Date: January 20, 2016
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife)-- Iraq's oldest Christian monastery has been reduced to rubble as part of the Islamic State group's crackdown on Christianity and relentless destruction of heritage sites it considers contrary to Islam, according to satellite images released Wednesday, January 20.
Church and American officials said St. Elijah's Monastery stood as a place of worship for 1,400 years, including most recently for U.S. troops. In earlier millennia, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches, prayed in the chapel, worshipped at the altar. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ's name, were carved near the entrance.
In Irbil, Iraq, Catholic priest Reverend Paul Thabit Habib, 39, stared in disbelief at the before- and after- images which were provided to The Associated Press (AP) news agency by imagery firm DigitalGlobe. "Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled," he said in Arabic. "We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land."
The Islamic State group, which now controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, has killed thousands of civilians in the past two years, including many Christians. At least hundreds of Christians have been kidnapped by the group.
INTERPRETATION OF ISLAM
Additionally, its militants have destroyed whatever they consider contrary to their interpretation of Islam. The monastery, called Dair Mar Elia, is named for the Assyrian Christian monk — St. Elijah — who built it between 582 and 590 A.C, experts said. It was an important historic site for Iraqi Christians for centuries, part of the Mideast's Chaldean Catholic community.
St. Elijah's joins a growing list of more than 100 religious and historic sites looted and destroyed, including mosques, tombs, shrines and
churches, according to several estimates. Ancient reminders of the cities of Nineveh, known from the Bible as the city visited by Prophet Jonah, as well as Palmyra and Hatra are in ruins. Museums and libraries have also been destroyed, books burned, artwork crushed — or trafficked.
The Biblical patriarch Abraham was from the region now called Iraq, which was once home to as many as 1.2 million Christians, according
to Christian estimates. "Now, just an estimated 250,000 Christians remain," said advocacy and aid group Open Doors.
"Since the US-led invasion of Iraq, anti-Western (and by association anti-Christian) sentiments have grown, and Islamic extremism has been strengthened by the civil war in neighbouring Syria. This has led to [Islamic State] IS declaring their 'caliphate' (Islamic state) in north-west Iraq and parts of Syria," the group added.
Iraq ranks this year 2nd, just after North Korea, on the Open Doors annual World Watch List of 50 countries with what it says is the "worst persecution" of Christians.