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Hundreds Of Iraqi Christians Fled Mosul After ISIS Ordered: Convert Or Be Killed

Christians have lived in Mosul for nearly two millennia. Now the community is gone.

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Hundreds of Iraqi Christians — many with little but the clothes on their backs — fled the city of Mosul over the weekend, after ISIS militants in control of the city issued an ultimatum on Friday : convert, pay a protection fee, or be killed on Saturday.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been home to Iraqi Christians for nearly two millennia. Many fled in June, after ISIS militants easily captured the city and declared it part of their Islamic state stretching from eastern Syria to western Iraq.

AP Photo

ISIS militants have been closing down Churches and taking down crosses, as pictured here on July 19. Prior to ISIS' advance, life for Mosul’s Christians was already on edge: Thousands of families fled in the mid-2000’s, after the US-led invasion of Iraq initiated a flare-up in sectarian violence.


On Friday, ISIS announced on loudspeakers that Christians could leave, convert, pay a fee of $470 USD — or face the sword, CNN reported. Even so, many residents remained hesitant to leave their homes, where many families had lived for centuries.

Then on Saturday, under the threat of death, at least 52 families fled, CNN said. Armed gunmen forbade the fleeing residents from taking anything with them — and reportedly looted their homes afterwards.

Stringer/Iraq / Reuters

An Iraqi Christian family who fled the violence sleeps inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif near Mosul, in the province of Nineveh on July 20. One Christian resident of Mosul told The New York Times that five Christian families stayed behind and converted to Islam, under the threat of death.

Here, graffiti on an abandoned Christian family's home in Mosul reads, "Long live the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Muslims are happy with the return of Mujahideen. God is Greater."

President Nouri al-Maliki, who has been accused of stirring sectarian divides, denounced ISIS' expulsion on Sunday. Meanwhile, residents struggled to cope with the realization that they may never be able to retrieve the homes and lives left behind.

On Sunday, Christians and Muslims gathered together to pray at the St. George Chaldean Church in Baghdad, one of several solidarity prayer sessions in the city. Here at the Mar Girgis Church, also in Baghdad, a man held up both a cross and a Quran.

Stringer/Iraq / Reuters

During a speech Sunday, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako said that ISIS militants were worse than Genghis Khan and his grandson Hulagu, who led the Mogul ransack of Baghdad in the 13th century.

At the conclusion of prayers, Iraqi Christians gathered outside their churches in a show of solidarity, holding signs like this one that reads: "I am an Iraqi, I am a Christian."

Former BuzzFeed World Reporter, Current BuzzFeed News Contributor

Contact Miriam Berger at

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