Washington D.C., Nov 3, 2017 / 05:08 am
This Halloween marks the seventh anniversary of when my parents' church in Baghdad was held hostage by the Islamic State in Iraq, a little known group at the time.
After a few tense hours, the Iraqi army moved in to try and save the hostages held up in the Syriac Catholic Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral located in the heart of Baghdad. The standoff led to the death of 58 worshipers, including three priests, children, and a baby who was beheaded on the altar. 78 worshipers were severely wounded or maimed, losing legs, arms and requiring months of operations to remove shrapnel or heal other injuries. For many Iraqi Christians, this massacre answered the question that many had asked themselves throughout the almost 10 years of bloody sectarian civil war that engulfed Iraq: "Are we still welcome in this country anymore?" Sadly, many could no longer look at their children and promise them a good future while they remained in Iraq. In the ensuing few months, a mass exodus of Christians from Baghdad started which brought down the population of Christians from 20 percent to only several thousand.
My parents, having witnessed on TV the horror that befell Iraq with the onset of the civil war, lost hope for any future for Christians in Iraq, because while the Shia had Iran and the Sunnis had the Gulf and Turkey, nobody was willing to stick up for the Christians. They watched as their ancestral city of Mosul saw a growth in Salafi activity and mourned as Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks and Mandeans were ethnically cleansed from the city. With the onset of the war in Syria, more reports of Christians being killed, tortured and taken as slaves on account of their faith came to the forefront and painted a dark picture for the future of Christianity in the region.
Exploding out of the Syrian crisis, ISIS burst onto the stage in Iraq and put one-third of the country under its control. During their blitzkrieg in the northern part of the country, ISIS attempted to wipe out all followers of the ancient Yezidi faith historically concentrated in the Sinjar region of the Nineveh Province. However, they did not stop there, and moved to destroy the ancient Christian heartland of Iraq found in the Nineveh Plains region northeast of the city of Mosul. Over 100,000 Christians fled overnight as ISIS swarmed in and killed dozens of people and took many others as sex slaves. The dead included my mother's elderly nanny, Naeema, who had raised her and her brothers since they were children. Naeema taught my mom how to pray, tucked her in to bed every night and greeted her with coffee and freshly ironed cloths every day. Her death made them feel powerless and numb with pain as she was thrown into an unmarked grave and forgotten.