- Structures destroyed include fourth-century Assyrian memorial
- Patriarch of Syriac Catholic church tells west: ‘Condemnation is not enough’
A picture released by Isis of a Christian shrine in Hamdaniya being destroyed. Photograph: The Guardian
Kareem Shaheen in Beirut
Friday 20 March 2015 15.45 EDT Last modified on Friday 20 March 2015 16.31 EDT
Islamic State militants appear to have destroyed Christian and Shia Muslim shrines in northern Iraq – including a fourth-century memorial built by an Assyrian king – in the group’s latest rampage against the embattled country’s religious and cultural heritage.
On Thursday, Isis’s “Nineveh province media office” released photographs showing the apparent destruction of the holy sites in Hamdaniya, northern Iraq.
“We are not imported into our lands in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon,” Ignatius Joseph III Yonan, patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians of the Syriac Catholic church, told the Guardian. “We call on the world that calls itself civilised to help us stay in our land, and defend our rights as citizens.”
“Condemnation is not enough. Our destiny is in great danger, the Christians and the other minorities in Iraq,” he added.
Isis attacks on ancient sites erasing history of humanity, says Iraq
Most of Hamdaniya’s Christians, both Chaldeans and Syriacs, fled the area when Isis swept through northern Iraq last summer in a lightning offensive, desecrating churches and killing or forcibly converting minorities.
The razing of ancient sites and Shia mosques is the latest assault on Iraq’s heritage by the militant group, which in recent weeks burned thousands of priceless manuscripts in the Mosul library and ransacked its museum, bulldozed the ancient city of Nimrud, and attacked the fortress city of Hatra.
The group also attacked Dur-Sharrukin, a former capital of Assyria.
Isis, which governs a self-declared caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, ostensibly adheres to a purist interpretation of Sunni Islam, which seeks inspiration from early Islamic history. The group considers Iraq’s Shia majority to be heretics and rejects religious shrines of any sort.
One photograph released by Isis showed a fighter holding the group’s banner above the dome of a Shia mosque that had been ransacked. Others showed the militants holding banners portraying Imam Hussein, the prophet Muhammad’s grandson and one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam, with captions describing them as evidence of “shirk” or association with God, a charge equivalent to apostasy.
Another photograph showed a bearded militant laying explosives in a Shia mosque.
A series of images also showed the total destruction of what appears to be the tomb of Mar Behnam, a fourth-century site built by the Assyrian king Senchareb and maintained by the Syriac Orthodox church, with nothing left in the wake except rubble. The fate of the nearby Mar Behnam monastery, built in the 12th century as a retreat for Christians to “renew their faith”, is unknown, said Patriarch Ignatius, who returned on Thursday from a visit to Syria.
The patriarch had received news of the site’s destruction two weeks ago, but it was confirmed with the release of the images.
The patriarch derided what he described as the “machiavellian” strategy, hypocrisy and lies of the coalition fighting Isis, saying western states must block the group’s provisions of arms and financing. He described the seizure of Nineveh by Isis as a conspiracy in which the west is complicit.
“These states that say they have values and principles should not have left them to come,” he said, adding that Christians were being evicted from their ancestral homes across the Middle East.
“This piece of history cannot be recreated,” said Diana Yaqco, a spokeswoman for A Demand for Action, an organisation campaigning for Assyrian rights, describing the latest attack. “[Isis] not only despises our religious beliefs but our literature, arts, and history which is irreplaceable and one of a kind.”
She added: “We call on the responsible organisations to put an end to this. Or we as a people will be wiped out completely along with our churches, buildings and history all together. We will become rubble and dust and make no mistake the world leaders and international community will be judged for watching it all happen right before their eyes.”