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REX/Xinhua News Agency
World News

Christians mark one year since capture of Mosul

by Antony Bushfield

Hundreds of believers are thought to have died in the attack on the city, which ended with the Iraqi army retreating and IS taking control.

The militants gave Christians an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death.

Mosul had been home to a Christian community for almost 2,000 years.

In the 1990s it was estimated the number of Christians in Iraq was two million, but figures now suggest that's well below 200,000.

Coalition forces have started targeted air strikes on IS targets in Mosul but little progress has been made in taking the city back.

Reports from inside the besieged area suggest almost all Christians have left and the majority of churches have been blown up or vandalised.

In November Islamic State converted the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Ephrem to a mosque for its militant fighters.

Christian homes have been marked with the letter N for Nasrani - a word used by IS to refer to Christians.

In an exclusive interview with Premier the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Yousuf Mirkis, said many believers had accepted they may never be able to return home.

"They're thinking of leaving the country, many of them now are in Beirut, in Oman, in Turkey and many of them tried to come to Erbil but it's not easy," he said. "We are doing our best for them".

He added that the Church was trying to offer support to the thousands of Christians who had arrived in his diocese.

"We are helping, we have a humanitarian dispensary here in the cathedral. Every week we help about 50 people free of charge.

"Sick people get medicine, all those people, they need everything."

He added: "When Mr Obama said that maybe this could last around three years we laughed at him, but maybe now we are believing he was right."

Premier's Antony Bushfield's exclusive interview with Archbishop Yousuf Mirkis:

Canon Andrew White is the Vicar of Baghdad and Director of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East.

He told Premier's News Hour: "They have fled with nothing, literally the clothes on their back was all they had... we have literally had to start from scratch.

"They will never go home, even if there was peace today... they would not go there.

"What they have been through is too great and too terrible, and they desperately want to stay away from there.

"Their families have been killed, they have lost everything and we have had to start by restoring their lives, even their bibles were destroyed."

Premier's Antony Bushfield speaking to Canon Andrew White, Vicar of Baghdad and Director of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East:

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