Islamic State destroys one of Iraq’s oldest Christian sites

Monastery of St Elijah stood for over 1,400 years near Mosul but was razed in Isis campaign

St Elijah’s Monastery, one of the earliest Christian settlements, and the oldest in Iraq, near Mosul, in 2009. Isis has damaged or destroyed scores of historic sites and monuments as part of a campaign to eradicate remnants of cultures it considers anathema to its extremist vision of Islam. Photograph: Eros Hoagland/New York Times

St Elijah’s Monastery, one of the earliest Christian settlements, and the oldest in Iraq, near Mosul, in 2009. Isis has damaged or destroyed scores of historic sites and monuments as part of a campaign to eradicate remnants of cultures it considers anathema to its extremist vision of Islam. Photograph: Eros Hoagland/New York Times

 

Islamic State destroyed one of the oldest Christian sites in Iraq as part of its campaign against ancient sites in the country, according to satellite photographs published by the Associated Press and confirmed by Iraqi officials and historians.

The monastery of St Elijah, or Dair Mar Elia, stood for more than 1,400 years above a riverbed south of the city of Mosul, which Islamic State, also known as Isis, seized from Iraqi forces in June 2014. The satellite photographs showed that the monastery was razed in late August or September 2014, including the site’s square complex of partly ruined rooms and a largely intact sanctuary that dated from the 11th century.

Yonadam Kanna, a Christian member of parliament, said the destruction was further evidence of Islamic State’s goal of destroying Iraq’s Christian identity, calling the site “one of the most historical” in the country. “Nothing can compensate the loss of such heritage,” he said.

Isis has damaged or destroyed scores of historic sites and monuments as part of a nihilistic campaign to eradicate remnants of cultures it considers anathema to its extremist vision of Islam. They have included ancient ruins like Nineveh, Nimrud and the tomb of Jonah in Iraq; Palmyra in Syria; and medieval Islamic sites like the tombs of Yahya ibn al-Qasim and Ibn Hassan Aoun al-Din in Mosul.

St Elijah’s was near the Mosul airport, on land that during Saddam Hussein’s rule was part of a military base, putting it off limits to most Iraqis for decades. There were 26 rooms in varying states of decay arrayed around a central courtyard. The 11th-century church at the site had a baptistery, nave and altar that were largely intact, though its walls had cracked enough to let in sunlight and rain.

Military headquarters

Airborne

Officials working with the US state fepartment’s provincial reconstruction team oversaw efforts to preserve the site, while chaplains held religious services there for soldiers serving at the base.

Military engineers built a new roof over the church in 2010, in anticipation of future restoration work, according to Suzanne Bott, who served as a cultural adviser for the state department in Mosul.

In the months since Islamic State’s seizure of Mosul in 2014 and its declaration of a caliphate to govern Syria and Iraq, the militants have driven many Christians out of the city and its environs, along with other ethnic and religious groups like the Yazidis.

Ali al-Nashimi, a historian at Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, expressed shock at the monastery’s destruction. Islamic State, he said, “wants to eliminate Christianity from Iraq and the Middle East”

New York Times