Culture

Iraqi Christians Look to Reclaim Their Ancient Homes — It’s Now or Never

An Iraqi Christian man stands in his burned-out home in Qaraqosh in February. (Reuters photo: Muhammed Hamed)
Baghdad’s expulsion of ISIS from the Nineveh Plains gives them hope, but they must act fast to return and regain possession.

It was the night of August 6, 2014. Fresh from their capture of Mosul, ISIS fighters swept through the Nineveh Plains and overnight drove more than 12,000 Christian families from their homes and ancestral lands. The families fled, quite literally, with only the clothes on their backs.

In Kurdistan, they joined the approximately 15,000 Christians who had fled Mosul just weeks earlier. For the next three years, some 120,000 internally displaced persons, or IDPs, were housed, fed, and clothed by the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil. Led by Archbishop Bashar Warda, whose herculean efforts were made possible by the steadfast support of an array of faith-based agencies, the local Church was even able to open six new schools so the children would not be deprived of their education.

Now, with the third anniversary of that dark night in view, there is a glimmer of hope. The Iraqi government has just recaptured Mosul, while earlier this year ISIS was expelled from the Nineveh Plains. Iraq’s long-suffering Christians, worn out by many months of living in make-shift conditions, now want to go home.

Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church has urged the Christian IDPs to “return quickly to reclaim their lands before others seize them” and to avoid internal disputes. “We are the indigenous people of this country and its ancient civilizations, he added. “Our history is traced back to the oldest Christian Church in the world.”

As of this writing, more than 1,200 families have returned to their newly repaired homes on the Nineveh Plains. However, 13,000 Christian-owned homes await repair or rebuilding. And the revamping of the basic infrastructure of the nine Christian towns and villages on the Plains requires major funding — well beyond the ability of faith-based groups to deliver. Meanwhile, the overall situation is far from stable and secure. The threat of renewed violence hangs over the land.

Baghdad may tout its defeat of ISIS, but the group’s Sunni co-religionists still feel like second-class citizens in Iraq, as their devastated cities get scant help from the government. That situation is made worse by the growing influence of Shiite Iran, thousands of whose fighters have joined Iraq’s security forces. There are also reports that ISIS militants are going underground, preparing for guerrilla warfare, suicide attacks, and car bombs.

Christians and other religious minorities count on Western governments not only to help fund the reconstruction but also to insist that both Baghdad and Kurdistan guarantee security.

Christians are at risk — yet again — of becoming collateral damage of the Sunni–Shiite battle for control of Iraq and the larger region.

The issues affecting the region are complex and constantly evolving. On September 25, 2017, the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government will hold a referendum on declaring independence from Baghdad. KRG president Masud Barzani has promised that an independent Kurdistan would respect the rights of Christians living on the Nineveh Plains. However, a declaration of independence from Iraq proper may lead to a war pitting Baghdad against Kurdistan precisely on the Nineveh Plains — and Christians would again be put in harm’s way.

Christians and other religious minorities count on the Western governments — and the U.S. in particular —not only to help fund the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plains but also to use their power and influence to get both Baghdad and Kurdistan to guarantee the security of all minorities and to ensure their equality of citizenship, including their property rights and freedom of worship.

The West must act now. For if a significant number of Christians do not return to the Nineveh Plains very soon, and the power vacuum persists into 2018, the hopes for an enduring renaissance of Christianity in Iraq may be dashed forever.

READ MORE:

A Christian Unit in Syria, on the Front Lines of the Caliphate War

America’s ISIS War is Becoming an Invasion of Syria

Mosul Battle Reports: Mission Still Far from Accomplished

Most Popular

Immigration

Angela Rye Knows You’re Racist

The political philosopher Michael Oakeshott said that the “rationalist” is hopelessly lost in ideology, captivated by the world of self-contained coherence he has woven from strands of human experience. He concocts a narrative about narratives, a story about stories, and adheres to the “large outline which ... Read More
Immigration

What the Viral Border-Patrol Video Leaves Out

In an attempt to justify Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s absurd comparison of American detention facilities to Holocaust-era concentration camps, many figures within the media have shared a viral video clip of a legal hearing in which a Department of Justice attorney debates a panel of judges as to what constitutes ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Pro-Abortion Nonsense from John Irving

The novelist has put up a lot of easy targets in his New York Times op-ed. I am going to take aim at six of his points, starting with his strongest one. First: Irving asserts that abortion was legal in our country from Puritan times until the 1840s, at least before “quickening.” That’s an overstatement. ... Read More
Film & TV

Murder Mystery: An Old Comedy Genre Gets Polished Up

I  like Adam Sandler, and yet you may share the sense of trepidation I get when I see that another of his movies is out. He made some very funny manboy comedies (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy) followed by some not-so-funny manboy comedies, and when he went dark, in Reign over Me and Funny People, ... Read More