Relaymedia

Iraqi Christians Forced to Flee Mosul mid ISIS' Threats to Convert or Die

( [email protected] ) Jul 30, 2014 04:09 PM EDT

Iraqi Christians
Iraqi Christians who fled the violence in the northern city of Mosul pray at a church in the village of Qaraqosh on July 19. (AP)

A mere several years ago, over 60,000 Christians resided in the Iraqi city of Mosul, freely practicing their religion among their Muslim neighbors.

Today, churches in Mosul are eerily silent, as thousands of believers have fled the city after Muslim extremists group ISIS ordered all Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face execution. They later revoked the tax as an option.

"It is no longer possible for Christians to live in Iraq," said the wife of Raad Ghanem, one of 250 Christians who fled to Mar Mattai Monastery which sits atop a mountain 12 miles outside Mosul, according to the Associated Press.

Ghanem's wife, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, said that after going to work one day at the hospital where she had worked for 30 years, she was told to never come back.

 "They told me I couldn't work there because I am Christian," she said. "I told them that I am from Mosul, that this is my home."

While an estimated 2 million Christians called Iraq home in the 1990s, church leaders say that figure plunged to around 200,000 by last year. The sudden rise of ISIS has sent many other Christians fleeing in terror.

Last week, to assert their hatred of Christians, ISIS blew up a tomb believed to be the burial place of the biblical prophet Jonah, who survived in a whale's belly.

Other refugees recounted their horrifying experiences as well.

"The houses of Christians were specially marked with the Arabic letter "N," meaning Christian," said Nadia Nafik Ishaq, a woman with a broken leg who is also residing at the monastery.

"It was written that they were the property of the Islamic State. After that, all the properties were robbed. All our things were taken. What is the solution? How long will we have to be here?" Ishaq said.

"When we left in the middle of the night, we were stripped of everything. Money, wallets, jewelry, ID, passports, watches, everything," Raad Ghanem said. "At the Daesh checkpoint on the way out of the city, my wife was even stripped of her earrings. They took everything of value we had."

"They changed our church into a mosque, ruined historic museums and destroyed a monastery and manuscripts that were 1,000 years old. Iraq is gone. Iraq is finished. We're finished. It's impossible for us to go back," he said.

In a brutal manner, ISIS also forced those with disabilities to flee the country.

"It was illegal for us to leave the house, so we knew it wasn't going to end well," said Ikram Hama, who uses a wheelchair."Luckily a Christian soldier helped us, and we escaped late at night with just the clothes on our back."

"Sick people, disabled people, poor people were all forced to leave. They killed my cousin after they looked at his ID," she continued. "We have no money and my sister has a disability. There is no doctor here and no hospitals close by. We are in a bad situation. For us, Iraq is over."

Flora Adwa, a young mother of three, said the terrorist group took her to a mosque and tried to convert her to Islam. Because she refused, ISIS ordered her to leave the country under penalty of death.

"We gave them all our money, but then they took our car and our house," she explained. "They told us that with the money we gave them we could go anywhere but Mosul. We cannot return. We are finished. What is our future?"