Paul Merkley: The Death Knell Sounds for the Christians of Iraq

In just a few weeks the government of Iraq lost control of most of Western Iraq and Northern Iraq. As the Army of Iraqi disintegrated, leaving to the Army of IS all that heavy weaponry (the very best of its kind in the whole world, paid for over two decades by the American taxpayer), mass executions, filmed by IS itself for us all to admire, were clearing the ground of any elements associated with the Baghdad regime.


At this moment it became clear to most alert Iraqis on the path to Baghdad that the best way of demonstrating fidelity to the new Caliph Imam Abu-bakr al-Baghdadi and to the goals of his pretended universal regime was to resume the task that Muhammad had left to all Muslims – the neglect of which, according to all believers everywhere, is the essential reason for the humiliation that befell the World of Islam in the Twentieth Century: that is, the task of eliminating Jews and Christians.


Evidently only a few individuals have taken up the Caliph’s “invitation” to convert even though mass executions have occurred in many places already. Entire communities of Christians, people who had lived in the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris for many centuries prior to the happy day when the Angel Gabriel handed down the Qur’an to Muhammad, have been forced onto the road; their homes have been marked with the Arabic equivalent of the letter N (for “Nassarah” = Nazarenes or Christians), advertizing that Muslims are invited to loot.


In an interview for the Lebanese LBC/LDC TV Channel, a Christian refugee from Iraq reports that his Sunni neighbours, now imagining themselves on an ascendant curve as the army that served the purposes of the Shia-dominated Maliki government, dropped all its weapons and ran away, cried out in chorus: “The land belongs to Islam and Christians should not live here.” Allah hu akhbar! (“Christian Refugee From Mosul: Our Neighbors Drove us Out,” MEMRI Daily (, August 13, 2014.)


The Assyrians


(Some lines of this sub-section are adapted from my article, “How Christians Communities Die in the Middle East,”, July 29, 2013.)


The great majority of Christians who live in Iraq today are called “Assyrians.” They probably do not descend from the Old Testament Assyrians –among history’s most blood-thirsty conquerors — but they most certainly are Christians and equally certainly have lived as a distinct population in the Middle East since the very beginning of the history of the Church – that is, for at least four centuries before the time of Muhammad.


Their story began in one of the Christian kingdoms that on today’s map would be located partly in Syria, partly in Iraq. They were among several distinct national minorities still governed by the Ottoman Empire at the opening of the Twentieth Century and then set loose from that regime when the Allies dismantled the Ottoman Empire after 1922. Because the Assyrians were Christians, they were despised by all of the other national communities who competed with them for the privilege of founding a separate nation – among whom were the Arabs and the Kurds.


The Twentieth Century leaders of the Assyrian communities in the Middle East imagined that since they were Christians and had indeed been Christians since long before any European nation had turned to Christian faith they would enjoy some sentimental advantage, to say the least, with the leaders of the Great Western Powers. But the days when the leaders of the Western Democracies openly identified themselves as “Christian” were already long gone and the days when their governments would pride themselves on never appearing to prefer the cause of Christians anywhere in the world had now begun.

Complicity of the Kurds in the Extirpation of the Assyrians in Syria.


Another major ethnic minority set loose by the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and seeking recognition as a State was the Kurds. These are about eighty million in number today; they are related to the Iranians and are mainly Sunni Muslims, but their leading politicians are considered as dangerously secular by the major religious establishments.

We have to set aside the good press that the Kurds are receiving these days and recall that the Kurds of Britain’s Mandate of Mesopotamia (what is today Iraq) put themselves in August 1933 at the head of a military campaign to liquidate the Assyrians of Iraq, whom all sides hated because they were Christians. Several thousand Assyrians were massacred in the course of a few days. (See Editorial: “The Origin and Meaning of Assyrian Martyrs Day,”, August 6, 2014.)


The Kurdish leaders of that time assumed that this heroic campaign to liquidate the only intact Christian community surviving in this region since the Turks had carried out their attempted genocide of the Armenians during the First World War would be accepted by the British and French colonial regimes and then by the post-colonial Arab regimes in Iraq and Syria as proof of their entitlement to a nation-state of their own. However, it was not until the Americans imposed their no-fly against Saddam Hussein’s dying regime after the first Iraq War in the late 1990s that the Kurds of Iraq achieved an Autonomous State-within-a-state in Iraq.


The Assyrian Remnant in Iraq


In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the surviving Assyrians had looked to the dictator as their protector against popular hostility. Since Saddam Hussein’s fall, the small community of Assyrian Christians in Iraq has been reduced to something like half its previous numbers by the actions of Muslim mobs acting on the advice of their religious teachers.

Even before the Islamic State got into the game a few months ago, there had been hundreds of Christians kidnapped and murdered by other Iraqis because of their Assyrian ethnicity and their Christian faith. Taken together, these acts have driven approximately 1 million Assyrians out of their homeland. Many thousands now languish in refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Syria. Only about 450,000 Assyrians remain in Iraq. Now the Islamic State has put this remnant on notice of imminent extirpation.


An editorial in the Jerusalem Post notes:


    For months, the march of the militant Islamic State organization was ignored by the international community. It wasn’t for lack of knowledge. Islamic State bragged about its atrocities, posting videos of its fighters loading Shi’ite men onto trucks and making them dig their own graves. They bragged about stoning women for “adultery” and posted gruesome photos of executions and crucifixions…. The deafening silence from the West was similar to that which has greeted previous genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan, where lip-service was paid too late for crimes that could have been prevented.


The Case for Assyrian Autonomy


Most Kurdish politicians think that they see a silver lining to the present troubles. Suddenly there is a bandwagon movement among well-place Western politicians and journalists in favour of a State of Kurdistan, one that could have larger boundaries than those of the present Autonomous Region, intruding into parts of Turkey and perhaps even Iran.

This could be a worthy cause, and might even be a workable one — given that the Autonomous Region and its leaders have been receiving high marks for administering a quasi-modern economy and for making peaceful noises in the direction of their neighbours. But these friends of Kurdistan have a duty, in light of all the past injustice, to couple that cause with the cause of the Assyrians.


While the Kurds have appeared for the time being willing to welcome Assyrians fleeing from the common enemy, ISIS, history makes clear that the Kurds are no more immune than any of other of the component “nations” emerging from the old Ottoman nation to the local virus that has for millennia made it impossible for people living under the inspiration of Islam to tolerate difference of belief. Recent television coverage of the rescue by helicopters of the Kurdish Armed forces of desperate Yazidi refugees has left an impression of measureless generosity of the Kurds. But the whole truth is that Kurdish government security forces have failed to protect Christians and Yazidis on the Ninevah plain and beyond.


Alen Mirza, Global Policy Director for the Assyrian Universal Alliance of America, says:     Multiple reports confirm that Kurdish forces withdrew from … the Ninevah Plain and Sinjar and Zumar, leaving the population defenceless against ISIS Ground commanders were ordered to withdraw from these areas by the Kurdish government without explanation….Yet Western governments and the media have framed the narrative as the need to arm the Kurds to save them from impending doom. The Kurds have not been directly threatened, have not been uprooted and forced from their homes and villages, yet they are portrayed as weak and defenceless and in need of military aid…. Some analysts even suggest that Kurds are exploiting this opportunity, deliberately withdrawing their forces, showing “weakness” to gain more arms from the United States, and the Assyrians and Yazidis are pawns in this game, sacrificed for Kurdish interests.


This spokesman for the Assyrians urges us to think past the present moment of unfocussed sympathy for the suffering Assyrians and examine the case for internationally secured autonomy for the Assyrians – the case that Britain, supported by the other western powers, turned its back upon in the 1930s. While the government of France), for example, has announced its intention to grant asylum to Christians forced out of Mosul … [what is needed is] … a permanent safe-haven in the Middle East itself: the birthplace of Christianity. (Nujri Kino, “The U.S. and U.N. must establish a safe haven for Assyrians in Iraq,”, August 5, 2014.


“Ask Not For Whom the Bells Do Not Toll”


There can be no doubt that the Caliph of All Muslims, together with his monstrous and mindless army, has brought up-to-date Muhammad’s plainly expressed prescription for the ultimate extirpation of Jews and Christians.


Last Sunday [June 22], for the first time in 1600 years, no mass was celebrated in Mosul. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized Iraq’s second largest city on June 10, causing most Christians in the region to flee in terror, in new kinship with the torment of Christ crucified on the cross. The remnant of Mosul’s ancient Christian community … now faces annihilation behind ISIS lines. Those who risk worship must do so in silence, praying under new Sharia regulations that have stilled every church bell in the city. (Andrew Doran and Drew Bowling, “Iraq’s Christians Flee as Church Bells Fall Silent in Mosul,”, June 30, 2014.


Something has gone fundamentally wrong with those modern minds who have committed themselves to extirpation of the Jewish State and in this cause are demonstrating on our streets today in collaboration with Hamas and Hezbollah. Some of these conscientious souls are Christians and some (incredibly) are Jews; but most belong in the category of non-believers as defined by Muhammad – and are scheduled to share the fate of the Yazidis! Can they not grasp that the bell that is not tolling for the Assyrians and the other Christians of the world is likewise not tolling for them too?