Earlier this month, ISIS gave Mosul’s Christians few options: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, leave - or face death.
By
Sophie Cousins

28 Jul 2014 - 12:37 PM  UPDATED 28 Jul 2014 - 5:11 PM

In a small room with three single beds, a disabled Iraqi Christian woman laid uncomfortably, her wheelchair beside her.

The blistering sun shone in as the woman’s sister, Ikram Hama described the evening the family of six was forced to flee Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, after it was captured by Islamic State (IS) militants in June.

Earlier this month IS gave Mosul’s Christians few options: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, leave, or face death. But the day before the final exodus, Christians were informed that paying the tax was no longer an option.

“It was illegal for us to leave the house, so we knew it wasn’t going to end well. Luckily a Christian soldier helped us and we escaped late at night with just the clothes on our back,” Ms Hama said.

“IS (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) found our home and marked it with “N”, meaning that we are Christian and our house is their property.

“Sick people, disabled people, poor people were all forced to leave. They (IS) killed my cousin after they looked at his id. We have no money and my sister has a disability. We are in a bad situation. For us, Iraq is over.”

Thousands of Christians fled east and north to the nearby semiautonomous region of Kurdistan, controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, with nothing but the clothes on their back.

The Hama family fled, along with 250 others, to the picturesque Mar Mattai Monastery, situated at the top of Mount Alfaf, 20km from Mosul.

Those who SBS spoke with at the monastery said they believed it was no longer possible for Christians to live in Iraq.

“They (IS) changed our church into a mosque, ruined historic museums, and destroyed a monastery and manuscripts that were 1000 years old. Iraq is gone. Iraq is finished. We’re finished. It’s impossible for us to go back,” Raad Ghanem, with a greying beard, said in a crowded room filled with men and women drinking tea.

“When we left in the middle of the night, we were stripped of everything. Money, wallets, jewelry, ID, passports, watches. Everything. At the Daesh checkpoint on the way out of the city, my wife was even stripped of her earrings. They (IS) took everything of value we had.”

This is not the first time Christians from the ancient city have had to flee their homes. It is estimated that a decade ago there were about 60,000 Christians in the city, but after waves of attacks on the minority group, the population was reduced to half as of June this year. Christians mainly from the Chaldean and Assyrian denominations had lived in Mosul for about 2000 years.

Earlier this month IS gave Mosul’s Christians few options: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, leave, or face death. But the day before the final exodus, Christians were informed that paying the tax was no longer an option.

Nurse Nadia Nafik Ishaq said it was the second time she had to flee her home. The last time was in 2010 when her husband and brother were killed.

“We all fled to Kurdistan. It’s the only place we can go. We would like to go abroad but where are we supposed to go?

“Our house and all our things were taken. We are not safe in Iraq. It is not possible for Christians to live in Iraq anymore. It’s over,” she said.

“What is the solution?”

While the expulsion of Christian’s from Mosul has received international condemnation, with no identification, or money, the future of Iraq’s Christians remains unknown.

Sophie Cousins is a freelance foreign correspondent.