The Sunni-led militant group ISIS has been mounting an offensive in Iraq for weeks, taking over parts of the north, including the city of Mosul.
The group’s threat to the Christians there — convert, leave or die — has forced most of them to leave. More than a thousand Christian families have done exactly that in the last week alone.
We’ll talk about the situation with a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and now works there as a teacher. He went to Mosul recently and wrote about what he saw for the Daily Beast.
Interview Highlights: Andrew Slater
On the reaction of Mosul’s Christian population
“They were kind of surprised that this happened so quickly. When ISIS initially entered the city, they received guarantees from a lot of the fighters who were locals — they were not foreigners, they were Iraqis from Mosul — that they would be protected as long as they did not make any actions against the new ISIS authorities. All that changed last week when the ultimatum was given to convert or leave. Initially they were told they could pay a tax called jizya. What was interesting to the Christians is that they never specified a price, and then the demand was taken away, and the demands were changed. They were told simply they have to convert, or leave, or die.”
On the displaced Christian population joining other refugees
“The Kurdish region is already saturated with refugees from the last decade, so the camps are already filled. Over the last 10 years, Arabs and Kurds from dangerous areas have come up to the Kurdish north. In the last three years, a quarter million Syrian refugees have come into the region, and in the last month and a half, all kinds of minorities and at-risk individuals have fled the advance of ISIS. So this last group of Christians coming to the Kurdish region have few places to go.”
On where Mosul’s Christians are seeking shelter
“The Christians that I met are living in almost completed houses that were offered by people intending to move into those houses. A lot of them are living in half-built buildings, just living off the generosity of some of their neighbors. But that can only go so far.”
On the loss of Mosul, a holy city to Iraqi Christians
“Some of these churches are the oldest churches in the world. So the loss of antiquities and relics is kind of substantial. For Eastern Christians, Christians of the Middle East, Mosul is one of the holiest cities for them. It’s kind of like their Rome, for the Christians of Iraq. So the loss of that city and those churches feels like… it feels like the end of Christianity for them. Many of them that I spoke with can’t imagine going back to the city after the way that they were forced out.”
More Conversations With Andrew Slater
- A View On Iraq From A Soldier Who Decided To Stay (June 2014)
- Two Veterans Remember Their Fallen Friends (May 2014)
- The View From An American Vet Teaching In Iraq (Dec. 2013)
- After Three Tours In Iraq, Soldier Decides To Stay (Mar. 2013)
- Andrew Slater, teaches English at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani. He served three tours of duty during the Iraq War and two more in Afghanistan.