Satellite footage obtained by The Associated Press on Jan. 20 documented the destruction of Saint Elijah’s monastery, a 1,400 year old Christian landmark located in Mosul, Iraq. The Islamic State terrorist group, also known by the Arabic word Daesh, claimed responsibility for the temple’s razing. It is believed that these actions took place in the Fall of 2014 subsequently after the Islamic State group annexed the city.
The decimation of the temple brought condemnation from the Obama administration and elicited a particularly poignant and upsetting reaction from the Christians being tormented and displaced by the Islamic State, according to The New York Times. While the Islamic State has conquered copious regions in the Middle Eastern countries Iraq and Syria, the terrorist group has wreaked havoc while targeting the Christian demographic.
When asked about the temple’s destruction, a local Catholic priest, Father Paul Thabit Habib, stated, “we see it as an attempt to expel [Christians] from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.” Father Thabit Habib went further to say that the monastery, a place of solidarity, was an integral worship site for both Christians and Muslims in the area, according to the Associated Press. A Christian member of the Iraqi Parliament, Yonadam Kanna, expressed that the attacks tear apart Iraq’s Christian identity. Kanna believes that this most recently found instance of the Islamic State’s hatred towards other ideologies could be one “of the most historical yet.”
These actions fall in line with the Islamic State’s method of operation, which revolves around annihilating any cultural and historical site that does not correspond with their intolerant, fundamentalist viewpoints. The Islamic State has erased countless religious monuments ranging from Buddhist tombs and artwork to Christian worshipping sites similar to Saint Elijah’s, according to the BBC. The organization, known for recording their notable attacks and killings on camera, have countless films destroying ancient, sacred and significant places of worship.
Saint Elijah’s prevailed through many years of violence before its toppling. The monastery sustained damage from a missile in 2003 and was even used as a military base by the Iraqi Republican Guard in the 1970s as well as the Americans during the invasion of Iraq in the 2000s. The American soldiers in the monastery used the ancient monument not only as a base of operations but, if so inclined, a place to worship. The United States controlled the area where Saint Elijah’s was located from 2003-2011, but eventually split from the monastery due to the army’s chaplains emphasizing that their spiritual and historical importance was too valuable to potentially compromise. In the late 2000s, American soldiers worked to restore the monastery, most notably the monastery’s damaged walls. Christians, Muslims, American troops and many more feel the loss of a pivotal cornerstone of culture and spirituality.
General Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director issued a profound critique at the Islamic State group, saying, “Despite their relentless crimes, extremists will never be able to erase history… 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.”
Editor’s Note: Information from The New York Times, the BBC and the Associated Press was used in this report.