Victims of Islamic State horrors appeal for intervention

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NEW YORK – The Rev. Douglas Al-Bazi, a Chaldean Catholic Church parish priest from Erbil, Iraq, took the podium at the United Nations last week to share his experiences while held captive by Islamic State, the horrors he witnessed, and to appeal for help.

“Friends, I am a priest. I cannot abandon hope,” he said. “But at the same time I see reality in front of me every day. My people are losing hope my people are losing hope, and we are disappearing.”

The killings of Christians and other persecuted minorities by Islamic State operatives in countries like Syria, Iraq and Nigeria have been labeled as genocide by world leaders and institutions, including Congress, the European Parliament, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Witnesses and experts at a conference held at the U.N. last week testified about persecution and appealed to the world for intervention.

“Christians account for 80% of persecuted minorities” in the world, event organizers wrote on their website. “They are victims of the deliberate infliction of conditions of life that are calculated to bring about their physical destruction.”

The catalog of violence ranges from the extreme beheadings, crucifixions, beatings and enslavement – to abductions and the destruction of homes and churches. Persecutors also engage in sexual violence – including forced marriages and human trafficking, according to a March report from the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians. The advocacy groups submitted their findings to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. They also cite instances of forced conversions to the Islamic faith.

The 278-page report identified more than 1,100 Christians out of thousands who have been killed by the Islamic State. Both Kerry and the U.S. House of Representatives have concluded that crimes committed by Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria amount to genocide.

In northern Nigeria alone, more than 4,000 Christians were killed last year, a 62 percent increase from the previous year, according to Open Doors USA, a Santa Ana, California-based group that advocates for persecuted Christians.

Islamic State has killed an estimated 5,000 members of Iraq’s Yazidi population, a mainly Kurdish ethnic group that adheres to an ancient non-Muslim religious faith.

Rev. Al-Bazi pointed out that Christians have lived in Iraq for nearly 2,000 years. Christianity itself began in the same part of the world, he noted.

“Christianity has contributed in important ways to the culture,” he said about his native land. He observed that while there were 1.5 million Christians in the region 13 years ago, now there are “less than 300,000, perhaps less than 200,000.”

Most of them live in refugee camps, “with little hope,” he said. “I too know what people living in the camps have been through.”

“I have been kidnapped by terrorists and tortured for my faith. Every day I looked to my bloody shirt,” he recalled of his time in captivity. “I don’t want to see blood of my people anymore.”

Others who spoke at the conference included the tearful parents of Kayla Mueller, a 26-year-old American aid worker who was captured in Syria by Islamic State in 2013, raped by its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and eventually killed.

Samia Sleman, 15, a Yazidi from Hardan, Iraq, recalled an August 2014 Islamic State attack on her village:

“They took me and my village, they took us captive. My dad, my uncle and my grandfather are still in captivity,” she said through a translator. “I was in captivity for six months and 12 days.”

She spoke about sexual abuse inflicted on women and girls, some as young as seven or eight years of age, and the murders of thousands.

“Our mothers, because they were older, they killed them, because they didn’t like them because they were older, they just took the other girls. They killed thousands of Yazidi men. They just kept the girls as sex slaves,” she said. Also, she added, “They forced us to convert to Islam.”

Sleman told those listening that Western countries could offer protection and open borders to the Yazidi people, who are unable to defend themselves against the Islamic terrorists. The Yazidis, she said, are also treated as second-class citizens in their native Iraq.

“Why don’t we see any action being taken, even though it has been over a year and a half now?” she said. “We don’t see the international community taking concrete actions against the Islamic State.”

Event organizers also presented a petition with 180,000 signatures to the U.N., asking for increased intervention for Christians and other persecuted minorities in conflict regions.

View the speeches here.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.