ISIS has razed to the ground the oldest Christian monastery in the country, the latest in a coordinated effort by the terrorist organization to utterly destroy ancient cultural sites in the name of their interpretation of Islam, AOL is reporting.
Satellite images taken between March, 2011, and January 16 show that the site of the Dair Mar Elia, or Saint Elijah’s Monastery, has been reduced to rubble in that time period. It is not clear, specifically, when ISIS destroyed the monastery.
— ABC News (@abcnews) January 21, 2016
For 1,400 years, Saint Elijah’s Monastery had stood as a holy site among Christians in a region dominated by Islam. Build between 582 and 590 CE by Assyrian Christian monk Saint Elijah, the monastery was a place of worship for Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Christians for centuries. In 1743, some 150 Christian monks who refused to convert to Islam were martyred there. Even until the middle 20th century, the monastery was a holy site for Iraq’s minority Christian population.
— Konstantin Kirilov (@houseofhegira) January 20, 2016
By 2003, Iraqi troops had taken over the monastery, using the site’s ancient well as a garbage dump. A wall was blown off after a nearby tank explosion sent debris hurling into the structure. When American troops took over, some began painting graffiti — such as “Chad wuz here” or their divisions’ mascots — over the monastery’s ancient murals.
Christian military chaplains, realizing the significance of the site, kicked the troops out and tried to protect it. For a while, it even served as a place of worship for American Christian troops.
One of those chaplains, Catholic priest Jeffrey Whorton, described using the monastery as a place of worship.
“It was a sacred place. We literally bent down physically to enter, an acquiescence to the reality that there was something greater going on inside.”
Once ISIS took over large portions of Iraq in 2014, the fate of the monastery became uncertain, as the terrorist organization cut off communication to the region. Now, satellite pictures have confirmed that the monastery has been reduced to rubble.
Rev. Paul Thabit Habib, a leader in Iraq’s small Christian community, described what he felt on seeing pictures of the ruins.
“I can’t describe my sadness. Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.”
Like their predecessor, al-Qaeda, ISIS has been systematically destroying holy sites — churches, monasteries, even mosques — associated with anything that doesn’t adhere to their interpretation of Islam, notes the New York Times. Already, the terrorist organization has destroyed ancient ruins of Nineveh, Nimrud, and the Tomb of Jonah in Iraq; the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria; and even Islamic sites in Iraq such as the tombs of Yahya ibn al-Qasim and Ibn Hassan Aoun al-Din in Mosul. Artifacts that haven’t been destroyed have been smuggled into the black market for antiquities.
As New York Times writer Sarah Almukhtar notes, destroying ancient sites is a propaganda maneuver for ISIS.
“In March 2015, the Islamic State released videos showing its militants shooting at and bulldozing Hatra and Nimrud, ancient sites in northern Iraq. The dramatic footage gained significant media attention, allowing the group to extend its message widely and potentially expand its recruiting.”
As of this writing, it is not clear how many Christian sites remain in Iraq, or which ones ISIS intends to target next.