Exclusive interview by María Laura Avignolo
In Iraq, at least 250,000 Christians and Yazidis, one of the oldest sects in the world, are running away by thousands from the beheadings, crucifixions and executions by ISIS, the Islamic Sunni fundamentalists, Army of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Terror was planted with obvious brutality. The atrocities and the escape to the mountains, to the Kurdish areas, by thousands, without anything but what they were wearing, has generated a humanitarian disaster never seen in that country. Around 50,000 Yazidis are staying in the Sinjar Mountains, enduring 50 º C, without food or water, and they cannot be rescued. Even with the humanitarian aid and the U.S. airstrikes.
In Baghdad, and Argentinean priest is assisting the Christians who are running away from ISIS during these sad days. Father Luis Montes, who belongs to the Incarnate Word Order, which was born in Argentina, has been living three years and half in Iraq. He wants to remain there, with Father Jorge Cortes, “till there are no Christians left” during one of the worse genocides in the XXI century against them and the Yazidis.
Calm but without acceptance he admits during a phone interview with Clarín: “Anything can happen. There must be pressure on the countries which surreptitiously help ISIS. If the help to this terrorist group is not cut, it will be very hard to finish with this problem. The international community should intervene by punishing the responsible of feeding these groups. If it doesn’t, it will be an accomplice in this genocide”.
– What’s the persecuted Christians current situation in Iraq? Why is ISIS persecuting them?
– ISIS is persecuting them because it’s a fanatic Islam, that hates Christianity. That’s why the first thing they do when they arrive in a Christian place is to destroy crosses because they hate the cross. But in general, ISIS hates everyone who doesn’t belong to their group. For the ones who don’t accept what they say, the solution is the sword. No matter if they are Christians, Yazidis or Shiite. The Christians are the ones who are suffering more because they are a minority and they have no protection.
– There’s going to be no Christians left in Iraq?
– It’s hard to know. Since the US invasion till now the number has decreased from one million and half Christians to 400,000. And with these kinds of actions the exodus is growing. As the Cathedral’s parish priest, I have to sign the baptism certificates they need for the visas and the people asking for them is getting more. More than before. Many people are doing it just in case, to be ready in case something worse happens. They don’t want to leave but they are considering it.
– Is there a plan so they can go to another country? Is Europe open for them?
– I don’t know about the European policies. I know that here people is very patient to wait for their visas. They can wait years. First they go to an Arab country, where they stay till they are ready to go somewhere else. Normally they go to Canada, USA, Germany and Australia.
– At the moment, the US is bombing ISIS positions. Is this a solution for you, are the people feeling safer with this action? Do they think they could be saved?
– The people I talk to in Baghdad are happy with it. Because ISIS wants the destruction of everybody who doesn’t belong to them. People were waiting for someone to intervene. It doesn’t matter who. In general they think it’s a good idea. But the thing it’s just a step. Much more has to be done in many areas. The solution isn’t to come with a couple of planes and that’s it.
– If they come with more it would totally be a war situation
– What I mean is that more work should be done to achieve a government of unity and international pressure can help with that. There must be pressure on the countries which surreptitiously help ISIS. If the help to this terrorist group is not cut, it will be very hard to finish with this problem.
– And is there any possibility? Because in the Middle East exists this fight even among Sunni, between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
– The international community should intervene by punishing the responsible of feeding these groups. If it doesn’t, it will be an accomplice in this genocide.
– Is this a genocide or ethnic cleansing?
– Both. What these people is looking for is to exterminate their opponents and they do it as ethnic cleansing or religion cleansing. It can become genocide because of the magnitude that is reaching. If we mention only Christians, 200,000 of them in the last days have fled their homes. There are children dying on the road because of sunstrokes, there are 50º C. There are people who have no food, they are getting ill. We still don’t know if the schools will open again after the summer holiday. The situation is absolutely terrible. We are talking about hundred of thousands people. Without mentioning the future consequences. Physical scars for those who have been wounded and psychological scars for most of the people.
– In Sinjar there has been a true massacre by ISIS. They have beheaded, burnt crosses and brutally evicted the Yazidis.
– It’s atrocious. They are committing all the atrocities they want without anyone stopping them.
– Is it true that they execute, behead and burn the manuscripts? The brutalities about ISIS that are described on the social networks are true or they are a propaganda thing?
