By Oliver Maksan
Confirmation that Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery has been completely destroyed by ISIS has caused widespread distress in Iraq. “St. Elijah’s monastery in Mosul was a symbol of the Christian presence in Iraq. The fact that it has been destroyed is terrible,” Father Dankha Issa told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church.
Father Dankha is a Chaldean monk belonging to the Antonian Order of Saint Ormizda. Until he was forced to flee from ISIS in the summer of 2014, he had lived in Saint George’s monastery in Mosul. “St. Elijah’s monastery was over 1400 years old. It had stood abandoned for a long time. But it meant a lot to us Christians. It was an expression of our extremely long history in Iraq,” he said
Father Dankha said that what affected him in particular was the fact that clearly no one was able to stop the terrorists. He said: “It is the sons of the devil who do such work. We can only pray for them. God alone can help us.
On Jan. 20, the Associated Press confirmed that ISIS had razed St. Elijah’s monastery to the ground. An analysis of satellite pictures of the site conducted on behalf of the agency revealed that the monastery had already been largely destroyed between August and September 2014.
Up to the conquest of Mosul by IS in June 2014 thousands of Christians had still been living in the predominantly Sunni city in northern Iraq. They fled immediately after the conquest by the jihadist or they left the city in July 2014 after having been given an ultimatum by the self-appointed ISIS caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to either convert, pay a tax or face death.
ISIS has been deliberately destroying a large number of sites of religious and cultural significance in both Iraq and Syria. There had been worldwide concern at the destruction of the 1600-year-old Mar Elian monastery in the Syrian city of al-Qaryatayn in August 2015, after the town had fallen to ISIS. In a number of cases, individual churches and Church institutions had also been put to different uses, some, for example, being turned into prisons.