The exodus of Iraqi Christians in Mosul accelerated after rebels aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, demanded this week that the few remaining members of the city’s religious minority convert to Islam, pay religious levies called jizyas or prepare for death by a deadline set for Saturday afternoon.
Members of the Sunni Muslim extremist group reportedly made their threats Thursday night, most publicly through mosque loudspeakers and via cars on the streets of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the capital of the Nineveh province in the northern reaches of the country.
Since capturing Mosul June 10, ISIS has been kidnapping and killing members of ethnic and religious minorities in and around the city, Human Rights Watch said Saturday. The group has kidnapped at least 200 Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis, killing at least 11 of them, the New York-based watchdog organization said.
Mosul was once among Iraq’s most diverse cities, both ethnically and religiously. However, multiple attacks on Christians since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein resulted in cuts of its once-sizeable Christian population, mainly in the Assyrian and Chaldean denominations, as Reuters reported.
A Roman Catholic bishop of Mosul told the news agency that 150 Christian families had left the city in recent days and that church leaders had advised the few families who wanted to negotiate with ISIS militants that they should also flee for their own safety.
“We have lived in this city and we have had a civilization for thousands of years -- and suddenly some strangers came and expelled us from our homes,” said one woman in her 60s who fled on Friday for Hamdaniya, a mainly Christian town southeast of Mosul.
“The Islamic State stopped my relatives at a checkpoint when they were fleeing and when they found out they were Christians, they took everything they were carrying, including their mobile phones,” said one man who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Saturday may or may not have been the last day of Iraqi Christians in Mosul, but it appeared so, based on the photographs presented here.