IRAQ

ISIS confiscate belongings as Christians flee Mosul

In less than 48 hours, Christians left the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, after an ultimatum from the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). They fled precipitously, with almost nothing because most of their belongings were confiscated by the jihadists.

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A house in Mosul tagged with the Arabic letter "Nun" for "Nassara" (Christians in Arabic) and another with "property of the Islamic State". 

In less than 48 hours, Christians left the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, after an ultimatum from the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). They fled precipitously, with almost nothing because most of their belongings were confiscated by the jihadists.

They were given four options: leave, convert to Islam, pay a tax, or die. Mosul’s several thousand Christians decided to leave. This decision was reinforced by their religious leaders’ choice not to engage in talks with ISIS.

ISIS has taken control of Mosul, which is Iraq’s second largest city, on June 10. At that time, several thousand residents, including Christians, had fled to neighbouring Kurdistan. However, they soon returned, after Christians who had remained in the city told reassured them that ISIS was treating them well.

However, following the ultimatum, they took off again to Kurdistan and to the north of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.

More houses with the same inscriptions. 

"They had nothing but the clothes on their backs"

Fourat (not his real name) runs the website of a church in Al-Qosh, a city 45 kilometres north of Mosul. About 95 Christian families who fled Mosul have taken refuge there.

On Wednesday, friends in Mosul sent me these photos on which you can see houses tagged with the Arabic letter ‘Nun’, meaning ‘Nassara’ [from 'Nazerenes', a word that stands for Christians] as well as a sentence saying that the property belongs to “the Islamic State” [which is what ISIS has recently started calling itself]. They told me that ISIS fighters had tagged all houses belonging to Christians before telling them either to pay the “jezya” [a tax imposed on non-Muslims back in the days of the Islamic caliphate; in exchange, they were protected by the authorities and didn’t have to do military service]. They also asked Christian leaders to meet them on Thursday, at 10am, to discuss the future of their community in Mosul.

However, the Christian leaders boycotted this meeting. We still don’t know if they did this on principle, or if they were afraid of being taken hostage. After that, ISIS didn’t give Christian residents much choice: they either had to pay up or leave the city before Saturday – if not, they would be killed. Quickly, Christians started gathering their belongings in order to flee.

On Friday morning, ISIS set up checkpoints on the roads leading out of Mosul. Residents had to show their identity cards, because their faith is written on there. If the person was Christian, their car was searched. They took away their money and said that it too was the “property of the Islamic State”. They also took jewelry – even wedding rings! – and other valuable items. Some had to leave by foot because they owned relatively new cars that ISIS wanted to keep. When they arrived here, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs.

It’s true that many Christians returned after having left Mosul a first time. During the first exodus, some of the richer people stayed put, because they were afraid of losing their belongings. They saw that, at the time, there was no “jezya” and that ISIS was even protecting their churches. However, the jihadists did not keep their word. Today, not only are they asking for taxes, but they’re also occupying monasteries. So, people are scared. They would rather follow their religious leaders and leave. They believe that even if they paid the tax, there would be no guarantee that they would be protected.

This is not the first time ISIS has tried to impose its rules on Christian communities in the Middle East. In Ar-Raqqah, in northern Syria, Christians were allowed to stay but had to obey a number of rules, including paying taxes, hiding crosses and Bibles from places where Muslims could see them, and stop broadcasting prayers.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira (@SarraGrira).