When ISIS attacked Mosul in 2014, 136,000 mostly Christian Syriacs (Suraye), were forced to flee their ancient heartland of the Nineveh Plain. The Christian Suraye who have returned to the Nineveh Plain, experience much unease, pressure, and boycotts from Iranian-backed Shabak militia who have stepped in the power vacuum. The continuation of a climate of (the threat of) violence, negligence and insecurity, constantly exposes the Suraye to attacks of hate, repression, and exclusion.
After the ISIS incursion on Mosul in 2014, ISIS did not attack the Suraye in the Nineveh Plain as it did with the Yazidis because the Christian Suraye and other Christians were considered “People of the Book”.
ISIS offered the Christians three ‘options’; pay a tax or ‘Jizya’; convert to Islam; or surrender your property to ISIS and leave the land. As most Christians did not accept these imposed ‘options’ they had no choice but to flee. Some of the Suraye who chose to stay in their ancient heartland were killed and women and children were taken and sold as slaves.
A Syriac civilian who witnessed the genocide said as follows:
“The Suraye in the Nineveh Plain did not have the power to defend themselves. They did not have military training and protection skills. We had been under threat for years; they always said that one day they would own our properties.
On instructions of the Peshmerga forces, Suraye in the region were told to leave their villages within an hour. The Suraye, who learned that ISIS had attacked the Nineveh Plain, had to flee barefoot.”
Some Christian Suraye fled to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, Erbil, Nohadra (Dohuk), Sulaymaniyah and Shalave. A part moved on and emigrated to Lebanon, Turkey, Europe, and Australia.
The estimated population of 1.5 million Syriacs (Chaldeans-Arameans-Assyrians) in Iraq before 2003 fell to an estimated 300,000.
ISIS burned and bombed 70% of churches and monasteries in the Nineveh Plain
After the occupation by ISIS, 85 churches in Mosul and Nineveh Plain were confirmed plundered and bombed. ISIS destroyed and set fire to all the Christian cemeteries in the Nineveh Plain and even opened coffins in search for valuables.
After Mosul was liberated from ISIS in 2017, some of the Nineveh Suraye are now co-living with Muslims, Yazidis and Shabaks in towns previously predominantly Syriac. An example is Bartella.
Only 50% of the Suraye who forcefully fled returned to their homes. The lack of proper infrastructure and public services in the region is one of the primary obstacles preventing the Suraye from returning to their homes.
“Where ISIS is gone, the more dangerous Iranian militia ‘Shabaks’ came in.”
The Suraya civilian who witnessed the ISIS attacks also noted that the current situation of the region does not feel much different from prior to the ISIS incursion. While the people who have returned to their lands are repairing their houses and building a new future, this time, the Suraye complain that they are now subjected to pressure by the Iranian-backed Shabak militias.
Sources say that the Shabak now dominate the Nineveh Plain, putting up road blocks, imposing taxes, and applying different kinds of (demographic) pressure on the Suraye.
“They take out their revenge on Christians”
“They buy our homes, they apply psychological pressure. The district governor of Qarakosh is Syriac but he is also under pressure and command by the Shabak. An indirect rule is imposed on Qaraqosh (Baghdede).”
“They are told not to buy from our shops and not come to our hospitals. Qaraqosh was a commercially important city before Mosul fell and was safe. Qaraqosh was protected by Christian Suraye guards, but now trade is blocked and a boycott is imposed. Once again we see that we have no friends but ourselves.”
The returned Suraye in the Nineveh Plain express that the genocide, attacks and threats they have been subjected to for centuries are still ongoing and that what is currently going on with the Shabaks is nothing but a continual genocide mentality.
Sources say that the reason why many Christians still cannot return home after the ISIS genocide, is this genocidal policy of demographic change implemented by the Iranian-backed Shabaks. The Suraye, worried about their living conditions and the boycotts they have been subjected to for centuries, state that their only assurance is an autonomy for their people as demanded at a 2017 conference in Brussels and that they can only be protected in this way.
“Yazidis and Christians, two peoples who have been persecuted for centuries, want autonomy where they can work together”, say the Suraye. They say that they will refuse and will not allow the demographic composition of the Nineveh Plain to be changed.