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Summer, 2014
Volume 40, Number 2
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In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
23 September 2014
Michael J.L. La Civita




An independent Catholic family foundation, Raskob, has awarded Catholic Near East Welfare Association an emergency grant to assist the agency in opening two additional medical clinics serving Iraqi Christian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to CNEWA’s partners on the ground, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul, there are pressing health concerns for the 4,530 Iraqi Christian refugee families living temporarily in the cities of Dohuk and Zahko.

With fears of cholera and typhus, volunteer doctors are inoculating children in a makeshift dispensary in Erbil. Thanks to CNEWA’s benefactors, three more suitable clinics will open to serve better the needs of Iraqi Christian refugees. (photo: CNEWA)

The Dominican Sisters will administer the clinics day-to-day, as with CNEWA’s clinic taking shape now in Erbil. The sisters are coordinating their efforts with the Chaldean and Syriac priests responsible for relief efforts in Dohuk and Zahko, respectively.

The clinics will be staffed by volunteer doctors, Christians displaced from the city of Qaraqosh, and will provide quality care for chronic ailments and medical emergencies. Health care in Iraqi Kurdistan is largely private and cost prohibitive for the refugees, who fled their homes with nothing.

The emergency grant will help set up four examination rooms; install two bathrooms; waterproof a tent to serve as a waiting room; and provide medical equipment, such as an ultrasound machine, eye pressure meter, electrocardiograph, birthing and dental chairs, and other tools and equipment.

Members of CNEWA’s team in Beirut, who are making regular visits to Iraqi Kurdistan, are monitoring the implementation of the clinics.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Health Care Iraqi Refugees Relief

23 September 2014
Michel Constantin




Iraqi refugees gather outside a makeshift dispensary in Erbil. (photo: CNEWA)

The Christian Presence in Iraq

The Iraqi Christian community, perhaps the oldest in the world, has survived more than 1400 years under Islamic rule in its homeland. During the first 500 years of the golden age of Islam, the Christians participated and shared in the shaping of the most advanced civilization of its time. Then, during the downfall period under the barbarian invasion of the Mongols in 1258, followed by the Ottomans and different brutal military invasions and occupations, the Christians remained in their homelands continuously, sometimes in harmony and many times in fear with their Muslim neighbors.

Unfortunately, the Christians could not hold on and support the last wave of modern Islamization. The brutality of ISIS militants and the marketing of this brutality over social media succeeded in creating shock and terror among all minorities of northern Iraq. On 6 August, the Christian presence in Mosul and Nineveh plain faded completely along with their trust in the international community and Baghdad and Kurdish governments, the latter of which withdrew their forces from the Christian towns over night, leaving more than 130,000 Christians without any kind of protection and subject to the brutality of unmerciful militants.

Lacking options and weapons to defend themselves, all Christian inhabitants fled to save their lives and those of their children. At midnight, they left with few garments and headed further north to find shelter in the Kurdish territories. Some drove through the desert for many hours to avoid military confrontation and ISIS checkpoints, other slacking the means of transportation had to walk for more than ten hours before reaching safe areas. Children, elderly, and all families found themselves helpless and alone under the burning sun of August, where the temperature reaches 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit). The Kurdish government provided them with only permission to stay in their territories safely; besides security, nothing was available. The only shelters they had were the backyards of the churches and some unfinished commercial centers transformed into temporary camps with primitive textile partitioning.

The Christians of the Nineveh Plain were considered the elite of the Iraqi population in the north, largely because of their education, occupying the best positions in the majority of skilled fields requiring advanced educations. They were counted among the best medical doctors, the best teachers, the best engineers, etc. They believed they could make a difference and worked hard from one generation to another to create a more open society where an individual is accepted and respected for what he is and not for his religious beliefs. Unfortunately, their efforts did not yield positive results, and the people with whom they lived for over 1400 years decided to attack them and force them to either convert to Islam or leave. There is little surprising about their collective decision to leave.

Refugees gather inside the temporary dispensary to receive medical care. (photo: CNEWA)

CNEWA Representatives Visit to Iraq — 2-5 September, 2014

Since the early days of the displacement, CNEWA’s Beirut office has been in continuous contact with the local church in Erbil and with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, showing solidarity and figuring out the best ways to accompany them and help reducing the suffering of refugees.

