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Tens of thousands of Christians flee from largest town in Northern Iraq

By Susan Gately - 08 August, 2014

Iraqi Christians flee

Iraqi Christians flee

A church leader in Iraq has appealed to the United Nations to intervene, as the largest Christian town in Northern Iraq was occupied yesterday by Islamic State militants.

“It’s a catastrophe, a tragic situation. We call on the UN Security Council to immediately intervene. Tens of thousands of terrified people are being displaced as we speak, it cannot be described,” said Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah Joseph Thomas.

Qaraqosh is an entirely Christian town, of about 50,000 inhabitants, which lies between Mosul, the jihadists’ main hub in Iraq, and Arbil, the Kurdish region’s capital.

“I now know that the towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants,” Archbishop Joseph Thomas told AFP.

For months the Islamic State formerly known as ISIS has rampaged across northern Iraq’s large, multi-cultural Nineveh province, intensifying religious cleansing and consolidating its power.

In Sinjar, a “humanitarian tragedy is unfolding,” according to a United Nations envoy, as some 200,000 people, including many Yazidis, have fled to the mountains, where the humanitarian situation is “dire.”

The Yazidi religion is an ancient, pre-Christian monotheistic faith that reveres angels, is linked to Zoroastrianism, and is viewed by the Islamic State as an intolerable affront to Islam.

“Like the Christians, Yazidis have been subjected to horrific persecution by extremists in recent years, including a recent incident related to me by the Yazidi Human Rights Organization, in which Isis plucked out the eyes of 13 Yazidi men who refused to convert to Islam and then, when they still refused, doused them with gasoline and burned them alive,” writes Nina Shea of the Christian Post.

Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako of Baghdad.

Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako of Baghdad.

Yesterday, the Patriarch of the region, Louis Sako said that Islamic State jihadists have forced thousands of Christians to flee and occupied churches, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts.

“(The Christians) have fled with nothing but their clothes, some of them on foot, to reach the Kurdistan region,” the Patriarch told APF, adding that up to 1,500 manuscripts were burnt.

“This is a humanitarian disaster. The churches are occupied, their crosses were taken down,” he said.

Tal Kayf, the home of a significant Christian community as well as members of the Shabak Shia minority, also emptied on Wednesday night. “Tal Kayf is now in the hands of the Islamic State. They faced no resistance and rolled in just after midnight,” said a resident who fled the town and was reached by phone in Arbil.

Meanwhile an on line signature campaign supporting the Christians of Iraq has collected over 230,000 signatures in two weeks. The petition appeals to the United Nations and the Arab League to “immediately intervene to end the atrocities being committed by ISIS.”

“We must not be silent while another genocide occurs.   Please use your voice to help end the systematic eradication of the Iraqi Christian population,” says the appeal.

Members of the public may sign it at: www. citizengo.org. The campaign is sponsored by Aleteia, a worldwide Catholic network sharing faith resources “for those seeking Truth” Aleteia is a project of the Foundation for Evangelization through the Media (fem-roma.org).

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