Islamic State seizes ancient Christian monastery in Iraq

On July 20, the self-proclaimed "Islamic Caliphate" took possession of the ancient Syrian Catholic monastery of Mar Behnam, ten minutes from the city of Qaraqosh. Syrian Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Moshe of Mosul told the Fides news agency that armed Islamist militiamen of the Caliphate "imposed on the three monks and a few families living in the monastery to go away and leave the keys." Christians fear that the Islamists will desecrate and vandalize the monastery in much the same way they have done so at other Christian sites as well as places revered by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam such as the tomb of the Prophet Jonah.
 
Mosul has been emptied of Christians ever since they received word from the Islamists on July 18 that they must leave, convert to Islam or face death. Christians of Qaraqosh, a city only a few kilometers from Mar Behnam, are increasingly alarmed.
 
"The international community", said Rev. Nizar Semaan, a Syrian Catholic priest who assists Archbishop Moshe, "recorded a disturbing passivity due to what is happening in that area. One should come out of the vague statements, and put in place concrete measures at a humanitarian and political level. For example, the time has come to include these groups in the list of terrorist organizations condemned by international bodies, and above all it is necessary to make public the names of the Countries and forces that finance them. Intelligence agencies and the governments of various Countries certainly know where certain weapons and money that keep these groups going come from. It would be enough to stop the flow for a month, and these groups would not have any more force". 
 
According to Fr. Semaan, leaders and followers of Sunni Islam should work to isolate the jihadist groups, and said "a pronouncement of sentence (Ed. note: fatwa) against these groups by the Islamic authorities, spread through the network of mosques, would certainly have a significant effect."
 
The Mar Benham Monastery is dedicated to the memory of the Assyrian martyr and prince Behnam and his sister Sarah. It was one of the oldest places of worship of Syrian Christianity. 


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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