On 2 September, a delegation from Beirut composed of Michel Constantin and Imad Abou Jaoude, representing CNEWA, and Sister Marie Claude Naddaf from the Good Shepherd Sisters, representing all the female congregations in Lebanon, headed to Erbil to better understand the humanitarian situation and to get in direct contact with the local church people who are involved in reaching out for the refugees.

Our activities during this visit could be summarized as such:

  1. We first met with the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul, who himself was displaced from Qaraqosh with more than 130,000 Christians of all denominations from nine villages and towns in the Nineveh Plain.

    To get to the archbishop’s office in Martha Shmouny Center in the quarter of Ain Kawa, a neighborhood of Erbil initially inhabited by Christians, we passed through a large crowd mainly composed of children with their mothers waiting for their turn to get a vaccine from a field dispensary set up in a small tent where doctors — themselves also displaced from the hospital in Qaraqosh — were providing medical services to hundreds of Christian refugees.

    The archbishop received us in a steel container located in the front yard of his church in Erbil. Three priests helped him to register the displaced families. The archbishop explained to us that the most urgent need at present is to provide a primary health care center.

    We visited the dispensary outside the displacement center and met with the Rev. Behnam Benoka, a Syriac Catholic priest in charge of the dispensary. Father Benoka explained that at present, there are only two dispensaries taking care of the Christian refugees; the first one is called Habib al Maleh — a private dispensary, run by a Chaldean director, and supported by the Kurdish government. The second is an on-site dispensary installed during the first days of displacement inside a tent on the sidewalk outside Martha Shmouny Center. Fifty staff members operate the facility, all of them displaced and volunteering their expertise and time for free. Among the volunteers are 15 medical doctors from the hospital in Qaraqosh, in addition to 15 medical assistants and 20 volunteers.

    The dispensary receives an average of 500 patients every day and provides vaccinations for the children. The patients are from all displacement centers of Erbil.

    An empty garage has been turned into living quarters for refugees. (photo: CNEWA)

    The urgent need at present is to extend the dispensary by providing four prefab rooms and a large new tent to serve as a reception area. Each room will serve as a clinic for one doctor according to each specialty — internal medicine, pediatric, gynecology, ophthalmology, etc. — and will be equipped with the basic needed equipment. The dispensary will be located in the front yard of the displacement center of the Syriac Catholic Church. Martha Shmouny will provide services all over the day and the doctors will be shifting to cover the needs of all patients.

    Regarding the second major problem that they have which is the provision of proper shelter for the displaced people, Archbishop Moshe informed us that a commercial building called Ain Kawa Mall was put by the owner under the disposition of the refugees, to be partitioned to shelter 100 families on each of three large unfinished floors. We visited the location and met with the contractor who was assigned by UNHCR to prepare the first floor.

    The cost of each floor is estimated at U.S. $150,000 — or an average of $1,500 to shelter one family — including a collective sanitary bloc and a common cooking area.

    The total cost of partitioning the two floors to accommodate 200 additional families is estimated at $300,000.

  2. Then we visited the Redemptorist Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Wardah of Erbil and Chaldean Archbishop Emile Shimoun Nona of Mosul at the Chaldean Archbishopric of Erbil, also located in Ain Kawa. Archbishop Bashar of Erbil informed us that the food rations, water tanks and mobile toilets will be ensured through the donation of the central government of Baghdad. He is in charge of communicating with the government on behalf of all the refugees.

    He also emphasized on the urgent need to provide primary health care and to find shelter for families living in the backyards of churches. The families without shelter are estimated at around 1,500 families.

    Archbishop Bashar also informed us that, through his connections with the Kurdish government, two large storage hangars have been made available to the refugees. We visited the location with the archbishops and inspected the potential shelter. Each hangar can be partitioned into 25 private rooms, and each room is large enough to accommodate two families, the sanitary block could be ensured through the mobile toilets and showers provided by the government of Baghdad. The cost of partitioning of each warehouse is estimated at around $45,000 to $50,000.

