by Mohamed Bazzi, Reuters
The past year was a particularly cruel one for minorities in the Middle East. Since Islamic State militants seized parts of Iraq and Syria, they have relentlessly persecuted the region’s religious minorities. In doing so, the militants are trying to eradicate ancient cultures and religions that date back to Mesopotamia.
After Islamic State and its allies captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June, they gave Christian residents an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or be driven out of their homes. Many Christians fled to Turkey or the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. The extremists drove out a Christian population that had lived in Mosul for two millennia. Other groups, such as the Yazidis, have been treated far worse.
When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there were 1.5 million Christians living in the country. Today, the Christian population has dwindled to fewer than 400,000 — and many are on the run from Islamic State.
Islamic State’s latest targets are the Assyrians, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, who are concentrated in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq. In late February, Islamic State militants overran 12 villages in northern Syria and kidnapped more than 200 Assyrians, including dozens of women and children. Assyrians speak a modern version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Read the entire story.