonymous Christian Iraqi source from Erbil.
After twice speaking to the kidnappers, Youssif’s wife was said to begin experiencing numbness on her right side due to the stress. She was unable to resume negotiations, and her 23-year-old daughter started bargaining for her father’s life.
“I was the one talking to them and negotiating with them,” she said. “It’s all in God’s hands. He gave me the power to talk to them. I was begging them, saying, ‘Don’t do anything to him.’”
The doctor’s daughter, who requested her name be withheld, said that for two weeks the kidnappers insisted on $500,000, and then dropped the amount to $300,000.
“I said, ‘We don’t have that, have mercy on us,’” she said.
The terrorists found phone numbers of friends on the doctor’s mobile phone and called them, instructing them to tell his family that if they did not produce the money they would kill the doctor. In the end, the kidnappers lowered the amount to $100,000.
“They were threatening us all the time, and we were living in hell,” his daughter said. “We just stayed and prayed and fasted and closed the doors and locked them. We were afraid that maybe they would come here and kill all of us. God was our only hope.”
The family said they were able to collect the money through the generosity of friends; they are not sure how they will be able to pay it back.
The doctor, who was tortured and starved beyond recognition, was dumped in front of a Kirkuk mosque on Wednesday (Sept. 16) hours after his father-in-law delivered the ransom money in an undisclosed location in Mosul. Family friends told Compass there was a police car stationed near the insurgents at the time of the ransom payment. Insurgents arrived armed in two cars.
“There is corruption,” said an anonymous source located in Erbil. “It’s normal here, in Mosul or Baghdad it is normal. People are kidnapped by [people in] police cars.”
Relatives who went to collect Youssif rushed him to the hospital.
Sources said the doctor had been bound, gagged and blindfolded and lay on his right side for 29 days developing severe pressure ulcers on his right thigh and arm and a deep wound on his right shoulder. He had a deep wound in the back of his neck and a hematoma on his left arm.
There were open wounds around his mouth and wrists where he was tightly bound the entire time he was held hostage, sources said. His left eye was infected. His forehead and nose were bashed repeatedly, and the rest of his body, especially the upper trunk, was covered in bruises.
“When I saw him, I couldn’t stand it – he wasn’t the man I knew,” said his daughter. “He looked like an old man, he had a beard, and he was so thin he looked anorexic.”
Relatives said he was afraid to speak about his experience because the terrorists threatened to kill him and his family. When he could speak, he asked his family how many days he had been gone.
“He said he kept praying, saying, ‘I know God won’t leave me alone,’” said his daughter. “He kept saying Psalm 23. He loves that, it’s his favorite psalm.”
Youssif’s pastor told Compass that there is no protection for the Christian communities in Iraq, and in Kirkuk only Christian rather than Muslim doctors have been kidnapped.
“There is no Muslim doctor who has been kidnapped in Kirkuk,” he said. “This shows that so far only the Christian doctors are kidnapped, I think, because there is no one protecting them and we have no militia. It is very easy for the criminals to kidnap Christian doctors.”
The pastor identified the other Christian doctors kidnapped in the last two years as Sargon Yowash, also from his parish, Reath Ramo and a third he could only identify as Dr. George.
Youssif’s daughter said she is convinced her father was kidnapped because he is a Christian and a doctor.
“Christians have no protection, that’s why we’re persecuted here,” she said. “We are weak here, that’s why they take advantage of us.”
The doctor was still in the hospital at press time, but his condition was improving, according to his family.
Report from Compass Direct News
Clergy believe attacks were religiously motivated.
ISTANBUL, April 28 (Compass Direct News) – Gunmen in Iraq shot five Chaldean Catholic Christians in their Kirkuk homes on Sunday (April 26) in two separate attacks, killing three and injuring two.
Cousins Suzan Latif David and Muna Banna David were killed at 10 p.m. in a suburb of the northern Iraqi city. Within a few minutes, Yousif Shaba and his sons Thamir and Basil were also shot in the same area, leaving the 17-year-old Basil dead. Yousif Shaba and Thamir were in critical condition.
Police have not stated if the two attacks were related, but they confirmed the arrest of nine men linked with the assault, a source told Compass. One of them is from the former insurgent stronghold of Ramadi and has suspected links to Al Qaeda.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako said the attacks aimed to split the community. Yesterday he presided over the murder victims’ funeral, which the city police chief and provincial governor also attended.
“The main object of these crimes is to create chaos and promote strife and division among the people of Kirkuk,” Sako said, according to Reuters. “I call on Christians not to be jarred by these crimes and stay in Kirkuk. We are sons of this city.”
Kirkuk Province Gov. Abdul Rahman Mustafa echoed the archbishop’s comments, calling on Kirkuk’s citizens to stand united against the terrorists.
Violence has struck the nation’s Christian community particularly hard since the Iraq war began in 2003. Left mostly defenseless in sectarian violence, Christians have been targeted for kidnapping under the assumption that they can garner a large ransom.
