Will the Parliament support Christians in the Middle East?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Temple at Palymra, flattened by IS fighters last year, is one of the many pieces of cultural heritage that have been destroyed. [Filip Gierlinski/Flickr]

Islamic State has perpetrated some of the most fearsome acts of the War on Terror. On Wednesday (3 February), the European Parliament will vote on a resolution that seeks to class their brutality as genocide, writes Lars Adaktusson.

Lars Adaktusson is an MEP (Swedish Christian Democrats) with the EPP Group.

A year and a half has passed since 125,000 people were forced to flee from the second largest city in Iraq, Mosul, and the Nineveh Plains surrounding it. Those who fled had had their homes marked with a clearly visible “N”, referring to Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, and to the Christian faith of the fleeing people.

Just like their brothers in faith in Syria, the inhabitants of Mosul ran from the brutal and deadly advance of the so-called Islamic State (IS). Facing the demands of the terror sect’s murderous squads, forced to choose between towering penalty taxes, conversion to Islam or death by beheading, their only way out was to embark on an agonising and dramatic escape.

The churches of Mosul were emptied, ceremonies were cancelled and for the first time in 1,700 years, the church bells stopped ringing. Those who fled left their homes, left their belongings and their Christian traditions, but also a priceless cultural heritage: 3,000 year-old Assyrian statues, the grave of the prophet Jonah in Mosul and the library with historical scriptures and books was left in the hands of militant and ruthless Islamists. Today, they lie in ruins, blighted and gone forever.

After ten years of systematic persecution, the number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from 1.5 million to approximately one third of that figure. The others have been forced to flee abroad or they have been killed. The situation in Syria is similar. At least one third of the country’s 600,000 Christians have been forced to flee because of their religion.

Islamic State’s motives are clearly stated and they are aiming for an ethnic and religious cleansing of everything that does not fit their own narrow definition of Salafist Sunni Islam. The murders, the rapes, the kidnappings, the elimination of cultural and religious history and the demand for absolute humbleness are all meant to wipe out or expel Christianity. In fact, this concerns all the minorities of Iraq and Syria, including Chaldeans, Assyrians and Syriacs.

Several political decision-makers and human rights experts have clearly stated that all this is basically about crimes against humanity, but sadly things are worse than that. With its history of abhorrent acts of inhumanity, it is clear that IS is actually guilty of the worst and most despicable crimes according to international law. In the UN Genocide Convention of 1948, the word genocide is defined as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

In other words, the Christian minority in Iraq and Syria is today facing genocide in front of our very eyes.

To this sad fact can be added that the situation is the same for the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq. A UN report last year stated that the IS’s massacres, rapes and enslaving show “a commitment to extinguishing the ethnic group of Yazidis”. According to the world organisation, this “could” be genocide.

This is a moral acknowledgment, but no more. The UN Security Council has so far refused to define the abuse against the Yazidis as genocide and, even worse, there is a tradition within the UN not to acknowledge genocides, or to do so only afterwards.

Likewise, the Obama Administration has consistently held a very diffuse and indecisive position when it comes to the minorities of Iraq and Syria, as have EU governments.

Meanwhile, the genocide continues. In the world of IS, people are persecuted, raped and executed because of their beliefs. Obviously, there is a risk that the terror sect’s horrible goal of ethnic and religious cleansing will be reached before the world organisation acknowledges what is actually going on. Ethnic-religious cleansing is threatening to become an irreversible fact and the Christians in the Middle East might only be found in history books.

It is now up to everybody who refuses to calmly accept the persecution of Christians and Yazidis to demand action and to find support from those who actually see what is going on and who raise their voices.

Pope Francis, for instance, on several occasions used the word genocide in his description of the abuse of Christians in the Middle East. In honour of the Iraqi priest Ragheed Ganni, who, faced by a Jihadist, was beheaded for having refused to shut down his church, the Pope always carries the executed priest’s cross around his neck.

In a statement to the US Congress, some of the world’s leading lawyers on international law within the International Association of Genocide Scholars say that IS’s mass killings “meet the strictest definition of genocide”.

Also in Europe, we have been too restrained and we owe it to the persecuted to speak with a clear and firm voice and to do our utmost to stop the genocide. As a spokesman for the EPP group in the European Parliament, I am responsible for a resolution which asks the EU member states to define the abuses against Christians and Yazidis as genocide and to thereafter act within the framework of the UN to carry out further humanitarian and military interventions.

At the last session in Strasbourg, the future of Christians in the Middle East was debated in plenary. MEPs from all nine parliamentary Groups used the word genocide to describe the IS atrocities. The resolution will be voted on this Wednesday (3 February) and I expect all groups to translate their words from last week into strong support for a demand for action, before 2,000 years of Christian beliefs and history is completely wiped out in the Middle East.

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