On June 10, former Collegeville Institute resident scholar Fr. Najeeb Michael sent an alarming email to the Collegeville Institute and other organizations from his home in Qaraqosh, 15 miles to the east of Mosul, in Iraq. Qaraqosh is a Christian village.
“Bad news. I’m writing you in a critical and apocalyptic situation of violence in Mosul. The majority of the inhabitants of the city have already abandoned their homes and fled to the villages, to sleep under the stars with nothing to eat or drink. Several thousand armed [Islamists] have been attacking the city of Mosul for two days. … Qaraqosh is overwhelmed by refugees of all kinds, without food or housing. … What we have experienced and seen these two days is horrible and catastrophic. The monastery of Mar Behnam and other churches have fallen into the hands of the rebels, and here they are, they reached Qaraqosh five minutes ago and all of us are threatened. Pray for us. Devastated, I can’t go on.”
We at the Collegeville Institute, and others, have prayed for Fr. Najeeb, and waited with concern for further news. We recently received from him the following appeal and photographs.
Fr. Najeeb is a Dominican priest and friar, and was a Resident Scholar at the Collegeville Institute in 2013.
A Letter from Fr. Najeeb Michael
Erbil, August 10, 2014
We must save the minorities of Iraq.
The minorities of Iraq, native and with origins in ancient Mesopotamia going back millenia, are today humiliated, trampled upon, massacred, and threatened in their very existence by the cruelty of fanatics and fundamentalists of the Islamic State who have as their sole principle the sword and the black flag which bears the Shahada (Islamic profession of faith).
These minorities, particularly the Christians, the Yazidis and the Mandeans (followers of St John the Baptist), are religions of peace that have neither militias nor protection. They use no weapons, have never provoked war in their land and have no support from outside of Iraq.
They are today at their last breath, stricken to the heart, massacred in their own land at Sinjar, Mosul and in the Nineveh plain. Their possessions are stolen, their houses confiscated, the men massacred, the women and children dishonored and auctioned off in the five-star hotels of Mosul. It is a veritable 21st century tragedy. Today, immediately, the civilized world and the countries that proclaim in their mottos liberty and equality, must act without equivocation, clearly, to denounce this barbarism and to help us eradicate it.
A new page of the history of persecution is opening in Iraq these last weeks. Christians, unlike the other faiths unrecognized in the Qur’an, are forced to choose between conversion to Islam, paying the dhimma (tax), or emigration. The letter “N” has become the distinctive mark of Christians, the “Nazareans.” In Mosul this letter was written on the houses and property of Christians now taken by the Islamic State. After the ultimatum of the Jihadists given to Christians on July 18, they were forced to leave the city, ancient Nineveh, within 24 hours. At the checkpoints as they departed they found another trap: the men of Da’ash (=ISIS) robbed them. They took their gold and silver, their life savings, with brutality and mockery. Cars were taken, identity papers, passports, and deeds were torn up and destroyed before their eyes without pity. Indeed, in the eyes of the jihadists, allowing the Christians to depart alive and humiliated, with nothing more to their name than the clothes on their backs, was actually doing them a favor.
The worst was yet to come. Wednesday, August 6, will endure as a unique and bloody day for the Christians of the Nineveh plain. There are in this region 11 Christian villages, some of which date back to the era of the Assyrian Empire, such as Karamless, Telleskof and Qaraqosh. Others, such as Alqosh and Tell-Kef, date back to the dawn of Christianity in Mesopotamia. These villages were the principal places for the Jewish diaspora, exiled and brought to Nineveh by the Assyrians in 721 BC.
This August 6, day of the Christian Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, but also the memorial of the first atom bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War, on that day, the city of Qaraqosh, with 45,000 inhabitants, was the target of a series of fatal bombings in its residential areas. Death took its first three victims on the morning of that disastrous day: a young woman of 37 years and two children, five and nine years old. That event provoked panic among the inhabitants of the whole region. The blood of the first innocent people who were killed prompted the mass departure of the inhabitants, and meant that other lives were saved. Hundreds of trucks, cars, and tractors began to transport more than 30,000 people toward Iraqi Kurdistan, where respect, welcome, and peace are guaranteed for the population whatever their religion or ethnicity.
At 3:30 AM on August 7, the Kurdish military forces that until then had protected the plain of Nineveh effectively were brutally pushed back, leaving this area behind them like easy prey for the vampirish teeth of the “black ghosts” of Da’ash. Just an hour after the Kurdish retreat, before dawn had even begun to brighten, the region was already empty, the inhabitants having fled their homes, abandoning their possessions behind them, walking on a land moistened by their sweat and by their tears. What an awful picture, what utter sadness it was to see what I saw that day: thousands of vehicles lined up one after the other, packed with men and women, children and frightened old people, blocked at the closed checkpoint of Kalak. They all had to abandon their cars to cross this last barrier to take the road of exile, on foot, to Iraqi Kurdistan.
These past two weeks more than 130,000 Christians have fled the Nineveh plain, leaving behind them the fruits of their labor and all of their goods. Today they have found refuge in the three governates of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. They have joined 100,000 other Christians already arrived in that area willy-nilly, welcomed with respect in this region now shaken by the jihadist offensive.
I launch an appeal to the international community: is it not time to act to save and protect this mosaic of minorities that is today at risk of being eradicated? If they disappear, it is the history of the world that will vanish. Push back these jihadists who have taken our land, and let us return to our homes, and live in security! And if not that, then help those who wish to leave for another country where they can live with dignity.
Today it is essential to save these men and women who suffer but still believe that that they will someday be able to recover somewhere a worthy life.
Najeeb Michaeel, O.P.
Dominican of the Priory of Qaraqosh
Archivist and Director-Founder of the Digital Center for Eastern Manuscripts in Iraq (CNMO)
This letter was translated from its original French.
All images courtesy of Fr. Najeeb Michael
Ways You can Help
We’ve complied a list of relief agencies that are working specifically to help refugees in Northern Iraq:
- Mennonite Central Committee is assisting with housing, and providing locally purchased food and personal hygiene items to families displaced by conflict in Iraq—Go to the Mennonite Central Committee donation page »
- Catholic Relief Services has an emergency relief fund for the overall humanitarian crisis in the Middle East—Go to the Catholic Relief Services donation page »
- The NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq lists member organizations, many of whom are working on behalf of these refugees—Go to the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq members page »