He is known for having cried out his frustration in front of the world’s cameras while accusing the UN and the international community for being corrupt and completely powerless to act. Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf was the last Christian religious leader to leave Mosul, the second largest town in Iraq, when it was invaded by ISIS in the summer of 2014.
The first time I met him was when he, a number of Yazidi activists and I were among the speakers at a German university event. Then Mosul was occupied by ISIS. Now it has been liberated.
“It is not liberated, Nuri, stop saying that. It won’t be until the fundamentalist Salafi doctrine is totally gone from there. It is an ideology that was there long before ISIS.” He was quite annoyed with me.
Many people think that he is a bit too outspoken, and that also annoys him. In his opinion, saying the truth is not being outspoken; not doing it is cowardly. He doesn’t quite understand the meaning of “outspoken.”
I was invited to interpret for him at the summer event of a Swedish Christian movement; Oasrörelsen at the end of July 2017. They wanted an interpreter who also had knowledge of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
After his two-hour lecture we took a long walk together along the beach in a small town called Varberg. The passers-by glanced furtively at us. His red beard, long black cassock with red trimmings and unusual headdress caught everyone’s eye on this Friday night.
A middle-aged couple were among those who took an extra glance. When we passed them the woman turned around and asked whether we spoke Swedish. She was curious as to who he was and why he was dressed like he was. I answered that he is a bishop from Mosul. “ISIS-Mosul” she exclaimed, surprised. Her husband joined us. We stood under a street lamp on the promenade, talking about terrorism, fundamentalism and the importance of shining a light on persecution while a bunch of intoxicated youths staggered past us.
The couple left, and we continued our walk. But we were interrupted once more. Suddenly someone called my name. We stopped. A woman jumped out of s car and ran towards us. She had been at the lecture and wanted to thank the Archbishop for taking the time and effort to travel to Sweden to tell an audience of 2,000 people about the genocide of Assyrians/Syriacs/Chaldeans and Yazidis in Iraq.
“I am a psychologist, one of my patients is very traumatized, and after months in Sweden, still difficult to reach. He is a Muslim, and was ordered by ISIS to kill Christians. When he refused they killed his entire family.”
Both the Archbishop and I asked if we could meet the patient, but doctor-patient confidentiality doesn’t allow it. The Archbishop said the man must belong to one of the Sunni tribes that were almost wiped out by ISIS after having refused to cooperate with the murderous sect.
She hurried back to her illegally parked car and we continued our walk. The Archbishop was reluctant to relate his own story, but the evening was long. Eventually he started telling me.
In 2004, one of his friends was killed in front of the camera of al-Qaeda. The Bishop was then studying Greek in Athens. They cut his head off because he was a Christian and had “cooperated” with the Americans. They produced a DVD that they distributed in the streets of Mosul. They shouted out their hatred of Christians through megaphones. This was one year after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Shortly thereafter the Bishop, who was a monk at the time, was sent to serve the Syriac Orthodox Church in Australia. In 2006, he learned that his family in Mosul had been attacked by al-Qaeda. The terrorists kidnapped and killed his cousin, then this brother was warned that they were going to kill him, too. The brother managed to escape, and when al-Qaeda came to his shop and he was gone, they burned it to down the ground. During the same time the Archbishop’s friend and teacher, Poulus Skandar, was kidnapped and killed.
The Bishop’s family fled to Syria. They were wealthy and could afford to pay smugglers. They stayed in Syria till 2012, when the UNHCR convinced Canada to take his parents and two brothers and their families. His two sisters and their families were received by the United States.
By that time he had been ordered back to Mosul. At the beginning of 2009, being old and lacking strength, Mosul’s Bishop wanted to retire. The Patriarch then asked Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf to return to Iraq to assist the old Bishop until the latter left.
“Australia is a paradise. It was like flying from serenity to hell. That is, back to Mosul and terrorism and persecution. A number of priests, monks, nuns and bishops had been killed. In some cases they had been dismembered. Many churches had been bombed. But I didn’t hesitate for a second. God wanted me there, so I went.”
A few days after his return to his native town of Mosul, he saw some children gather around some round object. The children were very excited about their toy. Coming closer he saw that they put cigarette butts into it, and he was on the verge of telling them to stop ruining their toy when he noticed what it was - a human skull. It reveals the kind of life they had to endure over the years prior to ISIS’ arrival in northern Iraq.
He stopped at a bicycle on the promenade in Varberg. He asked if someone had died, whether that was the reason why the bicycle was decorated with flowers. He also wanted to know what was written on the sign. It was the opening hours of a coffee shop and the bike was part of the decoration. He took a photo of it and changed the subject.
“When ISIS invaded they imposed a curfew. I hadn’t really left the cathedral for years, unless it was absolutely necessary, so we were already prisoners. We were used to the sound of explosions and the rattling of submachine guns, but this time the noise was louder, more widespread. We read in the news that ISIS had invaded Mosul. We also saw the terrorists being celebrated by the inhabitants of Mosul, many of whom had long before secretly joined the invaders and received them as freedom fighters. They regarded them as an alternative to the Iraqi army, which was largely composed of Shiites, while the inhabitants of Mosul are Sunni.”
Two days later the phones started ringing off the hook. The Bishop was told to leave town, that he was a threat to himself as well as others. But he refused. On the fourth day after the invasion, the minister of the interior of the Kurdish Regional Government called and told him to leave, that it was more dangerous than normal to stay, especially for a Christian. ISIS had painted the Arab equivalent to the Roman letter “N” on all Christian homes and shops, to mark where the infidels lived and worked. It stands for “Nasara”, a pejorative Arabic word for Christians.
But the Bishop stayed. A little later the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi Army called. The Bishop asked if it was true that the army had lost control of Mosul. The military leader responded that they had control and not to worry. When the Bishop asked whether he should leave town there was a moment of silence and then he said in a stressed voice that the Bishop not only should but must leave immediately.
“I am a shepherd.It says in the Bible that I cannot leave my flock. I and the others in the Cathedral started making phone calls. We were going to leave when the others were safe. We had to flee, in a rush, with just the clothes we had on. Everyone was stopped at check points, everything of value was stolen, even shoes and coats in some cases. Earrings were torn out of women’s ears so that they bled.”
How many people fled during those days, no one knows. But most seem to agree that it was more than 200,000 people. They arrived in Kurdistan Region with cuts on their feet, with family and friends left behind.
A few years later the persecution of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities was recognized as genocide by the European Parliament, the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament.
On August 3, 2014, when ISIS invaded the motherland of all Yazidis, Sinjar in northern Iraq, thousands of men and older women were slaughtered, thousands of girls and women were kidnapped and sold as sex slaves, young boys were brought to ISIS’ brainwash industry. The world was paralyzed before this large-scale evilness.
The Archbishop’s Cathedral, this 1,700 year old building, was transformed first into a mosque, then destroyed completely. One of his churches was used as a brothel, women and girls were sold from there.
At the event in Varberg, many people said to the Archbishop:
“Forgive us for not praying for you sooner. Forgive us for not taking action.”
*Agneta Wirberg and Susan Korah also contributed to this report