Belfast Telegraph

I fear for my friend in the midst of slaughter, says Ulster clergyman

By Claire Williamson

A Northern Ireland clergyman has said he feels responsible for an Anglican curate working in Iraq where Christians are facing systematic slaughter.

Christians from the town of Qaraqosh were in flight after it was taken by Isis fighters on Wednesday night.

Reverend Andrew White, curate of St George's Anglican Church in Iraq, said the killing amounted to genocide.

He said: "It's a brutally difficult thing to be saying, but what we are seeing here is so similar to what happened in the holocaust under the Nazis.

"It really is genocide that we are facing. We are not just facing a general atrocity, we are facing a massacre and a mutilation of a people."

"I have always said to our people, 'I'm not going to leave you, don't you leave me'.

"Now, I can't say that any longer, if I tell them not to leave, I'm saying you have got to be prepared to die for your faith and that is what is happening", he said.

Rev White – known as the Vicar of Baghdad – spent four years being taught by a Northern Ireland clergyman, Reverend David Armstrong, in Cambridge. Rev Armstrong was forced into exile after loyalist death threats almost 30 years ago.

The former Presbyterian minister had received both praise and criticism for his ecumenical work with the Catholic Church in the Limavady area, and after the threats he moved with his wife and four children to England. There he retrained as an Anglican minister before moving to Cork in 2000.

Last year at a conference in Bangor, which was completely packed out, Reverend White spoke for 15 minutes, paying tribute to Reverend Armstrong and what he had taught him. Now Rev Armstrong feels deeply concerned and responsible for his friend and colleague in Baghdad.

He said: "Andrew was very exceptional, and I taught him faith was spelt 'risk'.

"I took a stand in the Eighties in Limavady, but I didn't think that he would have been going to Baghdad.

"At the big Bangor conference, he said, 'due to the example of the Reverend David Armstrong I have set my heart on serving in Iraq'.

"I'm very concerned and greatly worried for him."

Rev Armstrong said as he watches his friend on television he can see him becoming "more andmore distraught and fearful."

He said: "He is constantly on television and on the radio and he has said more than anything that I'm the one who was responsible for him being in Iraq because when I lived in Northern Ireland I had wanted to take a strong stand against bitter fundamentalists and hatred.

"And I taught him to stand against religious beliefs and that is exactly what he does.

"He will stand his ground, there is absolutely no doubt about that – I'm extremely proud of him."

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