Satellite images have revealed that a 1,400-year-old Catholic monastery in Iraq has been destroyed by the so-called Islamic State.
Situated on a hill near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the remains of the Monastery of St. Elijah served as a holy site for Iraqi Catholics until Islamic State militants took the area in mid-2014.
Given that the Islamic State has a penchant for destroying artifacts and sites that it considers heretical to its radical interpretation of Islam, it was feared that such a fate had been visited upon the monastery.
Now satellite images have confirmed that St. Elijah’s has been destroyed completely.
Watch a report by AP here:
“Christianity was born in the Middle East, and is an integral part of the history of Iraq and the Iraqi people,” said UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova in a statement.
“Such deliberate destruction is a war crime and it must not stay unpunished,” she said. “It also reminds us how terrified by history the extremists are, because understanding the past undermines the pretexts they use to justify these crimes and exposes them as expressions of pure hatred and ignorance.”
Bokova said that the destruction confirms the “crimes against humanity suffered by the Christian population, and the extent of the cultural cleansing underway in Iraq.”
UNESCO says that Iraq’s Christian population has dropped from 1.3 million in the early 2000s to 300,000 today.
The Monastery of St. Elijah was established by Assyrian Christians in the sixth century. In 1743, the monastery’s monks were given an ultimatum by Persian forces to convert to the Islamic faith says the BBC. The monks rejected the demand and up to 150 of them were slaughtered. But still a Christian community managed to thrive in the area, and the monastery remained standing until being destroyed last year.
Sixty thousand Christians lived in the city Mosul before it was taken by Islamic State. It is unclear how many remain there today. Iraqi forces are currently preparing to launch an offensive to take back the city.
Watch a report here from BBC News about life in Mosul under Islamic State: