In Selected Opinion

By Ramsen Shamon – Newsweek (via AINA) –

My relatives fled Mosul to save their lives before ISIS invaded and seized power in the summer of 2014. The invasion of Iraq’s second largest city not only uprooted my relatives, Indigenous Assyrians, but it also led to the genocide of Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs (Christians), as well as Shiite Muslims, and Yazidis. Ten years have passed since radical Islamic militants invaded Mosul, known as biblical Nineveh, once a capital of the ancient Assyrian empire, destroying anything and killing anyone who did not submit to their deranged version of Islam. Have things improved for Iraq’s Indigenous Assyrians following ISIS’ defeat?

In 2014, I was a graduate journalism student in Chicago, alarmed at the news occurring half a world away—where my relatives, whom I never met at the time, were facing religious persecution head-on.

I recall telling my classmates that the invasion of Mosul would lead to widespread destruction in the region and the genocide of those who did not submit to their radical ways. I was met with laughs and shrugs—they couldn’t care less and did not believe ISIS would turn into what it infamously became—a nonstop killing machine, hungry to control more swaths of land at the expense of Indigenous Communities, whose art they destroyed and sold on the black market in their lucrative “antiquities division.” The response from my colleagues shouldn’t have surprised me then, as the plight of Indigenous Peoples is often overlooked, time and time again, the world over. As gruesome reports emerged, my classmates later conducted their own reporting on how Chicagoans were being impacted by events occurring in the Middle East.

Putting the destruction of millennia-old art aside, many suffered greatly at the hands of ISIS. And some families are still suffering. Women and girls remain missing. Taken as sexual slaves by ISIS militants, Yazidis and some Assyrians were forcibly abducted from their families and told to convert and submit. An estimated 2,700 girls are missing today. The world has overlooked their plight and the plight of those who survived the genocide at the hands of radical Islamic terrorists. With headlines refreshing every 24 hours, there is little to no attention offered to those that lived under ISIS’ wrath—attention that was minimal while events were occurring in real time.

Assyrians, much like their fellow citizens in Iraq, were not compensated for the destruction of their homes and places of worship by terrorists, nor for having to essentially start their lives over from scratch—whether within Iraq, or outside the country. While baseless Iraqi laws exist to “ensure” compensation from hardships and honoring the rights of diverse groups within the country, corruption and disenfranchisement reign supreme and are tokens of Iraqi politics. What justice can be granted to survivors when justice does not exist in Iraq?

Much of the reconstruction of destroyed buildings lays on the shoulders of Assyrians in the diaspora, who raise funds to rebuild churches, support local businesses, and try to safeguard what dwindling numbers of the Indigenous Community remains despite the odds stacked up against them. Organizations like the Assyrian Aid SocietyA Demand For ActionShlama FoundationIraqi Christian Relief CouncilNineveh Rising, and Yazda work tirelessly and step in to provide aid and fund essential economic and rebuilding projects in Iraq, where the Iraqi government is virtually nonexistent.

Pre-2003, the Christians in Iraq numbered 1.5 million. That number is now estimated to be between 100,000-200,000. The dismal figure highlights the exodus of Iraq’s Indigenous Peoples due to war and persecution throughout recent years, and a lack of support from both the international community at-large and Iraq’s federal government in addressing persecution and discrimination in Iraqi society. While Pope Francis’ 2021 trip to Iraq was met with much fanfare, ultimately very little changed for local Christians following the historic visit.

A NGO will occasionally chip in with the remodeling of a destroyed church. Recently, UNESCO helped rebuild a church in Mosul, 10 years after it was destroyed. That begs the question: What is the point of rebuilding and remodeling churches if there are no congregants to pray in God’s home? Much of Mosul today has nowhere near the Christians it once had, and it is difficult to project if they will ever return. My relatives have not returned to their home in Mosul and instead have sought refuge in a neighboring Iraqi city. Others who lived under ISIS have entirely left Iraq.

The reality of not fleeing from one’s home for safety is not the basis for one to live freely and with respect. Sure, fighting due to ISIS has relatively ceased and is not disrupting the lives of Assyrians in Iraq. But combat in general has not stopped. Turkey’s incremental encroachment in northern Iraq against Kurdish militants belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the U.S. classified as terrorists, is ongoing. Assyrians and their ancestral lands, especially in the Nahla Valley, are once again in crossfire and such a reality seems difficult to change with virtually no support from outside the community. The existence of Assyrians and Yazidis on their Indigenous lands remains precarious at best.


Ramsen Shamon is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek. His Twitter/X is @Ramsen_

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

Photo: Saint Odisho Monastery in northern Iraq is pictured. The monastery was previously bombed and destroyed by both Saddam Hussein and Kurdish forces. The Assyrian community in the diaspora raised funds multiple times for its reconstruction…  COURTESY OF RAMSEN SHAMON

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