There is no evidence that Saint Ephraim’s Cathedral in Mosul has been burned

So far, there is only propaganda – but there is a lot of it, which is already exploiting three years of real suffering across three countries. It is exploiting people’s concern in order to spread fear and drive ethnic cleansing. Some unfortunates, who are concerned for the endangered communities in Mosul, have shared the first then the second piece of propaganda.

Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part one…

Iraqi Canadian civil engineer Rabea Allos supposedly demonstrated his claim that ‘ISIL [had] burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul, Iraq’, by sharing a photograph of a burning church. drzaidg confronted him: ‘liar. That’s Egypt.’ Allos answered back: ‘get your facts right. Think before you write.’ He has continued to promote this line.

'ISIL burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul, Iraq, few hours ago' (c) Rabea Allos, Twitter, 19th July 2014

‘ISIL burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul, Iraq, few hours ago’
(c) Rabea Allos, Twitter, 19th July 2014

The news crossed from English into Arabic and back again. Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac community service Ankawa and Muslim-Christian convert-activists Walid Shoebat and Theodore Shoebat published the same photo.

And the claim crossed other language barriers quickly too. (It’s inevitable. I mention it because it makes the murmur of rumours ever more difficult to drown out.) Seemingly, first arnûn (@arnun21), then Süryani Kültürü (@suryanilercom) and others spread it in Turkish: ‘The Assyrian Catholic bishopric/diocese has been set on fire by ISIL. [Musul’da bulunan Süryani Katolik Metropolitlik merkezi IŞİD tarafından ateşe verildi.]’

Others appealed: ‘ISIL has burned the Assyrian church of Mosul. They’ve been holding 49 Turkish diplomats for 37 days. My God, help our diplomats. [IŞİD, Musul Süryani kilisesini yaktı.37 gündür 49 Türk diplomatını tutuyorlar Allahım Sen diplomatlarımıza yardım et.]’

The first piece of “evidence” is a photograph of a church in Egypt in 2013

But drzaidg was right. I tracked down Mena Fakhry’s original tweet (@menafakhry), which proved that the photo showed the Church of el-Amir Tadros el-Shatby/Prince Tadros/Saint Tadros the Martyr in Minya, Egypt, on the 14th of August 2013. Reaffirming the photo’s origins, CoOkiE had shared it within minutes: ‘Another coptic church in #Menia (st.Tadros church) is burnt by #MB supporters the terrorists.’ And Copts United had republished it within hours.

Amongst others, notably, ArtMuseumGeek (@ArtMuseumGeek), Anthony de Rosa (@AntdeRosa) and Rana Allam (@Run_Rana) worked to stop its spread. Thankfully, Alamet#HandsOffSyria (@alamet0) posted a corrective for the Turkish-language audience: ‘I’d retweeted it too, but it’s from Egypt, really. The Church of Tadros was burned in Minya last year. [Ben de RT’lemiştim ama Mısır’danmış gerçekten. Geçen sene Minya’da yakılan Tadros kilisesi.]’

كنيسة الامير تادرس الأن #المنيا (c) Mena Fakhry, Twitter, 14th August 2013

كنيسة الامير تادرس الأن #المنيا
(c) Mena Fakhry, Twitter, 14th August 2013

Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part two…

When the claim was reported in detail, Al Arabiya and Ammon News published ‘a photo [supposedly] released [on] Saturday [the 19th of July 2014]’, which ‘show[ed]‘ that the Islamic State had burned the church. That photo spread in Turkish as well: ‘ISIL has burned a 1,800-year-old church. Işid 1800 yillik kiliseyi yakmis.]’ [Update (21st July 2014): Filadelfeia Chalkidona reported that ‘extremists [εξτρεμιστές]’ of the Islamic State/Caliphate (το Ισλαμικό Κράτος/το Χαλιφάτο) had ‘burned the historic church of Saint Peter [έκαψαν την ιστορική εκκλησία του Αγίου Πέτρου]’.]

'The burning of the church is the latest in a series of destruction of Christian property in Mosul, which was taken by the Islamist rebels last month.' (c) Al Arabiya, 19th July 2014

‘The burning of the church is the latest in a series of destruction of Christian property in Mosul, which was taken by the Islamist rebels last month.’
(c) Al Arabiya, 19th July 2014

The second piece of “evidence” is a photo of a fire outside an Armenian church in Mosul in June 2014

This is a rapid recycling of recent confusion and propaganda. I debunked this a month ago. Piecing together information from an Armenian source in (major Armenian refuge) Kirkuk and from the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Amel Shamon Nona, the Church of St. Etchmiadzin was not even set on fire last month. Jihadists attacked the army base next to the church and that explosion caused fire damage to the church. As then, still now, despite the Islamic State’s promotional brochures of ethnic cleansing, there are no photographs of the church’s destruction or its ruins.

[Update (20th July 2014: Abdul Malek (@truthsMaster) has found a video that shows the unburned church and a burned vehicle outside (which was probably the source of the fire in the propaganda photo).]

I also posted a Turkish-language correction: ‘The photograph was taken on the 11th of June. The fire was outside the Church of Saint Etchmiadzin. [Fotoğraf 11 Haziran’da çekmiştir. Ateş Eçmiacin kilisesinin dışarıdaydı.]’

[Update (21st July 2014): I corrected Filadelfeia Chalkidona in Greek. ‘[Η φωτογραφία από εκκλησία και πυρκαγιά τραβήχτηκε πριν έναν μήνα κι η πυρκαγιά ήταν έξω απ’την εκκλησία.]’ Δηλαδή, δεν υπάρχει καμιά μαρτυρία ότι πυρπολήθηκε το επισκοπάτο των Συρίων Καθολικών, καμιά μαρτυρία για την καύση Χαλδαίας Εκκλησίας Αγίου Πέτρου, στη Μοσούλη. Η υποτιθέμενη Εκκλησία Αγίου Πέτρου είναι Αρμενική Εκκλησία Αγίου Ετσμιατζίν. Η φωτογραφία τραβήχτηκε πριν έναν μήνα κι η πυρκαγιά ήταν έχω.]

St. Etchmiadzin Armenian church following attacks by ISIS. (c) Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), 12th June 2014

St. Etchmiadzin Armenian church following attacks by ISIS.
(c) Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), 12th June 2014

Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part three…

Muslim-Christian convert-activists Walid Shoebat and Theodore Shoebat reinforced Al Arabiya‘s photo with ‘a photo of damages Muslims did inside the church’.

'a photo of damages Muslims did inside the church' (c) Walid Shoebat and Theodore Shoebat, Shoebat, 19th July 2014

‘a photo of damages Muslims did inside the church’
(c) Walid Shoebat and Theodore Shoebat, Shoebat, 19th July 2014

The third piece of “evidence” is a photo of an Armenian church in Syria in October 2012

As Reuters’ photojournalist George Ourfalian documented on the 30th of October 2012, as the Atlantic published on the 8th of November 2012, the Shoebats’ alleged evidence was in fact the ‘burned interior’ of the Armenian Church of Surp Kevork, ‘after clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, at the al-Midan area in Aleppo’. [Update (20th July 2014): Harald Doornbos (@HaraldDoornbos) has been sharing the corrections in English and translating them into Dutch.]

'The burned interior of Kevork Church, after clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, at the al-Midan area in Aleppo, on October 30, 2012.' (c) George Ourfalian, Reuters, 30th October 2012; the Atlantic, 8th November 2012

‘The burned interior of Kevork Church, after clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, at the al-Midan area in Aleppo, on October 30, 2012.’
(c) George Ourfalian, Reuters, 30th October 2012; the Atlantic, 8th November 2012

[Update (21st July 2014)] Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part four…

Erbil-based Noor Matti (@NoorBabylon) complained, ‘#Assyrian cathedral burned in #mosul. No international attention what so ever.’

'#Assyrian cathedral burned in #mosul. No international attention what so ever.' (c) Noor Matti (@NoorBabylon), Twitter, 19th July 2014

‘#Assyrian cathedral burned in #mosul. No international attention what so ever.’
(c) Noor Matti (@NoorBabylon), Twitter, 19th July 2014

The fourth piece of “evidence” is a photograph of a church in Egypt in 2013

As documented in John McManus’s report for BBC News, then specifically identified in Larisa Epatko’s report for PBS Newshour, the image is another view of the Church of Prince Tadros in Minya after its arson on the 14th of August 2013.

A picture taken on Aug. 14 shows the facade of the Prince Tadros Coptic church after being torched by unknown assailants in the central Egyptian city of Minya. (c) Stringer, AFP, Getty Images, 14th August 2013; PBS Newshour, 19th August 2013

A picture taken on Aug. 14 shows the facade of the Prince Tadros Coptic church after being torched by unknown assailants in the central Egyptian city of Minya.
(c) Stringer, AFP, Getty Images, 14th August 2013; PBS Newshour, 19th August 2013

[Update (23rd July 2014)] Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part five…

When San Diego 6 News journalist John Carroll interviewed Iraqi Chaldean local Ray Dawood, the broadcast displayed images of destruction that had come from the Christian refugee community in Iraq. Apart from photos of the Church of Prince Tadros and the Church of Saint Etchmiadzin, it displayed a frame that reportedly ‘show[ed] them [the Islamic State] blowing up a church‘ in mid-July.

'He said they blew up a church this past weekend.' (c) John Carroll, San Diego 6, 22nd July 2014

‘He said they blew up a church this past weekend.’
(c) John Carroll, San Diego 6, 22nd July 2014

The fifth piece of “evidence” is a photo of a Husseiniyah in June 2014

It showed them dynamiting a Shia mosque in late June.

Report on the Demolition of Shrines and Idols in the State of Nineveh (Islamic State, 4th July 2014)

Report on the Demolition of Shrines and Idols in the State of Nineveh (Islamic State, 4th July 2014)

I’d already begun to wonder about the means of communication and corroboration of the rumours, because I’d seen a supposed image of the destruction of Jonah’s tomb that looked as if it had been scanned from a print-out. This report’s secure paper trail led me to consider, are these the photos being used to further terrify Christian refugees from Mosul?

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – or presence

Ankawa, Shoebat, Al Arabiya and Ammon News also said that the church was 1,800 years old. As Religious Dirt‘s Prof. Douglas Boin (@austin_hoya) noted, a ‘”1,800-year-old” church? That would make it earlier than the earliest ever known. Terrible loss [if true] but needs [a] date check.’ Indeed. [Update (22nd July 2014): Christopher Jones (@cwjones89) has helpfully pointed out that ‘the oldest known church dates to c. 235 AD‘.]

The oldest church in Mosul, the Church of Saint Peter (Shamoun al-Safa) was built in the Thirteenth Century, so it is not even 800 years old, let alone 1,800. Naturally, the Syriac/Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Ephraim/St. Ephrem (the diocese of the community) must be younger. And the Chaldean Archbishop’s residence was first built in 1995. So, not a single claim or piece of identifying information appears to be accurate.

None of the images that have been appropriated and abused look anything like St. Afram, with or without its cross. Unfortunately, I am still only confident enough to say that there is no evidence that the church is no longer standing.

The Cathedral of St. Afram is the seat of the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese in Mosul. (c) Ankawa, 13th July 2014

The Cathedral of St. Afram is the seat of the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese in Mosul.
(c) Ankawa, 13th July 2014


'the militants of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, Daash) have removed the cross from over St. Afram Cathedral in Alshurta neighbourhood in Mosul' (c) Younes Thanon, Ankawa, 13th July 2014

‘the militants of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, Daash) have removed the cross from over St. Afram Cathedral in Alshurta neighbourhood in Mosul’
(c) Younes Thanon, Ankawa, 13th July 2014

Waiting for people to choose between subjugation, exploitation, exile and death is not protecting them

There may, somewhere, be photos that show that the Islamic State is ‘protect[ing]‘ churches. But at least some of the photos are ‘fake‘ (real, but of different people, at a different time, in a different place). And, anyway, the Caliphate is not “protecting” them in any meaningful sense. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented, the Caliphate’s fighters are holding the churches while they force their Christian communities to convert to Islam, pay a jizya tax as non-Muslims under Islamic rule, go into exile or be killed.

Historical fiction is just that, fiction: it is reckless and dangerous to spread false information

When ArtMuseumGeek tried to stop the first photo’s misuse (with a fine series of tweets @ArtMuseumGeek), Little John (@YourGunShowTix) defended the logic of ‘”historical fiction“-style fakes’ that I’ve decried before: ‘the picture doesnt really matter as long as the fact is true the See was burned down…. if it’s a file image, how is it misleading? Is the fact the See was burned down untrue? No…. Do you know the media uses stock photographs when there are none from the covered event?’ As I’ve detailed before, it is reckless and dangerous to publish false news.

Two-click fact-checking

If you have/install one of the image-searching add-ons to Chrome, Firefox, whatever, you can check an image with two clicks: right-click on the image, left-click on “search Google for this image”. Otherwise, you can still check an image with three-and-a-bit clicks: right-click on the image, left-click on “copy image URL”, then search Google for that URL.

Notes

The Islamic State is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Da’ish, Da’esh or Da’ash.

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25 Responses to “There is no evidence that Saint Ephraim’s Cathedral in Mosul has been burned”

  1. Thanks for the message! One of the reasons I’ve gone private is I’ve been ‘told’ to be more discreet. Some companies in the art world aren’t comfortable with me questioning certain things/people- and I can’t really afford to tell them to go to hell 🙂

  2. Found online: ” I am telling you as I am Iraqi they burned it completely with all the holy books and all its historical evidence. We Iraqi christians have no reason to lie, we just need people to listen”

    • I am listening. I am documenting and highlighting looting and destruction of cultural property. I am not denying that anything has been destroyed. I am disproving propaganda in order to help the victims. If the false claims are accepted, then the true reports will be rejected.

  3. Why are you defending murderous barbarians?

    You want to argue over the minutiae of whether or not one particular structure was burned and how, when, but in reality there is no doubt that ISIS represents a genocidal threat of Biblical proportions that must be resisted, w/o compassion or mercy.

    Islam is not compatible with a modern, secular, enlightened world, and all those who seek to force their offensive, cultish, mind-controlling “faith” on others should be neutralized.

    • Facts are most important precisely when the most is at stake. If you promote propaganda, people will distrust the real reports of ethnic cleansing as well, and you will make it more difficult to help the victims. Please, consider that: if you promote unevidenced bullshit, people will ignore documented ethnic cleansing, and the victims will be abandoned once and for all.

      “Islam” is no more incompatible with a modern, secular, enlightened world than “Christianity”, “Judaism”, any other religion or indeed “humanism”. you demonstrate with your Crusader rhetoric. The same nonsense could be said of Christianity due to British Protestant ultranationalism, Irish Catholic ultranationalism, Croat Catholic ultranationalism, Serb Orthodox ultranationalism, Greek Orthodox ultranationalism…

  4. Phew, now my people can rest easy knowing that ISIS didn’t burn down our church on purpose. You’re a moron trying to say it was an accident. If I blow up a house in a condensed neighbourhood, any other houses that burn is blood on my hands. These guys need to be taken out. The Christian community needs protection. We went into Iraq for a much smaller reason. What was it again? Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda? He gassed a bunch of kurds? Well now the Kurds and Christians are in trouble and no one is doing anything?

    • You’re a moron if you don’t understand the difference between manslaughter and murder. You’re a moron if you don’t understand the difference between someone saying something and someone reporting that someone else has said something. You’re a moron if you think it’s a good idea to start a war for false reasons instead of a humanitarian intervention for true reasons.

      I absolutely agree that it is a crisis and that its victims need protection, but one of the reasons that these movements can recruit people for jihad is Christian Anglo-American crusading. If you’re Armenian, you must well understand the existential threat to peaceful civilian communities when states exploit them to excuse ideological and strategic action against others, and when those others then wrongly identify the peaceful civilian communities as internal enemies who must be eliminated.

  5. [Update (29th July 2014): The original comment evidently was made on the wrong blog, so I’ve trashed it on behalf of the commenter, but the reply is worth keeping.]

    Are you lost? I am. This post exists – and many others exist – precisely because I am helping to document destruction of cultural property and elimination of communities. By definition, part of identifying true information is identifying false information. Not distinguishing between truth and falsehood is not monitoring or documentation, it is propaganda.

    Propaganda does not help those communities. Propaganda harms those communities. Propaganda helps those communities’ persecutors. Please, do not help these communities’ persecutors by spreading propaganda. That is what the author wants you to take from this.

  6. thank you for this.. its nice to know in a world full of LIES there is a TRUTHFUL one willing to speak up. God bless you!

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