  3. We then visited a number of religious congregations working with the refugees in their convents. We visited the Chaldean Daughters of Mary, the Chaldean Sacred Heart Sisters and the Syriac Catholic Ephremite Sisters. The next day, at the patriarchal Chaldean seminary in Ain Kawa, we met all 32 sisters and priests who were displaced with their people. They are presently very active in reaching out for the refugees in all the settlements. The meeting was the first of its kind and every sister and father was pointing out the different difficulties facing their daily work with the refugees. This meeting was very important and gave us the broader vision for the needs assessment and the priorities.

Sister Maria Goretti Hanna, O.P., and Good Shepherd Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf meet refugees in Erbil, Iraq, during a visit earlier this month. (photo: CNEWA)

Needs Assessment

First of all, it is very important to mention that the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena are providing a real witness of accompanying the poor in their daily sufferings and remaining with them through every step of their walk on this unprecedented crisis.

Among all the sad stories and the uncertainty of all the refugee families, I saw a shining light through the common life of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine, and all the sisters living among the families. It was really a remarkable situation, where the poor help the poor and refugee reaches out to refugee. The solidarity among the different congregations is so strong that the superior general of the congregation has prepared in the backyard of the convent a place to install prefab rooms to accommodate all the refugee sisters, regardless of congregation. And in the morning the sisters, along with the brothers from the Congregation of Jesus the Redeemer, would leave two by two — like the apostles — to serve in the displacement centers.

As for the needs of the refugees, it is very difficult to prioritize the needs as they are living on the streets and are practically in need of everything.

Following are the needs by sector:

  1. Capacity building and coordination efforts: Despite all the good intentions, we felt that both the people and the churches are still dealing with the situation as a temporary one. They are still in shock, waiting for a miracle to happen or to wake up from the nightmare and to resume their lives as though nothing had happened. During the meeting, we shared with them our experiences in Syria and advised them that as long as time passes, the difficulties will increase and the needs and the sufferings will be greater. For all these reasons it is very important to coordinate the efforts, and to come up with a plan for the needs of the refugees and to address the world accordingly.

  2. Shelter: The majority of the displaced Christian families are currently living either in schools or in tents outside the church properties of Ain Kawa and Erbil. This situation cannot continue indefinitely; by mid-September, the great majority of the families living in the schools will have to evacuate. The Kurdish Authority has already sent warning notes, and some schools were evacuated during our visit.

    In the absence of any statistical effort, we estimate the number of families living in tents and in schools at around 2,500 to 3,000 families in Erbil only. Archbishop Emile of Mosul informed us that the worst refugee conditions are in Erbil, since in the northern cities of Duhok and Zakho and in Suleimaniyah most of the refugees are either living with their relatives or have rented small apartments and are sharing them with other families.

    It is to be mentioned that the rent cost in Erbil, and especially in the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa, is very high and is estimated at an average of $1,500 per month for a two-bedroom apartment.

  3. Health: The issue of health care is very important, as a good proportion of refugees used to rely on a public insurance system provided by the central government of Baghdad, especially for public employees. This system is not applicable in the Kurdish territories, and private medical care is extremely expensive. Therefore the local dispensaries that provide primary health care and on-site medical services are extremely important for the lives of the refugees.

  4. Education: The problem with the education issue goes beyond the scarcity of enrollment openings in the Kurdish schools. There are also cultural barriers, since the curriculum taught in the Kurdish schools relies on the Kurdish language, while all Christian students used to rely on the Arabic as the first language in their curriculum.

  5. Employment: A good proportion of Christian refugees used to work for the government, either as teachers, doctors, engineers, or workers in the oil sector or industries owned by the Iraqi government. All these employees used to get their salaries from the central bank branch of Mosul. Since the invasion of Mosul in June 2014,employees could not retrieve their salaries. Even at present in Erbil, the lack of trust between the Iraqi Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, and the lack of any mechanism to transfer the salaries to Erbil, has left refugees without any source of income.

    Moreover, because of the crisis in Syria and the displacement of large numbers of Syrian Kurds to Erbil, Syrian Kurds became the priority in private and public employment at the expense of the Christian Iraqis.

  6. Food and essentials: At present, food and other critical supplies are provided through local donations and the Christian funds available by the central government and the Ministries of Religious Affairs and the Emigration. Archbishop Bashar Wardah is leading the efforts and has been successful.

