Security and the rule of law are what Christians most need in Iraq, but it seems no one wishes to offer them, says Metropolitan Nicodemus Dauod Matti Sharaf, the Orthodox Syriac Archbishop of Mosul.
Speaking to the Register last month in Erbil, Metropolitan Nicodemus, who was the last bishop to leave Mosul when ISIS invaded the city in 2014, had strong words for the West: he said, citing an example, that the developed world places the welfare of frogs ahead of Christians, that the West needs to wake up to the threat of Islamism, and blamed past U.S. leaders and their allies for ruining his country. He likes President Trump, saying: “Let’s try the crazy one because we tried the normal one, and he destroyed our lives.”
The 40 year-old Orthodox prelate, who Britain banned in December despite being formally invited to meet Prince Charles, also shares his views on Islam and why he greatly values the example set by Hungary for the respect its leaders have shown for Christians.
Metropolitan Nicodemus, what did you think about being denied a visa to Britain?
Someone from the television channel RT called me from England and asked why I couldn’t get a visa. I told him: “Because I’m not with ISIS.” The British government gives them to those who support ISIS. I don’t support ISIS. They refused three archbishops. They said we would ask to be refugees in England. And yet I have had permanent residence in Australia and visas for all the world, except England. In America I was there 5 years, Russia, India, all these places but they don’t accept us.
Is England being very naïve?
Yes maybe this, or maybe because those working in the embassy are mostly Muslims. The mayor of London is Muslim.
What’s your perspective on the current situation here as an Orthodox Church leader?
When all the world asks me this question, I answer as a Christian, not as an Orthodox, because when ISIS came, they didn’t make any differentiation between Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. They call us the letter N, for Nazarene. They put it on our houses, churches. So we should talk about Christians, not talk about Catholic, Orthodox.
What’s your personal view about the current situation?
The situation is as you see: it’s so bad, and we can’t accept or trust anyone around us. Now all the people are talking about returning to our villages especially Nineveh Plain and Mosul but I don’t accept this idea. We can’t go back without security, to build our houses, our churches and villages without real security, just by verbal guarantees. The guarantees cannot come from Iraqi and the KRG (Kurdistan) governments but from the international community and the UN. If we don’t get these guarantees, it’s very stupid to go back into this situation because everyone who is pushing us to leave these villages is still there. The Arab villagers who support ISIS are still there … those who wanted to take our land, to take our villages. It’s still the same thing, still there’s no strong government in Baghdad. You can’t do what you want — still the parties who control this country are the same, nothing is new.
What specifically needs to be done?
Two things: firstly to change the government of Baghdad, not the personnel, but the way of government, to make it a strong government, for there to be law. Since 2003 until today we have lived without law. All can do what they want. No country in the world can live with stability and peace without law. For example, in England or any place in the world, let’s say that there’s no law, what will be done?
Second, there need to be guarantees from the UN, at least to take political decisions, to say that Nineveh Plain villages are a safe zone, protected by international power. When I met the American consul, I told him we need international guarantees, protection, anyone to protect us. If not, we get another ISIS after a few months, and we will get another one under a new name.
What did he say?
He said it’s difficult to put soldiers there. I told him we don’t need soldiers, we need the same air plan that stopped ISIS coming to Erbil at midnight [in 2014]. We want the same air plan to stop them coming to our villages again. He said they’re ready, but there are no guarantees. We need documentation, not just talking. Without this, we can’t build our cities.
It would be stupid to go back with this situation because when ISIS came to Mosul, they were just 300 persons, and at that time there were 65,000 Iraq soldiers. So how can we trust this army again, even our villages too? They were protected by Peshmerga and all left. We feel alone, no one to protect us, our people. How can we go back to that situation? It’s stupidity. There are many churches they started to build, and they told their faithful to go back. But me, I told my people: if you don’t see me there, I won’t accept anyone who goes back.
You were the last bishop to leave Mosul?
Yes, I was the last bishop left in Mosul. It was me and ISIS. They were just 300 meters away.
If you cannot go back, obtain guarantees, do you believe places like US, the UK, Europe should prioritize Christians for emigration?
No, we will die on our land. It’s not the solution to leave this country. The solution is to hlelp us to stay in our land. It’s not just a land to leave; it’s historical, a holy land for us.
But in the meantime, leave temporarily?
No, whoever goes cannot go back.
What’s your opinion of Donald Trump?
You know, when we were talking when he won, somebody said: “This is a crazy man.” I told him, why not? Let’s try the crazy one because we tried the normal one, and he destroyed our lives. Let’s try the crazy one, maybe he will help us, because who’s not crazy? Obama? Bush? Clinton? Who’s not crazy? All those people destroyed our life, destroyed our country. They wanted to change one person, and they destroyed all the country. Because they destroyed Saddam Hussein rather than Iraq. They wanted to destroy one person, they destroyed the whole country, they destroyed Iraq. They want to destroy Bashar Al Assad, and they destroy Syria. They want to change Gadhaffi, they destroyed Libya. Is the person who does these things clever or crazy?
So I pray for Trump and support Trump. I don’t have any power, but support him with my prayers because I think he can help us.
Do you think he’s given good signals to you that he will?
Yes, and let us try another political way. The old political way of Obama, Clinton and Bush, the father and the son, destroyed our life, destroyed our country. You know, we lost everything, we lost our churches, monasteries, houses, everything, even our dignity.
