ISIS fighters have announced that they will convert a historic church in Mosul into a mosque. And now, virtually no Christians remain in what was once Iraq’s hotbed of Christianity.
The church threatened with conversion is the Syrian Orthodox Church of St Ephraim, according to Fides, the Vatican’s news service. It was taken over by the militants a year ago and will be reopened as a “mosque of the mujahideen”. According to local Iraqi media reports, the church has been draped with Islamic State’s notorious black and white logo, with “There is no God but Allah” and “Prophet Mohammed” written on it.
The militants have also removed the cross from the church’s dome and emptied the building of all its furniture and Christian symbols.
Nuri Kino, founder and president of A Demand For Action, a group advocating the protection of ethno-religious minorities such as Assyrians and Yazidis in the Middle East, told Newsweek that the move was proof of Islamic State’s intentions regarding the Christian minority.
“A year ago they said ‘Convert, pay or die’ then it turned out to be a lie, that even if you pay you will not be able to stay,” he said.
“If they changed a church to a mosque it is further proof of their cleansing, something that many call a genocide. They destroy our artifacts, our churches and try to erase us in any way they can.”
Meanwhile, 18 months into ISIS gains in Iraq, many of the organizations charged with supplying aid continue to cry out for help, insisting that Iraq’s displaced citizens are falling through the cracks.
Altogether, in just 18 months, around 3 million people were displaced in Iraq. In total around 8 million Iraqis – a population the size of Switzerland – need “life-saving assistance”. That figure is set to rise to around 10 million by the end of the year.
Yet aid agencies say that their needs are being overlooked because of the continued focus on the fighting between Islamic State and the government forces trying desperately to halt their advance and bring back some sort of peaceful normality to the region.
While in the long term the Islamic State regime must fall, it is the here and now that troubles the aid agencies. Last week the United Nations launched a new appeal for funds after it revealed that resources were simply drying up. Its humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, said: “We know that in the next couple of months the humanitarian situation is only going to get worse. Right now our biggest problem is financing: we’re running out of money.”
On Thursday, the UN announced a fresh appeal for funds. It wants $497 million to provide “shelter, food, water and other lifesaving services over the coming six months”, it says, with Grande asking: “Can we please rebalance international engagement to include international assistance?”