Visit of Mossul, Iraq – Second and last part
A glimpse of hope for Christans
This week, continue your visit wuith Nadia, inhabitan of Mossul who comebacks after more than three years in her city, Mossul. A mix of emotion, balancing between happiness and sadness, discouragement and hope.
Nadia and Yohanna drive through the devastated Mosul to Nadia’s house. They pass a UN storage unit, of which only the building structure is still standing. “Until 1996, I worked for the UN, for the WFP, in Mosul,” says Nadia. “The world had sanctioned Iraq, but we were allowed to trade oil for food and medicine. In those days, I was responsible for Mosul’s food supply.”
Nadia has to swallow as she enters her house’s garden. In 48 degrees Celsius, the fig tree is begging for water, and the rose bushes have obviously lacked her loving care. “You would take care of the garden,” she snaps at Mothes, the temporary inhabitant of her house. “You promised.”
With Mothes, Nadia assesses the damage: a couple of the rose bushes have not survived her absence. She tells us how she didn’t recognise the house when she and her mother first saw it back after the city’s liberation of ISIS. “Our home was damaged and dirty: all of our belongings had been thrown around. A beautiful painting of Josef, Maria and Jesus had been broken. We didn’t want to stay in Mosul for long and agreed with our neighbours that they would clean the house. I will sell the house as soon as I have the opportunity, in December me and my mother will decide what to do with it.”
Nadia is temporarily subletting the place to a Muslim family from Mosul: the forty-year-old Mothes and the thirty-three year old Zahra with their children Ufram, who is eighteen, Razak, who is fifteen, and the ten-year-old Ibrahim. During the occupation of ISIS, the family had fled to Basra, and they cannot return to their own home, because that has been destroyed.
Mothes was an officer in the Iraqi army. He tells us how he deserted after an attack from Al-Qaida. “I left Iraq and, after a journey through Samos, Greece, Germany and Denmark, I ended up in Sweden. My wife had stayed behind in Iraq and I did not receive permission to bring her to Sweden. After living in Sweden for one year, I returned to Iraq. My wish is to live in Mosul, but I will go abroad as soon as things are getting restless here again.”
Nadia and Yohanna also enter the impressive church of the Holy Spirit. It appears that the church, built in the shape of Noah’s ark, has since the liberation in April been a shelter for four families from Zummar, which lies in the north of Iraq. Each family inhabits a separate room of the church, which was in the news in 2010 when the bishop was abducted and two priests and their guards were murdered. A third priest escaped, visited and took care of his colleagues’, his father’s and his brothers’ graves for years, and moved to Australia. “Long lives the caliphate!” The walls clad by ISIS seem to shout.
The new inhabitants of the church fled their houses from the increase in violence from ISIS three years ago. Abdullah, Mohammed, Mohammed, Muntaha, Nawaf, Raha, Raeid, Saher Yassur and Wassif are running excitedly through the large, empty hall of the church. “Due to the war, our children haven’t been able to go to school for three years,” sighs Khalil Hassan Mahammed (36). “We don’t know when this situation without a future will change.”
While his 35-year-old wife Helala Ali Saleh puts the finishing touch to the meal, Khalil tells us that they are Muslims and had to survive under ISIS’s reign for a long time. “We could not live in our own house anymore and had to stay in a refugee camp for one and a half years. Since January, the distribution of food has stopped: in the past months we received a food supply only once.”
Now the men try to provide for their families. “Sometimes I sell bottles of water, but it is hard for me to work because my leg is paralysed,” says Khalil. “Sometimes I can help restore houses that have been destroyed. That way, I can earn some money for my family.”
Khalil and Helala have no idea when they will be able to leave the church and return to their own village. “The Kurds have conquered our territory, but we heard that they have robbed our houses and destroyed them with bulldozers. The war with ISIS is over, but we still haven’t received permission from our liberators to return to our area. We don’t even know whether we’ll ever live in Zummar again.”
“Pay ransom or pay with your life”
“I can’t believe my eyes when I see what ISIS has done to my church,” whispers Nadia, while fighting tears, as she enters the Syrian Orthodox Church Mor Afraïm. “I remember sitting here, in the midst of my friends when the Mass was served very well. I remember being on the square outside with all the church members and using the rooms for meetings: the women in the rooms on the left, the men on the right. Thinking about that time saddens me deeply.”
“After the turn of the century, it was already getting worse for Christians in Mosul,” she recalls. “In 2008 and 2009, Christians were threatened, abducted and killed for their faith. I received a letter once that said I had to pay, or I would pay with my life. A well-known priest was abducted and slaughtered. His body was found back in pieces.”
“Now, the IS warriors have robbed every church, demolished them and covered them with texts: the marble plates are off the floors, the walls and arches have been broken and taken. Even the different floors have been damaged, to retrieve the threads of steel. I’m not sure my church will ever be fully restored,” Nadia sighs, as she walks past the church’s sanitary facilities that have been set outside to be sold. “The reconstruction of this church will cost a lot of money and energy, and for whom are we rebuilding it? All the Christians have left Mosul.”
“When I just looked up, I suddenly felt intense happiness. I saw that the blue dome with Jesus’ image had survived the occupation of ISIS reasonably well. And, although not much of its beauty has remained, this image shows how beautiful my church was. The jihadists have only been able to destroy the edges of the picture. Seeing Jesus above me, in this destroyed church, gave me great joy.”
The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need is currently working to encourage the return of the Christians to their former homes in Iraq. With its Campaign “Return to the roots”, ACN is closely involved in an extensive program to rebuild the homes and churches of the uprooted Christians from the Nineveh plains region, not far from the city of Mosul. And indeed with some success – for already around a third of the Christian exiles have now returned to their homes on the Nineveh plains.
If you want to contribute to this collective effort for Christians in Iraq,
donate here. Thank you!