The Islamic State’s three-year occupation of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and its surrounding villages ended nearly two years ago. Yet the city and its diminished number of Christian residents remain vulnerable.
Last month the Iraqi government announced it would arm residents of 50 villages around Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, so they could protect themselves against pockets of IS fighters that continue to be active in the country.
They appear to have adopted a ‘hit-and-run’ approach, attacking local targets like a market in Kirkuk, 184km south-east of Mosul, with the aim to undermine the government in Baghdad. IS has also claimed responsibility for some of the fires that in recent weeks torched hundreds of acres of land in northern Iraq, destroying crops on land that the attackers say is “owned by infidels”.
Sectarian tensions that predate the IS occupation have also raised their heads again. Iranian-backed militias, known as Popular Mobilisation Forces, patrol the streets and sometimes control whole towns.
The lack of security and stability makes Christians hesitate to return to their homes and communities.
Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the number of Christians in Iraq — between 1.4 million and 2 million — has decreased. Estimates of the Christians left in Iraq range from 200,000 to 250,000.
“Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest churches, if not the oldest church in the world, is perilously close to extinction,” the Rt Rev Bashar Warda told Christian leaders during a visit to the United Kingdom last month. After 1,400 years of persecution, Iraq’s Christians may have come to the end of the road, he said.
Christians who decide to return face many challenges. Houses and infrastructure have been destroyed and there is the constant fear of possible attacks from the IS cells or sectarian militias.
Sources: World Watch Monitor, National Catholic Register
- Ask the Lord to strengthen the local Christian community. Pray they will band together in love for one another. Ask Him to take away their fear and provide for them abundantly.
- Ask God to provide His protection to all who have returned. Pray those in authority will take every opportunity to safeguard against violence.
- Pray for the remining IS militants. Ask the Lord to bring about a change in them, to remove hatred and evil from their hearts and give them a new Spirit.
Post your prayer for Mosul in the comments below.
Hope awakens in northern Iraq as another church is built with the support of the government. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) supervised the construction of the first Armenian Orthodox Church in Erbil through their department of religious affairs.
According to a local news source, a spokesman from the KRG was quoted as saying, “The opening of this church itself is laying another foundation stone for a peaceful coexistence of ethnic and religious groups in the Kurdistan region.”
The Kurdistan region of northern Iraq was a hotbed of ISIS activity and violence in recent years. Church buildings were burned, women and children were kidnapped, and many were murdered because of their faith.
Christians are beginning to return to their homes in northern Iraq now that ISIS has been driven out. The construction of this church gives hope to many Christians returning home that a new day is dawning for Christians in Iraq.
Sources: International Christian Concern, Kurdistan 24
- Praise God for this new development. Ask that the church may be a light to the community as its members reach out to those in need and to those who are seeking.
- Pray for those who are returning home after years of displacement. Pray that families will be reunited, homes and communities will be re-built and people will be provided with stability.
- Pray for the authorities as they help to support the establishment of communities, ask the Lord to grant them wisdom and much needed provision.
Post your prayer for Kurdistan in the comments below.
Turks are expected to be Muslim – a conviction that’s fostered by the government in a ploy to consolidate power. Most are proudly Muslim and hold the faith as a core part of their nationalist identity, even if they aren’t devout.
There are approximately 7,000 Turkish national evangelical Christians, most of whom are converts from Islam. Believers are heavily persecuted by their families, neighbours and employers.
In addition to this, it is estimated that around 30,000 Christian refugees are registered with the UNHCR office in Ankara, Turkey. Most have fled violence, unrest and persecution in the Middle East. Registration allows the refugees to receive a very basic level of medical treatment free in government-run hospitals; however for serious cases, refugees need to turn to private hospitals which costs more than they can afford.
Refugees have no rights related to work and most find jobs that pay a third of the going rate. Employers often take advantage of Christian refugees in particular, including non-payment for work done. With the recent decline in the value of the Turkish lira, it has become increasingly difficult for refugees to find work. Christian refugees are struggling, they are concerned about their future and are wondering what they should do.
