Threatened by ISIS, Monks Digitize Iraq’s Christian Heritage

Eighteenth century manuscript, Syrian-Orthodox church, Mosul, Iraq. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images.

The ancient Christian heritage of Iraq is at risk as ISIS drives Christians from their homes in the North West of the country. Monks in the city of Erbil are now working on digitizing ancient manuscripts to protect the valuable documents from destruction and make them accessible from around the world, NPR reports.

Dominican monks first settled in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 1750. In the early 19th century they brought the printing press to Iraq and began printing Christian doctrines. The Christians continued to live in Mosul in relative peace until 2008 when Islamic insurgents threatened Christian lives and libraries, forcing the city’s monks to flee to the town of Qaraqosh, taking the ancient texts with them.

Last summer, with rise of ISIS again threatening Iraqi Christians with persecution, the community was forced to relocate once more, eventually settling in Erbil. The church and various charities have provided the group with shelter and basic necessities.

Father Najeeb Michaeel revealed that he and his fellow monk Columba Stewart from Texas, personally loaded the “big collection of our archive, and the manuscripts” into a large truck at 5 am to deliver it to safety. “We passed three checkpoints without any problem, and I think the Virgin Mary [had] a hand to protect us,” he said. However he was forced to leave behind over 50,000 regular books.

The monks admit that the instability will probably force Iraq’s remaining Christians to flee the country, however for the time being they are working tirelessly to document their heritage before it is lost or destroyed.

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