Chaldean Christians have been hardest hit in the northern city of Mosul, where thousands of families have fled since an uptick in violence started last October. Some locals believe Kurdish groups are trying to intimidate them into leaving so they can incorporate the city into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
But Kirkuk has largely avoided the sectarian bloodshed of the region. For this reason clergy believe the five Christians were targeted purely for their religion.
“They were peaceful Christian families, not involved in any political affiliation or such activities,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana of Christian Aid Program Nohadra Iraq, a local humanitarian organization. “What were they involved in that they be targeted in such a brutal way?
He added that most locals believe the two attacks were coordinated in order to terrorize Christians, as they occurred only a few minutes apart from each other.
“It was not just an accident that the two attacks happened in the same city on the same day at the same time,” he said.
The oil-rich city of Kirkuk has been caught in a tug-of-war between its Arab and Kurdish residents. Arabs were resettled there during Saddam Hussein’s regime, and Kurds have been moving back to reclaim the homes from which they were forcibly expelled.
But other groups have criticized Kurds for their massive immigration, charging that it is a means to annex the city – and its oil wealth – into the Kurdish region. Kirkuk has a small population of native Christians, with many moving here in recent decades to work in the oil industry. The Christian population is approximately 7,000.
Local police and officials have blamed Al Qaeda for the murders. Fr. Youkhana said there has been no evidence of Al Qaeda involvement, but that “for sure” it was a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist attack. He said security forces are often quick to blame foreign-based Al Qaeda rather than call attention to a violent, homegrown organization.
An Eastern rite denomination in communion with Rome, the Chaldean Catholic Church is Iraq’s largest Christian community.
Report from Compass Direct News
As President Obama made a surprise visit to Iraq to meet with military and government leaders, Christians in the nation faced what many fear may be a new wave of anti-Christian violence, reports Charisma News Online.
Four Iraqi Christians were murdered within two days last week. On Wednesday, Shabah Aziz Suliman was reportedly killed in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, and the following day, Nimrud Khuder Moshi and two women, Gilawez Nissan Musa and Hanaa Ishaq Poulis, were murdered in Dora, a historically Christian neighborhood in Baghdad, according to The Middle East Times.
Musa and Poulis, who were buried last weekend, were stabbed more than 50 times in their home and were discovered by one of the women’s 9-year-old granddaughter, the Los Angeles Times reported. On a black funeral banner hanging near Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church in Dora, the women’s deaths were attributed to “a cowardly terrorist attack,” the newspaper said.
“The killing of four innocent people within the last two days has put a renewed fear in our hearts,” said Julian Taimoorazy, president of Iraqi Christian Relief Council, in an interview last week with International Christian Concern (ICC). “What is important is to keep these continuous atrocities in the media and on the policy makers’ radars. What we need is a more safe and secure Iraq for all of Iraqis, especially for the Christians who have faced ethno-religious cleansing.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
A Christian human rights organization has learned that four Iraqi Christians were recently killed in Baghdad and Kirkuk, reports Jeremy Reynalds, correspondent for ASSIST News Service.
A news release from Christian human rights organization International Christian Concern (ICC) reported that while the perpetrators are as yet unknown, Islamic fundamentalists, criminal gangs and other armed groups have been behind attacks against Christians in Iraq in the past.
ICC said that according to the Middle East Times, on April 1 Sabah Aziz Suliman was killed in Kirkuk. The following day Nimrud Khuder Moshi, Glawiz Nissan and Hanaa Issaq were killed in Dora, a historically Christian neighborhood of Baghdad.
“The killing of four innocent people within the last two days has put a renewed fear in our hearts. What is important is to keep these continuous atrocities in the media and on the policy makers’ radars. What we need is a more safe and secure Iraq for all Iraqi’s, especially for the Christians who have faced ethno-religious cleansing,” said Julian Taimoorazy, president of Iraqi Christian Relief Council, in an interview with ICC.
ICC said that Iraqi Christians have been paying a heavy price due to the instability in the country following its invasion in 2003.
ICC reported that in a recent press conference, Archbishop Louis Sako said, “A total of 750 Christians have been murdered in the past five years, including Archbishop of Mosul Paulos Faraj Rahho.” Sako is the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk.
ICC said that the persecution has also forced half of an estimated 1.2 million Iraqi Christians to leave their homes. Many Iraqi Christian refugees are living in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria under difficult circumstances.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa and the Middle East, Jonathan Racho, said in the new release, “The suffering of Iraqi Christians has been beyond description and is not yet over. More than ever, the Iraqi Christians need our prayer and support. The latest martyrdom of our brothers should serve to awaken churches in the Western countries to come to the aid of their Iraqi brothers and sisters. We call upon Iraqi officials and the allied forces in Iraq to avert further attacks against Iraqi Christians. It is simply unacceptable to watch the extinction of the Christian community from Iraq.”
ICC asked that Christians pray for the families of the martyred Christians and all persecuted Christians in Iraq.
ICC also asked that those interested go to www.house.gov to find the contact information for their elected officials, alert them about the latest assault against Christians in Iraq and ask them to protect Iraqi Christians.
ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide.
Report from the Christian Telegraph