Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf Daoud, the Syriac-Orthodox Bishop of Mosul, visited France and Belgium from May 19-24. The visit was organized by SOS Chretiens d'Orient. The Archbishop gave a series of lectures on the situation of Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) in Iraq.
He and his congregation were forced into exile to Iraq's northern region since ISIS attacked and took over Mosul in 2014. The Archbishop is particularly disappointed by an international community that continues to ignore the plight of Iraq's minorities. Famille Chretienne published the following interview with the bishop, conducted by Hugues Lefevre.
What is the current situation of the Syriac Orthodox community driven out of Mosul in August 2014?
When ISIS arrived in Mosul our entire community fled to Iraqi Kurdistan. It is from there that some have begun to migrate to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Today, there are about 6,500 Syriac-Orthodox families displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan.
They are mainly in Erbil and Dohuk and also in Kirkuk. Half of these families live in shared apartments where a family lives in a single room. About 1,000 other families live in caravans. The remainder rent apartments at their own expense. Even if security is ensured in Iraqi Kurdistan, life is difficult because there is no employment and the price of rent is high.
Has their situation improved since arriving in Erbil?
The reality has not changed and we beseech God that our situation improves. We are tired of promises of many people who tell us that ISIS will be eradicated quickly. It will soon be two years since they took Mosul.
Is remaining in Iraqi Kurdistan considered a possibility?
Kurdistan is also our land. We [Assyrians], as the indigenous Christian population, we are the true people of Iraq. There is no problem to remain in Kurdistan. But remaining to live in the current situation is not acceptable.
Families living in caravans or in a single room apartment is unbearable. We need money to help pay the rent. We also ask for support to build schools and provide medical aid.
Do you hope one day to return to Mosul?
In the current situation a return to Mosul is obviously impossible. We need the guarantee, the assurance of a strong and lasting security. Because we have already lost everything and we do not want to lose more.
As Christians, we lack the means and weapons to fight like the others. We are a minority and as minorities we have to trust and rely on the laws of the country in which we live. But today, the laws do not guarantee everything.
What is your view about the West's policy in the Middle East?
One feels in some Westerners a diabolical greed. In international politics, they have always done everything to serve their own interests. For example, Europe and the US continually emphasize their new technologies, including the qualities of their satellites.
They even say they can read the label of a sweater from space. And how can we believe that they have not observed the rise of ISIS and the attack on Mosul? Who can believe that ISIS emerged on its own, as a surprise? Westerners always try to take advantage of a situation. Here, it is the oil that governs.
On the other hand, Iraqi elites are not blameless. There is a real blindness, a certain stupidity of our Eastern elites in the choices they make and the way to get along. So when Western greed meets oriental folly, the first who suffer are always the minorities.
Does this tragedy that affects the Iraqi Christians strengthens ties between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches?
This tragedy made us walk towards unity. Arriving in Mosul, ISIS's men chased the Christians indiscriminately. So why should we make differences? In Erbil, I am constantly in contact with Bishop Petros Moshe, Syriac-Catholic Archbishop of Mosul and Bishop Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil.
We work together on all subjects. I see that the faithful are very pleased with this kind of unity. In 1984, Pope John Paul II and the Syriac-Orthodox Patriarch Zakka met and had signed an agreement in which they declared that there was no fundamental difference between the two Churches but specific traditions and practices.
This statement allows our faithful to share and pray for each other. ISIS took everything from us, but they did not manage to take our faith. Today in Iraq, we are working as one Christian Church.