For weeks, Bashar Bakoz of Waterford, Mich., pleaded with his parents over the phone to flee their hometown of Qaraqosh, a Christian town in northern Iraq. With the radical Islamic State on the march, he said it was too dangerous for them to stay.
But his mom stubbornly resisted; her husband has some heart problems and they didn’t want to leave their beloved town, a place to which many Iraqi Americans in the Detroit area have ties.
Last week, they finally left for Erbil, a Kurdish city with military protection. The very next day, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) overran their hometown, which is mostly Christian.
ISIS has reportedly killed thousands of military prisoners and civilians in its drive to establish an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, although most of the reports cannot be independently verified. Thousands of Iraqis have fled their homes, fearing retribution and violent persecution from ISIS militants.
On Friday, the U.S. began limited air strikes against ISIS convoys, but Iraqi-Americans wonder whether that will be enough to protect the country’s minorities in the long term.
“There’s no future for Christians in Iraq anymore,” said Bakoz, 46, an immigrant from Iraq who grew up in Qaraqosh. ISIS “is growing like crazy.”
Bakoz’s fears are felt by thousands of Iraqi-American Christians in metro Detroit who are increasingly worried about the future of their family, friends and brethren in Iraq, where they are a minority. Amid reports of mass killings and forced conversions to Islam, they believe ISIS is committing genocide against Christians in Iraq.
“It’s like the modern-day holocaust. … It’s Christian genocide,” said Auday Arabo of West Bloomfield, Mich., who attended a recent White House meeting intended to pressure the Obama administration to take action. “It’s ethnic cleansing.”
As people who speak Aramaic — the language that Jesus spoke — Iraqi Christians take pride in being one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. But as the militants with ISIS advance in heavily Christian areas, some fear this could be the end of their long history in Iraq.
There are about 64,000 Iraqi-Americans in Michigan, more than half of them Christian, one of the biggest communities in the U.S., according to U.S. Census figures.
Many Chaldeans, Syriacs and Assyrians in the Detroit area — the three main Iraqi Christian groups — have stories of family members forced to flee in recent weeks, leaving behind their homes and bank accounts, hiking long distances despite health problems and old age. Some left so quickly they were barefoot.
This summer, ISIS has taken over Mosul and surrounding villages where Christians had lived in significant numbers. In Mosul alone, they’ve destroyed or converted all of the city’s 45 Christian institutions, according to an Assyrian news agency.
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SOURCE: USA Today
Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press