On the 1st anniversary of ISIS rule in the city of Mosul, Iraq, most of the country was reflecting on a year of profound loss. ISIS on the other hand, were continuing their systemic pattern of gain. ISIS soldiers spent the anniversary placing notices around the city, announcing that the Syrian Orthodox church of St. Ephrem, one of the largest churches in Mosul and the home church for the men pictured above, would be transformed into a ‘mosque of the mujahideen’, or a place where those most dedicated to the ideals of the caliphate can practice their faith.
This congregation is accustomed to loss. Nine years ago Rev. Fr. Polous Iskander, the spiritual leader of the church, was kidnapped and beheaded by ‘Islamist extremists’. Remarks made at his funeral called for peace. “We invite all those in positions of authority and influence to continue their diligent efforts in spreading peace and security, so that the citizens of Iraq may resume normal life in their historic homeland within a framework of national unity. May God protect Iraq and its people from adversity and affliction. May the coming days be full of peace, love, fraternity and prosperity.”
Since ISIS overtook the city of Mosul, the historic Christian (Chaldean/Assyrian) population was driven out of the city. Forced to choose between conversion to Islam, paying a steep tax many were unable to pay, or death, members of the Christian community fled.
Slowly the evidence of their presence in the city is disappearing.
Early in ISIS’ rule, churches were stripped of crosses, signs and furniture. Ancient monuments outside the city of Mosul were destroyed, including the burial place of Jonah.
By the end of last year, two historic Mosul churches, well-built stone structures dating back to the 10th and 17th Centuries, were used by ISIS as prisons or detention centers.
This week the shift deepened when notices appeared around the city, announcing that the Church of St. Ephrem, one of the largest churches in Mosul will be converted into a mosque.
The days full of peace, love, fraternity, and prosperity spoken of during Rev. Fr. Polous Iskander’s funeral feels a long way off.