There is no doubt that what we witness today in Iraq is a horrible genocide. Christians, together with members of other religious and ethnic minorities are persecuted, deprived of their fundamental rights and forced to leave their homes and become refugees. For me, the fate of Christians is particularly moving because their communities have been present on Nineveh plains from the dawn of our civilisation. Their churches are part of the cultural heritage of the whole mankind, and now, all that is in danger – people, sites, culture.
The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen significantly, from 1.2 million in 2003 to between 330,000 and 350,000 today. The situation in Syria is similar, around 1.8 million Christians lived in the country before the conflict started; since then at least 500,000 Christians have been displaced.
The rise of the Islamic State (IS) has taken many by surprise. The terrorists from IS are responsible for the massive displacement of civilians in the region, igniting an urgent humanitarian crisis in the region. Eleven years after the fall of authoritative dictator Saddam Hussein, we see Iraq divided into three parts: between the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds. We see Christians who have lived in this region longer than anyone else – forced to abandon their homes and flee. If they refuse, they would be tortured and killed, raped and sold as slaves by the terrorists. We know this because we have seen it happening.
"Europe must continue to provide humanitarian aid of shelter, food, water, medicine and clothing for refugees to survive till their return to their homes and villages"
In Iraq, where universal human rights and freedoms are violated, we learned the hard way that when a person is stripped of their human rights, then every other person on Earth is in danger. Universal human rights constitute the very condition of 'being human'. This is why we have to show compassion, but that alone is not enough. We have to speak up and we have to act. It is our obligation; if we fail today then tomorrow humanity may not exist anymore.
In an effort to make a case for Iraqi Christians, I used the opportunity and proposed that this year; the Sakharov prize for freedom of thought awarded by the European parliament should go to Iraq. I put up two names: Louis R. Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Mahmoud Al-Asálí, the professor at Mosul university who was murdered by IS terrorists for his public denouncement of their savage policies against Christians in Mosul.
Patriarch Sako is the recognised voice and advocate of the persecuted. During his recent trip to Geneva, he talked about what needs to be done in order to save humanity and human dignity in Iraq. Europe must continue to provide humanitarian aid of shelter, food, water, medicine and clothing for refugees to survive till their return to their homes and villages. Without our help, the winter will be critical for most of the refugees. But a political solution to liberate the plain of Nineveh and city of Mosul must be found. Not airstrikes, but an international coalition under the UN mandate is needed to protect and defend on the ground the rights of the defenceless, displaced peoples in this region. This is a precondition for the safe return of the displaced people to their homes and villages.
It is no coincidence that my proposal includes a Christian candidate, and a Muslim candidate. Only mutual respect can bring lasting peace. The examples set by the lives of patriarch Louis Sako and professor Mahmoud Al-Asálí can restore faith and hope to thousands of Christians and Muslims alike that even in the darkest hour, that humanity can and will prevail.