So you hold the U.S. ultimately responsible?
Yes, they’re responsible, and those who helped America, for destroying our life, destroying our country. They should rebuild our country if they believe in human rights. I don’t believe in these two words, there are no human rights. But in Western countries, there are animal rights. In Australia they take care of frogs. One of our Syriac citizens, who’s a builder, bought land, took money from a bank and wanted to build houses and sell them. Then when he wanted to get a certificate to build, in the middle of the land, he came across a hole with eight frogs in it. The government of Sydney told him: “You can’t build on this land.” He said: “But I’ve taken money from the bank and I must get to work” and they pushed him to build in another place, making him pay $1.4 million to build a different place for these eight frogs. And yet we are the last people who speak Jesus’ language. We are Aramaic people and we don’t have this right to have anyone protect us? Look upon us as frogs, we’ll accept that — just protect us so we can stay in our land.
Would you like Trump to do what Hungary has done, set up a department for persecuted Christians?
You know, when we talk about Hungary, I’m proud of this country. I hope and pray America will do the same because for the first time, I feel like a respected Christian in a Western country like Hungary. The Prime Minister, when he met His Holiness the Patriarch and me, he tried to kiss his hand and my hand, and said he needed a blessing. It means he’s a Christian. Immediately he said he’d give $1m to the Syriac Orthodox, and $1m for the Syriac Catholic, and for the Chaldeans, too, they’ve given $1m. He told our patriarch that with this million dollars you can do what you want with your people.
I don’t talk about him [Hungary’s Prime Minister] in this way because he gives us $1m, but because he shows us respect and we feel we’re in a Christian country. I don’t feel this in America, Europe. When our people go to Sweden they ask them why did they go there? They say: “We have a problem with Muslims,” and they answer: “We’re Muslims, why don’t you become Muslims?” For them it’s easy. We give our blood to live our faith, but for those people, it’s very easy to say: be Muslim.
Your Patriarch has said twice, there are five marks of the Church: one, holy, Catholic, apostolic — and persecuted. He said it in Budapest, and in London. Do you believe on a spiritual basis that your suffering here is going to do good for us who are so weak in the West?
I hope and pray for this.
Because the faith is very weak in Europe.
Yes. I talked in Brussels at the parliament and told them: “You should wake up because you accept people and think they’re refugees but they are not refugees.” For example, those 1 million people who went from Ukraine to Germany: the Red Cross wanted to give them help, but when they saw the Red Cross on the box, they didn’t accept the boxes. These are not refugees, if they are and in need, they’d take it from anyone.
You believe they’ve been radicalized?
Yes, and so I tell them to wake up. Those people are the same ones who came here many years ago. And we accepted them. We are the original people in this land. We accepted them, we opened the doors for them, and they push us to be minorities in our land, then refugees in our land. And this will be with you if you don’t wake up. If you don’t wake up please tell us because we have caravans. When we go back to our villages, we won’t sell those caravans, we’ll leave them for you when you become refugees from your country. Believe me, this will be. [Turkish President Recep] Erdogan and the Turkish government are pushing them to have five children in Europe, every family should have 5 children. All the Christians in the world have one baby or half. I’m sorry but it’s a stupidity. They should be having babies, five or six, why not? Why should we help the Muslims? OK, we help all those in need, if he’s really in need, we must help him because we are Christian and we love even our enemy. But why don’t Christian people wake up, especially in Europe?
If we say that in Europe we’re called racist, fascist.
We should define our faith, our life.
How does the current situation in Iraq now compare to how it was in the 1990s, 1980s, especially the relationship with Muslims? Why and how has it changed?
We’ve had the problem with the Muslims for 1,400 years, not from now. This is the truth but we don’t say it as we want to live in peace. ISIS came to Mosul in 2014 but we experienced [Islamism] in Mosul four times before ISIS, from 2003 to 2014. ISIS is the fifth wave because in 2005 they said in mosques in Mosul, in the neighborhoods: “Don’t buy the Christian houses, you’ll get them for free.” That was 2005. Muslims’ faith tell them that everything belonging to a non-Muslim is free for you: his money, his dignity, his women, anything. It’s free for them, and it’s their right, because they are not Muslim. This is their faith. God told them that.
How come they didn’t seem to believe this before 2003?
Because of the law. We can live with evil if there is law, to control the place. At the time of Saddam, it was a time of dictator, a big dictator, but there was law, there was the police, there was the army. Anyone who did anything to hurt you, you could call 104, the police, and they came immediately. After Saddam the dictator, it was the time of democracy. If we called this number, if anyone answered, he’d say: “Look after yourself.” So we can’t live with Muslims. How can we do it? With law, society, police. This is the problem. There should be strong government in Baghdad, to have law. Without it we can’t live with anyone, because, as Christians, we’re not educated in fighting, but other are. If they don’t see anyone to fight with, they fight with themselves, Sunni, Shia. This is their problem, and we don’t have this education. So we need law, and if there’s law we can live with anyone. We live here in peace in Erbil in Kurdistan because there’s strong government, there’s law, to protect us.
But the Peshmerga abandoned you? Do you trust them in the long term?
Yes, but we need guarantees from them, to trust them. Without guarantees we cannot trust anyone, and I say this to the President, too.