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Medieval monastery destroyed by Islamic State

Saint Elijah’s Monastery – the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, has been completely destroyed by forces from the Islamic State (IS), according to a report from the Associated Press.

The AP used satellite photos to confirm that 1400-year old site was demolished, probably shortly after the militant group seized the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014. It appears that the site was systematically levelled using construction equipment.

Catholic priest Father Paul Thabit Habib told the AP in an interview, “I can’t describe my sadness. Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.”

The monastery was founded around 595 AD by an Assyrian monk, but during the Middle Ages it became a centre for the Chaldean Christian community. It was restored in the early 20th century, and during the US invasion of Iraq the monastery was occupied by American troops, who helped to preserve the site.

Topographical and later archaeological studies were later carried out – you can read about the research in the article Mapping the Heart of Mesopotamia: A Bittersweet Legacy in the Landscape of War, by Suzanne Bott. She told the AP that “what we lose is a very tangible reminder of the roots of a religion.”

Saint Elijah's Monastery photographed in 2005. It has now been completely destroyed by IS
Saint Elijah’s Monastery photographed in 2005. It has now been completely destroyed by IS – photo by Doug / Wikimedia Commons

IS forces have destroyed or looted dozens of ancient and medieval sites in Syria and Iraq. Ahmed Maher, the Iraq correspondent for BBC News, explained, “The jihadists have released footage showing themselves destroying shrines, churches and antiquities with sledgehammers and dynamite. More than 100 churches and monasteries have been razed to the ground in Mosul and the predominantly Christian villages surrounding it, like Bashiqa and Qaraqosh, since they took control of the area in 2014.

“The militants believe that Islam is the only religion that must be adopted by the followers of other faiths. And that is why they have targeted minorities and destroyed their places of worship. Those who have remained in these areas have been forced to choose between conversion and execution.”

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