Iraqi rescuer of centuries-old books from ISIS destruction is nominated for EU award

CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP NAJEEB MICHAEEL OF MOSUL has been listed as one of the three finalists for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought given out by the European Parliament. The winner will be announced on Oct. 22.

When the Islamic State arrived captured Mosul in June 2014, Archbishop Michaeel ensured the evacuation of the Christian communities, Syriacs and Chaldeans, to Iraqi Kurdistan and safeguarded more than 800 historic manuscripts dating from the 13th to the 19th century. Since 1990 he has contributed to safeguarding 8,000 manuscripts and 35,000 documents from the Eastern Churches.

Archbishop Michaeel
Archbishop Michaeel

“We are very pleased that Archbishop Najeeb Michaeel has been nominated for this important award. It is a great opportunity to honor and recognize the courageous work of someone who has been an unwavering defender of our Christian heritage in this ancient land. The award underlines the efforts of this pastor, who, in the face of barbarism, saved the historical manuscripts that are so important in helping the Iraqi Christians communities keep their culture and heritage alive despite all obstacles,”  said Regina Lynch, head of projects for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The Dominican religious ACN about his work in 2017: “Just before ISIS came and occupied our land, our monastery, I felt something very dangerous could happen to us. That’s why I decided to put all these collections in a big truck and take them out of the Nineveh Valley and Mosul and put them here in Erbil, Kurdistan. It’s very important to us to save our heritage and keep it safe for future generations. The Christian community here in Iraq is not a new community. It’s very old, almost 2000 years old. We have many grammar books and many dictionaries dating from the 12th to the 13th century, in Aramaic especially, the language of Jesus Christ. It’s our mother tongue. And we are proud to keep them. We keep also many Muslim collections and some Yazidi manuscripts.”

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was set up in 1988 to honor individuals and organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is named in honor of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov. In past years, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako as well Asia Bibi have been nominated for the award.

To watch a video about the archbishop’s work, click here.

—Maria Lozano