ISIL seizes largest Christian town in Iraq as thousands flee violence

ISIL seizes largest Christian town in Iraq as thousands flee violence

ISIL seizes largest Christian town in Iraq as thousands flee violence

Iraqi Christians who fled the violence in the village of Qaraqush, about 30 kilometres east of the northern province of Nineveh, rest upon their arrival at the Saint-Joseph church in the Kurdish city of Arbil, Aug. 7. AFP Photo / Safin Hamed

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have taken control of several Christian towns, including Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in northern Iraq, prompting an exodus from the area.

“Early this morning [Aug. 7] at 3 a.m., ISIL captured Qaraqosh. Half an hour later, they captured Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in these towns and villages. They escaped to villages around Arbil and Dohuk,” the former lawmaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament and Secretary General of the Christian Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party, Romeo Hakari, told daily Hürriyet in a phone interview from Arbil on Aug. 7.  

An estimated 100,000 Christians have been forced to flee the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh into Kurdistan because of the militants’ advance, Hakari said.

“ISIL has also taken over Khazir, the main checkpoint between Arbil and Mosul, which is a 40-minute-drive to the center of Arbil. They are coming for Arbil. They are trying to capture the Christian town al-Kosh, the last point before Arbil. ISIL is destroying what we have been building for hundreds of years. There is a big plan to wipe the Christians off from the map, they are trying to ethnically cleanse them [from the region],” Hakari added.

World Council of Arameans President Johny Messo also said another unprecedented humanitarian disaster was now unfolding in Iraq. “Last night, two Aramean children and a mother were killed as a result of a shameless attack by ISIL terrorists against Baghdeda (Qaraqosh) in northern Iraq. At the same time, in the middle of the night, more than 40,000 Aramean families – comprising of at least 200,000 people – fearfully fled their ancestral homes, towns and villages in the Nineveh region,” Messo said.

The Nineveh plains have now been emptied of its native Christians, who belong to the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean and Assyrian (Nestorian) churches in the region, he added.

“How many more crimes against humanity does the world want to see before it finally speaks up? Where is the sense of responsibility from world leaders? We urgently call upon the international community, spearheaded by the United Nations, the European Union, Council of Europe, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference, to act immediately and without further delay,” Messo said.