  7. Winter items: The weather in Kurdistan is dry and arid desert weather, where the temperature in summer reaches around 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and in winter falls drops to freezing from November until early March. Therefore, enduring the winter will require wool blankets in addition to winter clothing — especially for children — in addition to heating fuel and heaters.

  8. Spiritual and trauma healing support: Many of the families found themselves, in a blink of an eye, losing everything. Many who were well off in their homelands found themselves on the streets. In order to maintain their hope and their faith, huge efforts must be exerted to support all the local churches and religious people to maintain their activities and to provide the families with psychological support. This holds especially for mothers, on an individual and collective basis, to help them accept their new situation while waiting for a solution and end to their problems.

Recommendations

  1. Start with establishing a good, well-equipped dispensary in Erbil that could enhance the efforts of the volunteer staff and improve the quality of the services provided to the displaced families. The tent currently used as a dispensary suffers insufficient sanitation and ventilation, especially in Iraq under the extreme weather conditions.

  2. Help Archbishop Moshe to establish a small center for people with special needs in the multipurpose hall.

  3. Help the sisters in their efforts to provide basic necessities for newborn children — a need not yet covered by any donors — and to purchase some underwear items for children as well as some basic urgent needs.

CNEWA has already started implementing this phase in coordination with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and Syriac Catholic Father Behnam Benoka. For this purpose, CNEWA has allocated the amount of $75,000. A first payment has been already transferred to the sisters’ account as of 9 September.

As for later phases, they will be elaborated during further visits and through continuous consultation with our church partners.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief

23 September 2014
Greg Kandra




The book of the Gospels is seen during during an ecumenical prayer service for Middle Eastern peace in Washington on 9 September. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

What does it mean to defend Christians in the Middle East? This week, National Catholic Reporter explores that question — and gets some answers from CNEWA:

As many minority Christians in the region — already buffeted by decades of social marginalization and political instability and experiencing a historic bottoming out of their ranks — now face barbaric forms of persecution in places like Iraq and Syria, the questions have taken on a newfound significance. The issue has become all the more important here in America, where the effort to raise public awareness of their plight is still in its nascency (and susceptible to political opportunism), and the nation is, again, on the brink of war.

Interviews with experts — and the words of Middle East Christians themselves — suggest two answers. The first has to do with the legacy of Christians in the region.

“The center of the church in its formative years was in the area we now call the Middle East,” said the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s Michael La Civita. He called the Christian presence in the Middle East “absolutely vital” to the development of both Eastern and Western civilization.

“So many of the great works of our classical Greco-Roman heritage would have been lost, but they were preserved by the Eastern churches, by the monasteries,” La Civita said. “The monks were scholars, they preserved books, transcribed them into Copt, Syriac and Armenian,” ancient languages still spoken by Middle East Christians today. “With the advent of Islam, the various Muslim courts appropriated the services of these Christians. They gave to the Muslim Arabs geometry and astronomy, and classical philosophy, all of which then the Muslim Arabs brought back to us, through Sicily and Spain.”

Asked what the loss of the Christian presence would mean to Christianity, La Civita said: “Culturally, liturgically, it would be a great loss to the church of Christ if its Eastern roots were severed. It would be a tremendous loss — a tremendous loss.”

There’s much more. Read it all at the NCR link.



Tags: CNEWA Middle East Christians

23 September 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Lt. General William C. Mayville Jr. speaks about the bombing campaign in Syria, on 23 September in Washington, DC. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

U.S. airstrikes expand to Syrian city of Aleppo (Los Angeles Times) Even as it launched sweeping new airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, the U.S. military said Tuesday that it had expanded the campaign to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, targeting an offshoot of Al Qaeda said to be plotting “imminent” attacks against American and Western targets. A total of eight U.S. air attacks carried out in Syria’s largest city were aimed at the Khorasan Group, described in a U.S. Central Command statement as an organization of Al Qaeda veterans. The Aleppo campaign marked an expansion of the bombing effort launched initially against strongholds of the Islamic State in eastern Syria, conducted by U.S. planes, drones and ships with the help of five Arab nations. The strikes indicate that the U.S. air campaign in Syria has broader objectives than going after the Islamic State, the target of the attacks in eastern Syria…

