News / Middle East

Iraqi Minorities Powerless in Face of Islamic State Advances

Iraqi Christians, who fled violence brought by Islamic State militants in the village of Qaraqosh, seek refuge inside a church building in Irbil, north of Baghdad, Aug. 11, 2014.
Iraqi Christians, who fled violence brought by Islamic State militants in the village of Qaraqosh, seek refuge inside a church building in Irbil, north of Baghdad, Aug. 11, 2014.
Sharon Behn

Islamist extremists raging their way across Syria and northwestern Iraq have forced Iraqi Christians and Yazidi minorities to flee areas where they have lived for thousands of years.

Thousands of Iraqi Christians, who in early August fled their villages in northwestern Iraq when militants from the Islamic State swept in, have flooded into Kurdistan. And many of them are not looking back.

Khalis Barbar, an Iraqi Christian who represents the Christian community from the ancient town of Ninevah, told VOA by phone from Irbil that despite help from officials and non-governmental organizations, their conditions are dire.

"Many of the people [are in] hotels and motels and others in schools, every family gets to live in a classroom, in one classroom, and many, many of them are living in gardens and in church," he said.

Barbar has stayed in touch with Christian families left behind in the town of Qaraqosh. He says the militants have looted most of the shops and homes there. He says one of the leaders of the militants, known locally as "Daash, "took over his house."

"We have there about 20 or 30 families, they did not, they cannot leave because they were asleep or they haven't money or cars or something like that, so they are still [there] now," Barbar said. "And the 'Daash' now they are starting to steal [break into] the shops and open it and start to open [break into] many of the houses there also and steal what’s in the houses and shops, like electrical instruments, like computers, like telephones, like food. So, they emptied all the shops there in Qaraqosh."

He says many local Sunni Arabs have been forced into joining the militants, but others are supporting the Islamic State group against what they perceive as a hostile Shi'ite government led by incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum on Monday nominated Haider al-Abadi to take over the prime minister post in hopes of creating a new unity government to bring Iraq's Sunnis back into the mainstream. So far Maliki, seen as a deeply polarizing figure in Iraqi politics, has refused to step down.

Leaders from around the world have denounced Islamic State extremist attacks against Iraq's Christian and Yazidi minorities.

Fearing a potential genocide, the United States on August 8 started bombing militant positions in northwestern Iraq, while joining an international air drop of emergency food and water to Yazidis stranded on Sinjar in Iraq's remote northwest.

Metin Corabatir, a former UNHCR official who now runs an NGO in Turkey, says some Yazidis have finally managed to escape.

"We are witnessing a big tragedy actually. Thanks to efforts from the U.S. government and Kurdish groups and some neighboring countries, now some people have been evacuated from Sinjar Mountain," he said. "In Turkey, we have about 2,000 people in Silopi area at the border and they are [being] helped by the local municipality and NGOs there. But we hear, according to reports, that there are thousands of Yazidis mainly waiting at the Iraqi side of the border, waiting to cross the border."

While encouraged by the political shift in Baghdad and the U.S. airstrikes, Barbar says although not all Iraqi Sunnis support the militants, there are some who do, and that means many Christians are no longer comfortable in Iraq.

"They have sleeper cells in other towns, maybe in Baghdad, I think they have these sleeper cells there. And if, for example, they [Islamic State militants] go to Baghdad, enter Baghdad,  they [Sunnis] will be with them [supporting them]," he said.

Washington on Tuesday said it was sending an additional 130 military advisers to Irbil to assess the scope of the crisis and get the refugees to safety. The United States has insisted it will not send any combat troops to the area.

The Islamic State militants have grabbed large swaths of eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq and declared it a "caliphate."

Barbar says their invasion has forced some 140,000 Christians to abandon areas where they have lived for 7,000 years. Now, he says, many no longer want to go back.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Shem Beverton Mukalo from: Nairobi
August 14, 2014 6:50 PM
There can be only be one solution:boots on the ground.

by: MUSTAFA from: INDIA
August 14, 2014 3:16 AM
This is a shameful act of Saudi Arabia, on one hand they are supporting Terrorist Group in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, and then they give donation to UN to eliminate Terrorism. This is Big joke. How many innocent peoples killed or BEHEADED by these Terrorist Group in the name of Saudi Wahabi Islam, they should be ready for their answer in God Court. In Quran there is no discount if some body born in Medina or Mecca and their hands full of helpless human blood.

by: help all people , from: the same, no disriminati
August 13, 2014 9:40 PM
On a warm June morning, a dozen masked, armed men burst into the Church of the Transfiguration in the Ukrainian town of Slaviansk, demanding to know who among its 300 congregants owned the four expensive vehicles parked in front.

Four men stepped forward – the church priest’s two grown sons, Ruvim and Albert Pavenko, and two deacons, Victor Brodarsky and Vladimir Velichko – and were quickly hustled out of the large, Soviet-era edifice, thrust into their cars, and forced to drive away with the rebels. After 35 agonizing days of searching came evidence that all four were dead.

The murder of these men, and the discovery of their bodies at a mass grave near an old war memorial, may prove one of the most cold-blooded acts in a conflict that has so far taken hundreds of lives – showing in one terrifying move how the rebels cemented a mechanism of intimidation in Slaviansk.....how come no one sent the airstrikes to help Ukraine, or the poor people in Syria that butcher Assad and his armies have been slaughtering for 3 years

by: Anonymous
August 13, 2014 9:38 PM
humanitarian action needs to happen and the normal world and people of Islam are not with those who are killing innocent people .....all the people that are suffering and are persecuted, the world and UN should help them and help and stop the killings of Yazidis and Iraqi minorities in Iraq, Palestinians in Gaza and Palestine , Burmese minorities, people in Ukraine, people of Africa, People in Caucasus , minorities in China, and all other .....lets not make mistakes of Rwanda, Bosnia,Croatia, WW2,WW1......let be humans again

by: Roy Chang from: Sydney
August 13, 2014 7:13 PM
'some 140,000 Christians to abandon areas where they have lived for 7,000 years.'

Christianity has been around for only 2000 years. Where did that extra 4000 years creep in?
Even the Yazidis were around for at most 3000 years, at least around the time when Judaism evolved.
In Response

by: David from: Florida,USA
August 14, 2014 1:24 AM
Perhaps their ancestors were pre-Christian. The fact that they are Christians now, does not mean that all of their ancestors were Christian. I am quite certain of it. If the families have lived there for 7000 years, some ancestor must have converted.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs