Ancient Assyrian Monastery in Iraq Under Threat


Mar Qayoma Monastery in Barwar, Iraq. (2013)

Among the many threats posed by ongoing Turkish airstrikes targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in parts of northern Iraq—including threats to the safety and livelihood of local populations—is the growing threat to ancient Assyrian cultural heritage sites. The Assyrian Policy Institute is particularly concerned by recent reports from Barwar located in Dohuk Governorate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).


The historically Assyrian region includes many ancient Christian heritage sites attributed to the [Assyrian] Church of the East, including Mar Qayoma Monastery, Mar Gewargis Church, and Mart Shmooni Church.


Local residents have reported to API researchers that PKK militants operating in the area frequently occupy Mar Qayoma Monastery, which consequently puts the site under direct threat of attack. Mar Qayoma Monastery is situated atop a mountain on the outskirts of the Assyrian villages of Barwar. The ancient monastery is believed to have been built approximately 1400 years ago, and has been conserved and preserved by the local Assyrian population throughout the centuries.


Local Assyrians say they no longer have access to the monastery due to the PKK presence in the area and the constant threat of Turkish airstrikes. Eyewitnesses also claim that PKK militants have burned holy books to keep warm and that Turkish forces have recently targeted areas surrounding the church.


Inaction by regional and federal government actors raises the likelihood that these important sites will be targeted and destroyed.


Recent years have been marked by the deliberate destruction of Assyrian cultural and religious heritage. War, civil disorder, terrorism, theft, neglect, and vandalism are some of the factors that have consistently contributed to the accidental or willful destruction of Assyrian heritage—both Christian and pre-Christian. The ongoing cultural genocide has had detrimental effects on world heritage and on collective cultural memory.

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