The Islamic State (IS) news agency, Amaq News, on Friday (11 March) posted a video online entitled “The Diwan (office) for Education destroys books regarding Christian Education in Mosul”. The footage shows one of the group’s jihadists tossing books and documents with crosses on the front covers on to a bonfire in the city of Mosul, in northern Iraq.
Hundreds of Christian books were burned by the jihadists, most of them textbooks used to educate Christian primary school pupils about the Christian faith.
Mosul and the surrounding villages in the Nineveh Plain are now empty of their Christian populations after they fell to IS in the summer months of 2014. When the militants took control of the region, they gave the Christians an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay the traditional Islamic jizya subjugation tax, flee, or be killed. Hundreds of thousands of believers fled their homes, many of them with only the clothes on their backs.
Iraq’s Christian presence is now at serious risk, but last week the Iraqi President, Fouad Masum, publicly recognised the Christians in his country as “original members” of the nation. (Christians, as ethnic Assyrians, are indeed the indigenous people of Iraq, with the Arab Muslims being newer arrivals.) This significant statement was made in a meeting with Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II on President Masum’s first visit to Egypt.
Their long-established presence, he said, is “evidenced by the ancient monasteries scattered throughout the country”. Today, however, these ancient monasteries are under attack. St. Elijah’s Monastery of Mosul, a monastery that dates back to the sixth century, was reduced to rubble and dust soon after IS jihadists took control of the city in 2014. Satellite images released on 20 January this year showed the utter destruction of the buildings.
St. Matthew’s monastery, originally established in the year 363 and located at the very heart of Iraq’s Christian heartland, in the Nineveh plains, is just four miles (six km) from the frontlines of IS, but the monks looking after this ancient symbol of Christianity in the region are determined to stay.