Do Syrians support U.S. airstrikes in Syria? (Al Monitor) As a wary United States Congress passed a resolution authorizing the president to arm Syrian rebels against the Islamic State (IS), and as U.S. military planners consider airstrikes against IS in Syria, Al Monitor’s Syria Pulse covered how Syrians, suffering from more than three years of war, might react. Khaled Attalah reports from Damascus that Syrians there prefer a political solution to the war rather than U.S. airstrikes. Attalah writes, “After mobilizing its allies from around the world, the White House hopes that by using force and launching airstrikes, the IS threat will disappear. However, the Syrian people are not only hoping to be rid of this terrorist group, but also the bloody bottleneck they have been living through for more than three years.” Reporting from the Al Bab region, an IS stronghold east of Aleppo, Al Monitor columnist Edward Dark writes that the prospect of U.S. airstrikes is being greeted with more anxiety than enthusiasm, and could redound to the advantage of IS…

Iraq’s minorities demand weapons, training (Al Monitor) Following the huge regression in the situation of Iraq’s minorities after IS took control of many of the regions where they reside, these groups — including Christian and Yazidi populations — were left with no choice but to call for being armed and trained to protect themselves from the attacks they have witnessed from extremists. This call has not been limited to arming a specific minority, but rather became a mass call advocated by leaders, political parties, activists and individuals in various ways…

Abbas to reveal plan at U.N. to end occupation (Al Jazeera) This week Palestinian officials are busy working on different diplomatic tracks to push forward a new proposal at the United Nations to end Israel’s occupation, work on internal divisions, and hold talks with Israel on cementing a truce in the besieged Gaza Strip. These efforts are taking place in Cairo starting Tuesday, and at the United Nations in New York City throughout the week, as the General Assembly gathers for its 69th session to discuss a wide range of issues; from Syria and Iraq to the Ebola crisis…

Ukraine rebels withdraw artillery (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s government says its forces and pro-Russian separatists have begun withdrawing heavy artillery in the east of the country as part of efforts to implement a still shaky ceasefire. The withdrawal comes amid pressure on Ukraine’s president and concerns that the country will receive less support from a key ally…

Pope: Respond to ‘globalization of migration’ with ‘globalization of charity’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis calls for “more decisive and constructive action” to deal with the phenomenon of migration, saying this will lead to “greater effectiveness in the fight against the shameful and criminal trafficking of human beings, the violation of fundamental rights, and all forms of violence, oppression and enslavement…”

Islamists destroy Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Deir Ezzor (PanArmenian.net) The Islamic State has destroyed the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Deir Ezzor, Syria, news agencies in the Middle East reported, according to The Armenian Weekly. Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian issued a statement condemning the destruction of the church, calling it a “horrible barbarity…”



Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War Iraq Ukraine Palestine

22 September 2014
Ra’ed Bahou




CNEWA is partnering with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, such as Sister Antoinette, shown here on the left distributing clothes to Iraqi refugees. (photo: CNEWA)

In spite of the lack of resources, Jordanians are still receiving Iraqi Christian refugees. Our team in Amman has visited the many parish centers housing these families. Here is what we have learned:

  • At the beginning, the Jordanian government granted visas for 1,000 Christians to flee to Jordan in agreement with the churches. But now the door is open, and many more are arriving every day. There are seven church centers full of Iraqis with no room to accommodate more; therefore, many have no choice but to rent a house or stay on the streets, knowing that houses are not easy to find, and rents are very expensive even for locals. So, you find more than one family living in a house of two bedrooms — up to 20 people sharing the space and paying rent that exceeds $700 per month. Most of the rented houses are empty (cheaper than furnished); we saw Iraqis sleeping on a thin mattress or on the ground.
  • The centers, mainly the halls of the churches, are not designed to host people. All were designed to serve the parishioners’ multipurpose activities. It’s not a proper place to host a large number of people. Also, facilities (such as bathrooms) are not available in the halls. Most showers and kitchens were built outside. Refugees have to walk in an uncovered area and wait in line; it will only get worse when winter comes.
Many refugees are crowded into small spaces, with little privacy. (photo: CNEWA)

