“The Lord is my shepherd,” says the psalmist, but Nicodemus Daoud Sharif is ﬁnding it devilishly hard to tend his ﬂock.
As archbishop of Mosul’s Syriac Orthodox Church, he has been chased out of one ofChristianity’s oldest dioceses. Most of his congregation ﬂed when the city was conquered by the jihadists of Islamic State (IS); now he ministers to what is left of it in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.
Archbishop Nicodemus says he was the last senior churchman to leave Mosul in July 2014. Since then, he says, 32 churches in Mosul and the surrounding plains of Nineveh have been burnt or put to other uses. His beloved cathedral is now a mosque dedicated to jihad.
“For the ﬁrst time in the history of Christianity, no Christians are praying in Mosul,” the Archbishop says, weeping.
“Even under the Mongol hordes and Hulagu Khan [in the 13th century], it wasn’t this bad.” As the archbishop sees it, the IStake- over is the culmination of a lengthy campaign by assorted Muslims to squeeze Christianity out of the Middle East. During the ﬁrst world war, Sunni Turks and Kurds purged Anatolia of Greek, Armenian and Syriac Christians, partly in response to the earlier expulsions ofMuslims from the Crimea and south-eastern Europe by Orthodox Christians. Since then, he says, Sunni Arabs have done most ofthe tormenting.
When Iraq became independent in1932, Christians made up12% ofits people. By the time Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003, they had fallen to 6%. Since Ameri ca’s invasion, two-thirds ofIraq’s remaining1.5m Christians have left. Though Sunni jihadists have been in the vanguard ofeﬀorts to kill or expel Christians, Iraq’s Shia-led establishment has hardly been friendly: the government adorns its ﬂag with the Islamic salute, Allahu akbar (“God is greatest”), implicitly demoting non-Muslims. “Christian Syriacs were here ﬁrst,” says the arch-bishop.
“But our guests took us over” Many ofIraq’s city centers, he adds, were once predominantly Christian— including Erbil, his Kurdish-run haven. The Kurds, he admits, have given sanctuary what is left of his ﬂock. In Ankawa, a district ofErbil that has become the Christians’ Iraqi heartland, a statue of the Virgin Mary stands tall. On Sunday evenings Ankawa’s churches are full, mostly with people displaced by IS. A Catholic university opened last year.
The Kurdish government’s religious-aﬀairs ministry has departments for Christians, Yazidis, and Jews. Its ﬂag has no Muslim symbol. Archbishop Nicodemus can do little more than vent his grievances on local television. Saddam’s rule was bad, he says. So is that ofSyria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad. But the jihadists who have taken their place are worse. Iraq’s minorities were once the glue that straddled Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic lines and held the country together. No longer. In his father’s day, Christians would celebrate Easter by parading through Mosul’s streets, thumping their drums. It was the same in Damascus. Now the dwindling remnants stay indoors.
–from the Economist 4-10