BEIRUT: The heads of Eastern churches expressed outrage Thursday over the displacement of Christians in north Iraq, appealing to the international community, and Arab and Islamic states in particular, to take swift action to stop the onslaught at the hands of jihadist groups.
The patriarchs’ call came at the end of a meeting, held at the summer seat of the Maronite Church in Diman in north Lebanon, overshadowed by news of a fresh exodus of Iraqi Christians fleeing attacks by militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“Christians in countries of the Middle East are suffering from harsh persecution, being kicked out from their homes and lands by takfiri extremists amid total international silence,” the patriarchs said in a statement.
“We call upon the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court to take swift, effective and immediate salvaging action,” it said. “The United Nations is requested to take a firm decision to ensure the return of the people to their lands by all possible means and in the quickest possible time.”
Jihadists from ISIS took over Qaraqosh, the largest Iraqi Christian town, near Mosul and surrounding areas overnight Wednesday, sending tens of thousands of panicked residents fleeing toward the autonomous Kurdistan region.
In a clear allusion to France, which offered to grant asylum to Iraqi Christians fleeing Mosul, the patriarchs warned that “the situation (in Iraq) is further endangered by European countries that encouraged immigration of Christians under the pretext of protecting them from killing and terrorism.”
“It is the duty of international bodies to stop the forced demographic change in the region. The eviction of Christians from Mosul and surrounding villages in Ninevah plains is an odious action that amounts to racial discrimination, which is rejected by the international community and forbidden by international law,” the statement said.
The patriarchs also called upon states that are financing takfiri groups in Iraq and Syria, whether directly or indirectly, to stop their support immediately, cautioning that takfiri terrorism posed a big danger to the region and the whole world.
In their statement, the clergy bemoaned the raging three-year Syrian conflict, calling for a political solution that would allow Syrian refugees to return home. They also expressed solidarity with the Lebanese Army in its battle against militants from Syria.
The patriarchs condemned Israel’s military onslaught on Gaza. which they blasted as “crime against humanity,” and called for Israel to withdraw and lift the siege on the coastal territory.
The meeting was chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and attended by Ignatius Aphrem II, patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church; Nerses Bedros XIX, patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church; Gregory III Laham, patriarch of the Church of Antioch; Ignatius III Younan, patriarch of Antioch and all the East for the Syriac Catholic Church; Catholicos Aram I Kechichian of the Armenian Orthodox Church; and John X, patriarch of Antioch and all the East for the Roman Orthodox Church.