ERBIL, Iraq (Christian Examiner) – Since last summer, more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians have fled persecution from ISIS with nothing more than what what they were wearing. One brave leader, however, concerned that Christian history will be forgotten if ISIS has anything to do with it, grabbed books when he escaped Mosul with ISIS fighters on his heels.
Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf, instead of extra food or clothing, took books into the desert.
"I didn't have any time to take anything," Sharaf said. "I was told I had five minutes to go. [So], I took five books that are very old."
ISIS is known for destroying historical relics and religious sites in the name of purging paganism.
Sharaf rescued Aramaic manuscripts that were over 500 years old, but hundreds more precious relics remained behind. Sharaf, grieved, told CBS News, "I think they burn all the books. And we have books from the first century of the Christianity."
Since Islamic State (ISIS) took over Qaraqosh and Mosul, two Christian centers of Iraq, more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians have fled persecution under the Islamic regime since last summer. Their destination is Erbil, the capital of Kurdish Iraq, where they are grateful to have escaped mandatory conversation to Islam or execution.
Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, leader of the Syriac Orthodox church in the U.K., told The Guardian that ISIS's treatment of Christians is genocide.
"Now we consider it genocide—ethnic cleansing," he said. "They are killing our people in the name of Allah and telling people that anyone who kills a Christian will go straight to heaven: that is their message. They are occupying our churches and converting them into mosques."
Like Sharaf, tens of thousands of people throughout Iraq have fled gunfire and bombing. Seeking to escape death and persecution, they ran from their towns and villages with nothing but what they could carry.
Issah al Qurain escaped from ISIS fighters in Mosul with his wife and children by hiding the back of a taxi, then walking for four hours on back roads to reach Erbil. Under fierce pressure to convert to Islam after ISIS took his family hostage, he was afraid that they were going to force his young daughter to marry jihadists.
"I told them I was Christian and I had my religion and they had their religion," al Qurain said. "But they told me, if you don't convert, we will kill you and take your wife and children.