Relaymedia

As ISIS Invades Iraq, Christians Cling to Hope, Refuse to Leave Homes

( [email protected] ) Jun 26, 2014 07:34 PM EDT
Iraqi Christians are facing a severe crisis as ISIS, a Sunni extremist group, seeks to kill all those in the country who fail to conform to Islam. However, many Christians are refusing to leave their homes, hoping to escape the persecution that has claimed the lives of innumerable Iraqis.
An Iraqi Christian woman prays at a Sunday service at St. Joseph Chaldean Church. (BBC)

The crisis in Iraq worsens as hundreds of people have fled the country to escape ISIS, a Sunni extremist group allied with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The terrorist group has captured nearly a dozen Iraqi cities since mid-June, killing Iraqi soldiers and all who do not conform to their kind of faith-particularly Christians.

However, despite the persecution, many Christians are holding desperately to hope that they will be able to stay in their country and avoid the terrorist's grip.

Mounir and Sabiha Behram live Mosul, the country's second largest city, and daily fear that insurgents will invade their city. Yet, they refuse to be among the numerous displaced Iraqis around the world resulting from growing tensions between Iraqi militants and insurgents.

 "We will defend our churches," Sabiha told the Huffington Post. "Our youth will protect us."

"Where would we even go?" adds Mounir.

An estimated half a million people, including hundreds of Christian families, are fleeing the area with many attempting to find refuge in the nearby Kurdish provinces of Northern Iraq. At least one Assyrian church in Mosul has been burned down in the recent violence.

The Behhrams are hopeful that ISIS will show greater mercy to Iraqi Christians and other minority groups than they have in Syria.

ISIS is opposed to Syria's president Bashar Assad as well as Iraq's Maliki, and controls territory in northern Syria in addition to the land it has recently captured in Iraq, which includes border crossings between the two nations.

"Even if they come, it's very difficult to leave," says one religious leader in the Christian community who preferred to remain anonymous for reasons of safety.

"Where would I go" If I leave, I'll be living in a refugee tent."

"Of course we're worried. But Kurdish forces are here," he adds, referring to soldiers known as Peshmerga who are stationed in the town.

"They will protect us."

However, since ISIS invaded, churches have stopped holding religious programs for safety reasons. And, according to Juliana Taimoorazy, founder and president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, conditions in the country are unlivable.

"Water and electricity have been cut, there is a shortage of cooking gas, clean water is running out and there is a fear of an outbreak of illness where the refugees have fled," she stated.

"This is a complete disaster for the wellbeing of our nation," she added.