Christians just Hanging On in Iraq

The sad reality in this Reuters story (caption for photo at top of the post: “A view of Rabban Hormizd Monastery is seen in Alqosh, Iraq February 18, 2021. Picture taken February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani”):

An ancient monastery in Iraq is a symbol of Christian survival

ALQOSH, Iraq (Reuters) – Nestled in a steep rocky hillside among the remote mountains of northern Iraq, the Rabban Hormizd Monastery has watched invaders come and go through Christianity’s tumultuous history in this corner of ancient Mesopotamia.

Mongols, Persians, Arabs, Kurds and Ottomans have sacked, surrounded or occupied the seventh century monastery and the Christian town of Alqosh, above which it perches, near the borders with Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But Christians there survived the latest onslaught, this time by Islamic State militants who took over one third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017, including the city of Mosul just 20 miles (32 km) to the south.

Mercifully for them, a string of villages just above Mosul was as far north as the group got, sparing Alqosh the brutality inflicted on minority faiths and sects. Some families fled those villages to the safety of the town.

“This will remain a Christian town, I believe. We have to stay in this land,” said Brother Saad Yohanna, an Iraqi monk working at a local orphanage.

“Far fewer people live here these days – maybe 1,000 families from 3,000 a few years ago, but it remains home for them.”

Of the 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003, only around a fifth remain, the others driven out by sectarian violence first by al Qaeda and then Islamic State [emphasis added].

The displaced who remain will get rare recognition this week, as Pope Francis visits the country from March 5-8. The closest he will get to Alqosh is a cluster of demolished churches in Mosul, once Islamic State’s de facto capital…

Control of Alqosh itself, after centuries of change, remains unresolved. It lies along disputed territory between the Baghdad central government and the self-run Kurdistan region.

It is in Baghdad’s Nineveh province, but controlled by Kurdish forces who helped drive Islamic State away [emphasis added]

The country’s oldest monastery of St Elijah, near Mosul, was damaged during the 2003 conflict before Islamic State destroyed it just over a decade later.

Rabban Hormizd Monastery, named after its founder, was built when Muslim armies were conquering the Middle East, and fortified over time. Dotted around its high brick walls are caves where monks once cloistered and prayed.

It became an important centre of the Eastern Catholic clergy from the 16th to 19th century, although monks gradually moved out to more accessible digs, including a second monastery in the town.

It is open now to visitors, worshippers and local monks, but not inhabited [emphasis added]

Earlier posts:

1) The Exodus of Christians in the Middle East, Cont’d [2014]

Further to this post,

The Exodus of Christians in the Middle East and Their Murder Elsewhere

I would wager–given the state of Canadian education–that the great majority of people here are unaware that Anatolia (Turkey today), the Levant, and North Africa were, as a result of the Roman Empire, heavily Christian when the Arab Muslim invasions of the seventh century A.D. defeated the Byzantines…

2) “Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?” Part 2 [2015]

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

3 thoughts on “Christians just Hanging On in Iraq”

  1. Whilst in Canada:

    Mark Collins


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