– I don’t have all data. I know what the families tell me, which is: that they kidnap whole families, kill the men, enslave women, sell the children, eliminate opponents and retaliate in a disproportionate way everybody who fights them. These atrocities are true. But I don’t know other details. But there are true things like: they burn everything about ancient culture, they desacralize churches they transform in mosques, and this is proved.
– Is it the first time in centuries that there was no mass in Mosul after the Christians had to escape?
– Yes. Mosul is a church with a very ancient Christian tradition, of at least 1,600 years, and this was totally finished because for them it was an abomination. It was finished by force. It is a catastrophe in all levels. They are destroying many years of coexistence by fomenting hatred, resentments and mistrust. When will this be solved?
– Yazidis are also being evicted, one of the oldest sects in the world. Why do they want to execute them too?
– They abominate everyone who is not them. First it was the Christians, because they hate them. But the hatred got extended. It reaches everyone who doesn’t think like them, including other Muslims. The Yazidis were the next great scale victims because they also are a minority hard to protect. If they could, next would be the Shiite Muslims.
– But the Shiite Muslims have their own militias; they are prepared to defend themselves from ISIS attack. Can everything end up in huge civil war?
– Certainly. In the places taken over by ISIS there are Shiites but they haven’t done much about them. Maybe they will in the future. Besides, the country’s division between Shiites and Sunnis is very strong. There is a lot of hatred. So it can end up in a civil war. But it’s hard to know if it will really happen.
– In the north the Yazidis have been rescued or the ISIS artillery is not allowing it?
– From what I heard they have received some humanitarian aid from airplanes, but it’s too little for what they need. It’s said that they are around 50,000 people without even water. I know that some have escaped. There’s some help, but days are passing by and there’s no solution. ISIS has just taken over another city, even after the US airstrikes. That’s why the solutions till now are not enough.
– The Iraqi government has changed yesterday. They have changed the Shiite Prime Minister Mr. Nouri Al Maliki by another Shiite, Mr. Haider Al Abadi. Is there any chance to achieve unity and that the Sunni tribes stop supporting ISIS, after having confronted all this time with the ex Shiite Prime Minister Al Maliki?
– The possibility exists. It’s a good step. But we have to see if the chosen person would be the correct one. A unity government would be the best thing in this moment. Because the Sunni tribes are very strong and they allowed ISIS to enter walking, because they were not happy with the government. They have made explicit statements: “We don’t have anything against the army, our problem is the government”. With a new government it’s possible that the situation will change. The thing is that Al Maliki had been elected by a majority of votes. He won’t be happy with this solution.
– Is it possible that some Sunni tribes will support again the government, when the situation eventually can evolve against them?
– If the government’s measures are appropriate, many Sunni tribes will support it again. But these same tribes are waiting to see what the government will do, to decide if they will support it or not. We are all waiting.
– The new prime minister has one month to form a government. Isn’t a month an eternity in such situation?
– It certainly is, and if we don’t receive more help immediately, anything can happen. But on the other hand if the Sunni tribes are waiting, this means ISIS is also on hold.
– The American support to the Kurdistan is also another battle: the probable Kurdistan’s independence from Iraq.
– Yes. This is the reason why the Kurdish militias have no collaborated with the central government and vice versa. Everybody has its agenda. The Kurdish people want their independence. The central government doesn’t want to allow it. This dissention has allowed the terrorist group to get stronger.
– Under these conditions, Father, are you planning to stay in Baghdad or you are going to leave, as many diplomats have done?
– Our first thought is to stay. As long as there are Christians. We are here because of them and we want to stay with them till the end. But no one knows what will happen. The worst may happen or may not. But our intention is to stay with them, with the people we have chosen to serve.
– Forgiveness doesn’t count to the Muslims?
– There’s no forgiveness among Muslims. For these people to harm who has harmed them is not only allowed but it’s an obligation. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Harm has to be given back. Forgiveness is a defect. This is the reason of the problem in the Holy Land: neither Jewish or Muslims recognize forgiveness. Rome’s great rabbi, who converted to Christianity during the second world word, used to say that forgiveness for a Jewish is against justice. If you apply this to these cities, they are forced to do something evil. When you remove the Christians, who declare that forgiveness is something positive, you are bringing a huge harm to that society.
If you want to communicate with Fr. Luis Montes in Iraq or support him, you can do it through this site: