Survival and Sadness in Iraq’s Christian Towns

Iraq’s Nineveh Plains lie between the
Kurdish north and the Arab South the area is home to a variety of ethnic
minorities including a group of people known as Assyrians they are descendants
of the world’s first Christians whose presence here dates back to the 1st
century AD they speak a dialect of Aramaic similar to the language spoken
by Jesus Anwar ishow is a book printer could you read something for us yeah of
course yeah than usual that’s speaking about Jesus today there are fewer than
250,000 Christians living in Iraq down for more than a million at the start of
the us-led war in 2003 the latest threat to them has come from Isis the militants
invaded the Nineveh Plains two years ago occupied Mosul and many of the
surrounding towns they destroyed ancient pre-islamic art raised the Syrian
archaeological sites to the ground and issued Christians a chilling ultimatum
convert to Islam pay taxes to us or die thousands of Iraqi Christians fled Mosul
including my auda Abdul Gani her husband and their four children
Isis gave them only three days notice to leave their home enough time to pack
some clothes and family pictures they live now in an old school building
converted into refugee housing in the nearby Christian town of Al Kolsch
which Isis had in its sights before Iraqi and Kurdish forces pushed them
back now she listens to the radio for news
about home where Isis kidnapped her brother two years ago she hasn’t heard
from him since this station its phone calls from anti-isis people inside of
Mosul let people on the outside know exactly what’s going on in the city
that’s really dangerous if Isis catches them they can hang them apparently they
just hanged four people they’re doing things like that before they set out to
retake Mosul last month the Iraqi army and the Kurdish fighters known as the
Peshmerga both with the support from the US military began liberating small towns
on the way including several majority Christian towns like Bosnia that had
been occupied by Isis three days ago we walked through bot nya with father
Emmanuel Johanna Johanna is a leader in the Assyrian Church who runs a local
Christian charity he was anxious to inspect the town’s historic church to
see what damage Isis had done this was his first time back in two years is there one word to describe how you
felt when you stepped through that door Joey that the church I said wife what
sadness what was being done in the church holy books were burned the Book
of Psalms yes Isis or – as it’s known here left its mark this symbol over here
but I’ve seen this before this is this is my Allah solet’s during our visit an improvised
explosive device Isis left behind as a booby trap
detonated outside the church okay so we’re just told we have to get out of
here because there a lot of explosions happening so it’s time to go we have to
go even if these towns become safer that doesn’t mean the Christians who were
forced out will be willing or able to come back according to father Emanuel
one of our immediate concerns is that what will be happening in this Christian
towns when are they when they are liberated because we have concerns that
they will be occupied occupied by non-christians father Emanuel says there
are signs that Iraqi Muslim troops in particular Shiites are showing their
colors in some Christian towns in an attempt to intimidate Christians he’s
counting on Christian militias to protect Christian property
Douglas Aziz is a soldier in a Christian militia called Dweck nasha meaning those
who sacrifice an air conditioning repairman and father of three little
girls Aziz helped liberate Bosnia it was a
fierce battle aziz says Isis had snipers and grenades and suicide bombers on
motorcycles he shot this video while on patrol showing how Isis dug tunnels
under the church to protect themselves from American led airstrikes in the end
the militiamen helped drive Isis out it was a proud moment when Aziz himself
climbed to the top of the church in Bosnia to replace the cross ma ma Pantha
head of de we’re very happy we are winning we want a Syrians to control
this area still some in the Assyrian Christian community like printer Anwar
ishow are pessimistic about the future he doesn’t trust the Kurds or the Iraqi
government to protect them what’s the future look like for Christians in the
area it seems very dark yeah really if they don’t have any power if they
don’t have anyone to support them they can do nothing only thing they can do
they will leave so they are going to Europe or to America or to Australia or
to other places so they are function my odda Abdul Gani whose family has found
refuge in the Christian town about Kosh doesn’t know what she will do when the
fighting stops in Mosul although she was comfortable living among Muslims before
she says some collaborated with Isis and now she’s fearful of having Muslim
neighbors again that’s in the past I don’t trust them anymore she and the
rest of Iraq’s Christians will have to pick up the pieces
as Isis retreats just last week Isis surrendered the ancient Assyrian city of
Nimrod but not before laying waste to its vast cultural heritage dating over
1,000 years before Jesus father Emmanuel says ultimately the future of
Christianity in Iraq will be determined by those who decide to come home to the
Christian ghost towns of the Nineveh Plains hundreds of thousands of
Christians have left Iraq if this trend continues aren’t you worried that there
may no longer be any Christians here you know it is a challenging question to
keep the Christian Church alive here and we can we can we will never never give
up we might be helpless but we are never hopeless

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