For years he kept the story of his capture to himself — telling the details to almost no one. Now, however, Fr. Douglas Bazi, a priest from Erbil, Iraq, who was kidnapped and tortured by Islamic militants back in 2006, is sharing his story, hoping to shed light on the plight of Iraqi Christians.
“I never talked about my story for many reasons but, first, because this is the cost [of being] a Christian in Iraq,” he said.
“Second because, as a priest, we are used to persecution. When we get in the seminary they tell us: ‘You don’t know, maybe you will be killed one day.’ Third, I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. Who I am to complain?”
It was ISIS, said this man of great faith, that finally changed Fr. Bazi’s mind about sharing his story: “When 2014 happened and [events unfolded] with the Islamic State in Iraq, I started talking.”
Since then, Fr. Bazi has been working selflessly to bring his story to the American people in particular, in order for us to understand the terrible plight of Christians in Iraq. He has done interviews and traveled the United States to share his story — also speaking with LifeZette and appearing on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”
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“It’s not my story but our story,” he said, speaking of the dire circumstances of the Christians left in Iraq and the persecution that occurs to this day.
“We are Christian from the first century,” said Fr. Bazi. “We are just a peaceful people.”
Before 2003, there were over two million Christians in Iraq. Today, Christians represent less that 1 percent of the Iraqi population.
“When the two groups of Muslims — the Sunnis and the Shi’ites — started to fight each other, we Christians [were] caught between two fires,” explained Fr. Bazi. “In 2004, the first church was attacked in Baghdad … but then, instead of attacking churches, they started attaching clergy.”
He added, “They attacked my church and I was shot by an AK-47, and after that they kidnapped me. I found myself in the trunk of a car and I had no idea where they took me … They said, ‘If you open your eyes, we will put a bullet in your head.’ One kicked me in the face with his knee and my face was covered in blood.”
That was only the first few minutes of the cruelty Fr. Bazi endured for the next nine days of captivity by Islamic extremists.
“They took me into a house and were proclaiming, ‘We got the infidel!’ and ‘We got the American spy!’ Then they took me to another place where they kept me for nine days.”
“I felt the Islamic hospitality in a bad way,” quipped Fr. Bazi. “Every day they called me ‘infidel’ and ‘American spy.'”
But the berating and chiding was the least of the priest’s worries.
“They would put an empty gun to my head and pull the trigger,” he explained. “The first four days I spent without water. And they would torture me in the night.”
Fr. Bazi explained that, due to the lack of water, to this day he sleeps with water by his bedside table. And when he told his family and friends the story, they brought him cases and cases of water.
“Now everywhere I go people give me a bottle of water because of this story,” Fr. Bazi said with a smile.
He said his faith underwent the ultimate test during his captivity. “I was praying the rosary on the 10 chain links on either side of my handcuffs,” he said.
And during his time as a prisoner, Fr. Bazi began to talk to his captors. “I know sharia law better than you,” he would tell them. “We are not in a war. You kidnapped me. I am your enemy, but you are not mine.”
And the men who kidnapped him would say back, “It’s not personal. We don’t know you — you are on a list. They will give us money for you.”
It became clear that they were agents of the then-government in Iraq. “They said they control everything and that they are the government,” Fr. Bazi said.
And then it was time to talk of ransom. “We will ask for one million,” his captors told him. Fr. Bazi scoffed at his captors, saying, “When you kidnap the prime minister, ask for one million. My bishop won’t pay that.”
The Islamic extremists allowed Fr. Bazi to speak with a fellow priest during his capture, but only in Arabic, not in Aramaic, as they wanted to know what the two priests were saying to one another.
"But I said one word in Aramaic — the Aramaic word for 'it's over' — because it was very clear to me I was going to die."
The Christians in charge of exchanging the ransom thought he would die, too, because they could not pay what was asked. Fr. Bazi said the Christian community there said, "Keep him. We will consider him one of our martyrs."
Fr. Bazi, however, understood that this decision was necessary, even at the time. "I would do the same," he said.
The captors were not happy with that answer. "They came and took me to another room and they were watching the Iraqi TV channel, which just plays the Quran. They played it very loud, because they are showing the type of believers they are."
Then the torture began. "I heard one of them say, 'Bring me the hammer,' and they hit me in [the] mouth at my teeth. They hit me again and again, and then [on] my shoulder and my back."
But the torture only happened at night. Fr. Bazi said that during the day, those who guarded him would ask for his advice on life. "During the day, they used to ask me many questions, like 'What do I do with my wife? She's upset about this or that.' And I would tell them to be kind to her. 'Your wife will be happy,'" he would tell them.
At night the torture would return — often that's when the leaders of the groups would come in. In the daytime, only the lower-ranking people in the group would stay.
"The same people during the day would ask me for advice, and during the night [would] call me 'infidel.'"
Finally, there came a breakthrough. "After nine days, the church paid them some money and they put me in the car and covered me in women's clothes," in order to get him through the checkpoints, he explained.
But he was unhappy with the clothes and began protesting and telling them they would pay for what they had done to him. They scoffed at him, asking how could he protest when they had the power to kill him at any moment. But Fr. Bazi clearly showed he was not one to be frightened — his fortitude was greater than their guns.
"They dropped me off in Baghdad," he said. "And I walked to a church that was close and the priest [who was waiting there for him] ran out and hugged me. And then I started crying."
Today, Fr. Bazi leads the Christian people who are left in Iraq with strength and courage. He said he tells them, "If you want to leave, leave. If you want to stay, don't complain."
That is the spirit and strength of these Iraqi Christians.