Baghdad: Islamic State terrorists have gotten their hands on Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery, which had stood unmoved in Mosul for 1,400 years. The place was a scene of worship for generations of monks.
New satellite photos obtained by the Associated Press (AP) have confirmed earlier fears of the complete destruction of the ancient St. Elijah’s Monastery of Mosul.
The AP talked to locals and Christian leaders in Mosul to get their views. Reverend Paul Thabit, 39, was completely distraught when comparing the photos obtained exclusively by the agency to his own pictures of how the monastery used to be.
“I can’t describe my sadness… Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically levelled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land,” he said in Arabic.
“A big part of tangible history has been destroyed,” said Reverend Manual Yousif Boji, a Catholic pastor from Michigan, fondly remembering a trip to the Mosul monastery some 60 years ago.
Islamic State (IS, ISIS/formerly ISIL) has been systematically eradicating Christianity’s traces from the region – be it the thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Christians murdered or now living in exile, or horrific events like the destruction of the world’s oldest religious landmarks.
There are more than 100 religious artefacts and sites destroyed by the terrorist group so far – including all manner of tombs, mosques, churches and shrines all across the so-called ‘caliphate’ the group proclaimed in Syria and Iraq. This includes precious historic sites such as libraries and ancient monuments.
The most recent deep cut to the world’s historical heritage was, of course, the ancient city of Palmyra – its destruction causing shockwaves everywhere.
There have been fears about the fate of St. Elijah’s since June 2014, when IS started its rampage through the area.
“These persecutions have happened to our church more than once, but we believe in the power of truth, the power of God,” Boji said.
The pastor is part of the largest Chaldean community residing outside Iraq following the bloodshed that erupted during the US invasion of 2003. In the 13 years since, the Christian population in Iraq has decreased more than four times, from 1.3 million to 300,000, according to church officials.
The AP obtained the shocking photographs with the aid of DigitalGlobe, which snaps high-res images. These were then compared to archive photos taken by the company. An image analyst, at the request of the news agency, surveyed the photos and determined the time of destruction to be somewhere around August 27 to September 28, 2014.
Many specialists had worked for years at restoring the monastery to its former glory, including Americans serving in Iraq. Some of the later archival images before the destruction show a partially restored structure.
The monastery measured 27,000 square feet and had 26 rooms. Images show all the walls are now nearly completely gone.
The shame of it all is probably in the fact that no one is truly innocent in this case.
This includes the US troops who took the region in 2003 and had a bunch of young soldiers scrawl graffiti on the walls. Thankfully, a US military chaplain stopped the defacing just in time and kicked the soldiers out.
And earlier in 1743, the site bore witness to the murder of 150 monks that refused to convert to Islam, at the hands of the Persians.
According to the chaplain, Jeffrey Whorton, “It was a sacred place. We literally bent down physically to enter, an acquiescence to the reality that there was something greater going on inside.”
Whorton, who is now a priest in Fort Bragg, was completely crushed by the fresh footage.
Meanwhile, IS continues its campaign of brutal conversion, enslavement and murder.
Just a couple of days ago, the terrorists reportedly slaughtered 280 people in the Deir ez-Zor province in Syria, killing “whole families,” allegedly for their cooperation with the Syrian Army. This reportedly took place a day after a Russian aid drop.