At a time when, as tmatt observes, "journalists from mainstream media are struggling to do first-hand coverage" of religious persecution under Islamic State rule, an Irish Times reporter uses creative sourcing to get a first-hand account from the ground: "Fleeing Child Abduction, Slavery, Rape and Theft in Iraq."
Lara Marlowe, the Irish Times' Paris correspondent, found an Iraqi Christian expatriate whose sister Mariam fled Mosul with her husband Youssef in June as ISIS was closing in. Now taking refuge in Ainkawa, a suburb of the Iraqi city of Erbil, Mariam spoke to Marlowe via Skype, giving a detailed account of the atrocities she witnessed or learned of from neighbors.
The story is a must-read. Seeing the events on the ground through the eyes of a single person helps bring home the enormity of the persecution. Marlowe's opening paragraphs use Mariam's experiences to highlight experiences common to many fleeing Mosul -- the loss of ancestral homes, the sight of anti-Christian graffiti, the betrayal by neighbors:
Mariam, a 50-year-old Christian obstetrician from Mosul in Iraq, considers herself and her family lucky, though she fears they will never again see the two-storey villa and garden they inherited from her husband Youssef’s parents.
The walls have been daubed with the Arabic letter “noon” or “N” for “Nazarene,” the name used by fundamentalist Muslims to designate Christians.
“This property has been confiscated by the Islamic State for Abu Talha al Ansari,” reads a sign on the gate. Mr Ansari is a local Sunni who joined the extremists.
Mariam also relates the plight of those around her:
“There are thousands of Christians in Ainkawa,” Mariam says. “They sleep in the streets, churches, schools, parks. They sleep on the ground.
“The border is closed and flying to Turkey or Baghdad is the only way out. But it costs $500 to fly to Turkey, $200 to Baghdad, and the waiting list is weeks long. People who can’t afford lodging don’t have money for plane tickets either. We are trapped.”
After this account of the present situation, Mariam tells of returning to Mosul from Erbil during the run-up to last month's purge:
Mariam calls the extremists by their Arabic name, Da’esh. “In the beginning, Da’esh said, ‘We will not hurt anyone.’ Poor people went back because they have no jobs or money and cannot pay rent in Erbil.”
She and Youssef returned, in the hope of saving their property. On the night of July 17th, vehicles circulated in Mosul with tannoys blasting the Islamic State’s decree: “Christians must convert to Islam, pay a ‘jizya’ tax levied on non-Muslims, or depart.”
It is at this point of the story that the crimes mentioned in its headline enter in. Mariam relates several atrocities perpetrated against Christians trying to flee, also mentioning the plight of the Yazidi, who she says "have fared worse than the Christians."
Marlowe also weaves in the larger story about France appearing to have "second thoughts" about its role as " the traditional protector of Arab Christians." She does this deftly, in a way that buoys but does not interfere with the force of Mariam's narrative.
Image of St. Qardakh The Martyr Church in Erbil, Iraq, via Shutterstock.