Rebuilding begins on the Plains of Nineveh
Konigstein/Montreal—Monday, May 8 2017— And we’re off! This Monday, May 8th in the villages of Bartella, Karamless and Qaraqosh an “Olive Tree Ceremony” will mark the beginning of rebuilding work on the first 100 homes of the Christian refugee families: A program sponsored by the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Last week, Father Andrzej Halemba of ACN, who is acting chairman of the “Nineveh Reconstruction Committee”* has described this moment as a “historic and unrepeatable occasion for the future of Christianity in Iraq.”
These first 100 homes are the first steps to replacing or renovating the nearly 13,000 private houses destroyed or heavily damaged by so-called Islamic State. Olive trees are being offered to the owners of the houses in order to plant them close to their houses as well as a message given to these families: put your roots back where you were born, live and bring fruits of peace and reconciliation.
To Stay or to Go: Christians Face a Dilemma
In a survey conducted in March it emerged that 41% of the Christian families definitely want to return to their own homes on the Plains of Nineveh, they had been forced to abandon during the IS invasion in 2014. An additional 46% of these families are seriously considering the possibility of returning. A major change when compared with the first polls conducted in November 2016, when only 3.3% of these families, were seriously considering returning to their villages.
“These figures are a snapshot of the historical dilemma facing Christianity in Iraq at the present time,” says Father Andrzej Halemba, ACN’s representative for the Middle East and the acting chair of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee. “By starting work on these first three reconstruction sites, we are hoping to send a clear signal to the thousands of Christian families who were driven from their homes on the Plains of Nineveh and who are now living in makeshift conditions in Erbil and other towns of Iraqi Kurdistan,” he adds. “This is a decisive historical moment. If we now miss the opportunity to help the Christians return to their homes on the Plains of Nineveh, these families might well decide to leave Iraq forever. That would be an enormous tragedy. The presence of the Christians in this region is of vital importance, and not only historically, but also politically and culturally. The Christians represent a bridge of peace between the various Muslim groups that are fighting each other; they make a crucial contribution to the educational system and are respected by all moderate Muslims.”
“These figures are a snapshot of the historical dilemma facing Christianity in Iraq at the present time,” says Father Andrzej Halemba, ACN’s representative for the Middle East
and the acting chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee. “By starting work on these first three reconstruction sites, we are hoping to send a clear signal to the thousands of Christian families who were driven from their homes on the Plains of Nineveh and who are now living in makeshift conditions in Erbil and other towns of Iraqi Kurdistan,” he adds.
Destruction in Qaraqosh, by the so called Islamic state.
And Father Halemba concludes with an appeal for prayers. “To all our Christian brothers and sisters in the West we ask not only their financial support but also that they support with their prayers the courage of the thousands of Iraqi Christians who have made the decision to return to their villages and stay on in Iraq.”
Close to 3 Million in Food Assistance
Meanwhile, ACN’s program continues with the distribution of basic food aid to the 12,000 or so families who were forced to flee Mosul and the other towns and villages of the Nineveh Plains, to Erbil and to other towns, like Dehouk, Kirkuk, Zakho and Alqosh. By the end of June 2017, the charity will have distributed three million dollars’ worth of food aid. Since March 2016, ACN has been the only international organization regularly supporting the IDPs in the region. Since 2014, ACN has supported the IDPs currently living in Iraq nearly 44 million dollars.
*The committee was set up on March 27 this year in order to plan and supervise the reconstruction of the nearly 13,000 or so Christian houses and homes damaged (669 of them totally destroyed) by the forces of so-called IS. The overall cost of the rebuilding program is estimated at over 250 million dollars. ACN has already made available 652,000 to the committee and to the three Christian churches, it represents.
Text by Daniele Piccini for Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office