Religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq are living at the edge of extinction.
They are marginalized and under threat from the genocidal actions of the Islamic State in Iraq, resulting in the purging of religious and ethnic minorities from their historic homes.
If immediate action is not taken, the existence of religious and ethnic minority communities, such as Christians, Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen, will continue on a trajectory of precipitous decline into virtual non-existence.
In the last decade, the Christian community has plummeted from approximately 1.5 million to 300,000.
“This is not just the end of Christianity but the end of our ethnicity who have lived here for thousands of years. We believe this is genocide,” according to a statement from a group of leading Christian religious leaders representing thousands of adherents.
“We do not have opportunities for education. We do not have opportunities for work. We do not have opportunities for healthcare. What is left for us?”
The Islamic State’s desecration and destruction of historic sites of religious and cultural heritage is unprecedented in Iraq.
In Mosul, IS has turned an 800-year-old house of worship into a place of torture. Another church in Mosul that has existed for 150 years is being used as a prison.
All of the religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq face this deplorable reality.
Yazidis note that this is the 73rd intentional targeting of their community. Young Yazidi women are captured, sold for as little as $20 and forced into compulsory marriages with members of IS.
Yazidi men are killed; there are reports of mass graves near Sinjar Mountain following an IS slaughter of Yazidi men. Children as young as 7 months have been kidnapped and forcibly transferred to members of IS.
The speed and the scope by which the Islamic State is eradicating religious and ethnic communities are frightening.
The Nineveh Plains had been one of the last relatively safe havens for minority groups, but with the fall of Mosul and surrounding areas in the summer of 2014, Iraq’s minorities have no place to go and are nearing the precipice of total annihilation.
The Christian community in Iraq is one of the most historically peaceful groups there.
There are no known examples of Christians committing violent acts of terrorism, nor are there are any Christian warlords.
The unfortunate irony is that this lack of violence committed by Christians in Iraq makes them one of the easiest communities to politically sideline in a country often governed by sectarian aggression.
As the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, how can we allow another such genocide to take place on our watch?
Four actions of assistance are recommended:
In the face of looming genocide, pray for an end to the ongoing massacre, for communities living amid devastation, and for the re-establishment of peace and prosperity.
2. Build awareness.
One Iraqi bishop from Mosul asked if the United States really cared or if the media covered the burning of Iraqi churches? The same could be asked about the concern among U.S. churches for these brothers and sisters.
Would you share the reality faced by religious minorities in your small group, church setting and among your circles of influence? Evil flourishes in the corridors of silence.
3. Give financially.
Religious and ethnic communities have been devastated, and immediate and long-term assistance is needed.
4. Politically advocate.
Contact your elected representatives and let them know your support for the formation of a Nineveh Plains Province. The establishment of this province would be a new policy approach and would create an area uniquely designed for Christians, Yazidis and other besieged minorities.
Aside from a direct end to the Islamic State itself, the establishment of this province is one of the top requests of the Christian and Yazidi communities.
Editor’s note: Brown and others from the initiative recently returned from a fact-finding mission to northern Iraq where they interviewed political, military and religious leaders and traveled to a military frontline less than 1.5 miles from IS-controlled territory. A full copy of their report, recommendations and ongoing advocacy efforts can be found at 21wilberforce.org.
Elijah M. Brown is the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.