Last July, ISIL issued a decree to the dwindling population of Christians in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, ordering them to convert to Islam or pay a special religious levy.

And if they did not, “there is nothing to give them but the sword,” the group said.

Since then, ISIL has released a trademark video showing the apparent beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya.

At least 70 Christians have also been reported abducted in northeastern Syria. And they are not alone.

The unfolding conflict in the region is forcing thousands of Christians and other minority groups to leave their ancestral homelands, where they had co-existed with other religious communities for nearly 2,000 years.

It has moved one commentator to observe that “we are watching a living history and all that comprises disappear.”

Inside Story asks: Is a rich tapestry of history at risk of being lost in the cradle of civilization?

This interview was originally broadcast on Al Jazeera Inside Story.