Isis tells Christians to convert or face death

By Patrick Cockburn

A Kurdish policeman stands guard while refugees fleeing Mosul head to the self-ruled northern Kurdish region in Irbil, Iraq. Photo / AP
A Kurdish policeman stands guard while refugees fleeing Mosul head to the self-ruled northern Kurdish region in Irbil, Iraq. Photo / AP

The largest flight of Christians in the Middle East since the massacre of Armenians in Turkey during World War I continues as Isis continues its hardline policies against those it deems "unbelievers".

The last Christians in northern Iraq are fleeing from places where their communities have lived for almost 2000 years, as a deadline passed for them to either convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed.

Isis (Islamic State) issued a decree last week offering Christians the three options accompanied by the ominous threat that, if they did not comply by July 20, "then there is nothing to give them but the sword".

Isis, which now rules an area larger than Britain, has already eliminated many of the ancient Christian communities of eastern Syria.

Christians fleeing Mosul, which was captured by Isis on June 11, are being stripped of all their possessions.

Mosul is one of the most ancient centres of Christianity and on the east bank of the Tigris River that flows through the city is a mosque housing the tomb of the Biblical figure of Jonah.

This is now in danger of being destroyed by Isis, whose version of Islam is opposed to the worship of tombs, shrines, statues and pictures.

Tens of thousands of Shabak and Shiah Turkmen, demonised as polytheists and apostates by Isis, have fled their homes following raids by Isis gunmen.

The persecution of Christians, of whom there were over one million in Iraq before the US and British invasion of 2003, was slower to develop.

But a report by Human Rights Watch says that from July 15 a number of homes in Mosul were painted with the letter "N" for Nasrani (the Arabic for Christian).

- Independent

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