Beirut — “Mosul must be retaken,” Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II said yesterday in a press conference in which he slammed the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Nineveh Plain.
The patriarch demands that the states are funding and arming these groups should be stopped, and announced that a delegation of Eastern Churches will travel to the UN and some world capitals to plead this cause. “Mosul,” he said, “must be retaken! It is a collective responsibility, especially Iraq’s!”
The Syriac Orthodox patriarch was speaking from the Syriac Orthodox patriarchal seat at Atchaneh (North Meten), in the presence of a restless crowd of Orthodox and Catholic religious dignitaries.
Mgr Michel Kassarji, Chaldean bishop of Lebanon and Fr Michel Jalkh, secretary general of the Council of Churches of the Middle East, were among those present, as were the pastor of the Eastern Assyrians in Lebanon, Fr Batroun Coliana, and the Ambassador of Iraq to Lebanon, Raad Alloussi.
The press conference was preceded by the plenary meeting of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Lebanon.
At the start of the meeting, which was followed by the press conference, Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II received a call from Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, to whom he asked to bring the voice of persecuted Christians of Iraq to the international community.
Maronite and Greek Orthodox patriarchs sent their pledge of solidarity to Atchaneh.
“The planned expulsion of Christians from Mosul [. . .] is a barbaric act, unprecedented in the history of relations between Christians and Muslims in this region,” the prelate said at the start of his address, his sense of indignation and anger visible on his face.
“We condemn in the strongest terms these acts, and we emphasise that this behavior does not correspond to the Islam we have known, with which we have lived for 13 centuries and more.”
“Cross ripping, icons burning . . .”
For the patriarch, the Islam that is inspiring the jihadists of the Islamic State “is in contradiction with the Qur’an”.
“Cross ripping, icons burning are not the Islam we know. We invite our Muslim brothers and their leaders to take a clear stand against these actions,” he said, seemingly discouraged by the international silence and reticence to condemn the misdeeds seen so far.
Expressing a national pride typical of Orthodox communities, the patriarch went on to say that “Such injustice [. . .] will not push us, no matter the pretext, to call for the help or protection of any Western state [. . .] because we know that we are the salt of the earth, forever witnesses of the Resurrection, but we ask our partners in citizenship to be loyal to religious, human and civilisational values ??which we have in common.”
The patriarch said that solidarity should go beyond words, and translate into a clear call to the “regimes that support, arm and finance the Islamic state and other similar groups to stop doing so because this fanaticism and acts will inevitably rebound sooner or later on those who support them.”
Sarcasm towards the UN
“For our part,” he added in a sarcastic tone, “we plan to turn to the United Nations and the Human Rights Commission and ask them to be consistent with the charter they claim to respect.”
“We shall not ask the West more than to respect the Charter’s principles and not apply them selectively, depending on states and social groups,” he said.
What happened in Mosul is “a crime against humanity,” the patriarch added. “The expulsion of a population on the basis of religious affiliation, whether Christian or Muslim, is a crime against humanity whose culprit must be punished.”
“There is evidence that these terrorist groups are supported by states, as the press points out repeatedly, but we believe that the life of these groups will be short,” he later said in response to questions from reporters.
Help from Kurdistan
In concluding, the patriarch appealed to Iraqi authorities to “defend the rights of Christians in Iraq”.
He also requested assistance from Kurdistan, confirming in passing that Syriac Orthodox bishops and Kurdish authorities are working together on the ground.
“We ask our Kurdish brothers, our fellow citizens, to help us protect this Christian presence, for the sake of diversity and its historical and civilisational value,” he said before announcing a meeting of Eastern patriarchs at the earliest time in order to form a delegation that will go on tour, to the United Nations and elsewhere, to raise the question of dispossessed populations.
On a purely Lebanese level, Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II called for a unified information bulletin about the Mosul tragedy to be coordinated in Beirut, as it is being done for what is happening in Gaza.
© Assyrian International News Agency.