Mahrous is an Assyrian Christian from Iraq. When he was 19 years old – during the Iran-Iraq war, he was imprisoned in Iran for 12 years. He says, “Sunni prisoners were treated badly, but Christians were treated even worse. They told me I was unclean and tried to force me to convert to Shia Islam. During the week, it was very hot, they took me outside and tortured me. They told me, ‘if you want to be free you have to change your religion.’ Even if I die for it, I will never change my religion. I praise God for my faith. It’s hard to believe I was freed. There was no explanation, but one day I was taken to the Iraqi border and dumped there.
“Eventually I found work in a shop, but life was hard. I was told, ‘You are Christian, and this is a Muslim country. You shouldn’t live in this country.’ My Christian brother was captured and held hostage and we had to sell our home to buy his freedom. When ISIS came to Mosul, which is a Christian area, we were forced to leave and come to Turkey.
“It’s hard to find work as a refugee and wages are very low, thank God we just make ends meet.”
Many believers, particularly Christian leaders, came to Turkey because they were persecuted for their Christian faith in Iran. Some have been in Turkey for more than seven years and were accepted into the US resettlement program. However, in 2017 the US administration stopped all those in process.
Voice of the Martyrs is working with our partner in Turkey to provide resources and God’s word to Christians who have sought refuge in Turkey.
If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: vom.com.au/donate
For many Christian families in Qaraqosh, this Easter is particularly special, as they will be celebrating it at home for the first time since fleeing the city in 2014.
The city, located in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, was occupied by the Islamic State group for over three years before its liberation in October 2017.
Since then, around 5,000 families have returned to the city that used to be a home to 50,000 Christians. They are now rebuilding their lives amidst the ruins and rubble that IS left behind.
On Sunday, the Palm Sunday celebrations saw thousands of Christians take to the streets of the ancient city, where they marched, waving palm and olive branches, and chanted Christian songs. The march culminated in an open-air religious service on the square of St John’s Church.
Andraws, a 25-year-old English teacher at a recently re-opened school, said that he and his family had almost lost hope of ever returning to their home town.
Meanwhile, Anis Behnam, a 58-year-old university lecturer who returned to Qaraqosh last year, said he is determined to stay in his town, whatever the circumstances.
Source: World Watch Monitor
- Thank the Lord, He is now being worshiped in Qaraqosh.
- Thank Him for the return of these families; pray for His protection and provision.
- Ask the Lord to grow His church in this city and beyond, all over Iraq.
An Assyrian Christian family of three were murdered in their home in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on Thursday 8 March.
Dr Hisham Shafiq al-Maskuni, 61, a radiologist, his wife Dr Shaza Malik Dinno, gynaecologist and her elderly mother, Khairiyah Dawood Abada, were stabbed by four men who then stole money and some items from the house.
The bodies were found by the neighbours the next morning, after they noticed through the open door the doctor’s body in the corridor, covered with blood. The police later found his wife’s body in the kitchen and her mother’s on the second floor.
A spokesperson for Iraq’s Interior Ministry announced on 10 March, that they had caught the suspects.
Although their motivation remains unknown, a local source told World Watch Monitor the incident has increased fears among Iraqi Christians. Just some weeks before this incident, a young Christian man, Samer Salah Addin, was shot dead in front of his house in Baghdad.
The doctor’s family had fled Iraq previously but then returned about five years ago. They were planning to leave Iraq again in the coming days.
The number of Christians in Iraq has been dramatically decreasing in recent years because of many violent incidents against them, particularly at the hands of ISIS. It has resulted in the closure of many churches because of dwindling congregations.
Source: World Watch Monitor
- Ask the Lord to bring comfort to loved ones, colleagues and patients, as they come to terms with their loss in the midst of shock and grief.
- Pray the Lord’s protection may be on the Christian community. May He shield them from violence and oppression.
- Pray these deaths may not be in vain but may be somehow used by the Lord as a witness for the love and light of the Gospel.