  • Parishes were so kind to receive the Iraqis at their churches’ halls — sacrificing the income they receive from renting out the halls, which helps pay for salaries and bills of the parishes. But the parishes still have to face unexpected expenses without any idea of how long this situation will last or how they will meet their expenses.
  • Most of the parishes are poor, especially the ones located in major centers like Ashrafiyeh and Zerqa. They don’t have enough resources to rehabilitate and maintain their facilities. During our visit, we noticed damages to infrastructure due to the humidity, with leaking roofs, broken windows, no bathrooms or showers. Parish centers also need water tanks, stoves, large refrigerators, kitchens, and kitchen supplies, heaters, blankets, mattresses, etc.
Sister Antoinette and parish volunteers help distribute mattresses — gifts from CNEWA’s benefactors — to newly arrived refugees. (photo: CNEWA)
  • Another issue facing the Iraqis hosted by churches is the matter of privacy, especially for the women who are sharing space with too many people, along with one or two bathrooms and showers.
  • All Iraqis who recently arrived — whether staying at centers or houses — are suffering from stress. They have lost trust in everyone. And they need everything, from personal items to food, medicines and medical treatment, milk and diapers for children. Many are worried about their relatives, who couldn’t leave Iraq, and they told us very depressing and heartbreaking stories about their fleeing from Da’ash (ISIS).
  • We asked the Iraqis how they felt about going back to Iraq, if it became peaceful and safe again. The answer was no, never.
  • When refugees arrive, they contact the United Nations. The U.N. starts gathering the individuals’ information in order to prepare a file, and then hands each family a refugee document — a separate document for each son and daughter older than 18. Their next meeting is to take place four to six months after they arrive. Those who were in the first wave will have their second meeting in December 2014.

CNEWA has responded to these needs with an initial disbursement of $72,500 in funds to five parish centers. Among other things, the funds are providing water, electricity, food, clothing, health care and psychological treatment to refugees.

The need remains great. Please visit our giving page to learn how you can help these refugees.

This young father was beaten and his leg smashed by ISIS before he was able to flee to Jordan.
(photo: CNEWA)




22 September 2014
Greg Kandra




In Jordan, a young refugee from Iraq proudly shows the emblem he painted on the wall in his cramped shelter: the Arabic letter for “N,” meaning Nazarene, or Christian. Back in his home in Iraq, it is the letter ISIS painted on houses to designate the homes of Christians, marking them for persecution or punishment. Thousands of refugees from Iraq, like this little boy, have found shelter in parishes in Jordan — but their struggles are far from over. Read the latest report
from our CNEWA staff. (photo: CNEWA)




22 September 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




#455919754 / gettyimages.com
Syrian Kurds carry their belongings after crossing in to Turkey near the Syrian border on 21 September, near the southeastern town of Suruc. (photo: Getty Images)

Turkey clamps down on Syria border after Kurdish unrest (BBC) Turkey has begun to close some of its border crossings with Syria after about 130,000 Kurdish refugees entered the country over the weekend. On Sunday Turkish security forces clashed with Kurds protesting in solidarity with the refugees. Before the latest influx, there were already more than one million Syrian refugees in Turkey. On Friday Turkey opened a 19-mile section of the border to Syrians fleeing the town of Kobane, also known as Ayn al Arab. But on Monday only two out of nine border posts in the area remained open, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said…

Oil-rich Kirkuk in Iraq’s north fears attack by Islamic State (Los Angeles Times) In recent weeks, international attention has focused on Islamic State advances elsewhere in the Kurdish region, such as near the strategic Mosul dam and the city of Irbil, capital of semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. U.S. airstrikes have helped push back the militants — and provided a tactical and psychological lift for peshmerga fighters, who fell back last month in a humiliating retreat. The Kurds have since regrouped and regained ground. For now, their heartland to the north seems secure. But commanders acknowledge that the peshmerga, despite their fearsome reputation, are stretched thin, ill-equipped and have little recent battle experience. Perhaps no place in the sprawling zone under Kurdish authority is as vulnerable as Kirkuk province, long the focus of competing regional and international interests. For decades, its immense petroleum reserves have been a blessing and a curse…

More than 3,000 Gazan children wounded in war (Al Monitor) According to statistics published by the Ministry of Health in Gaza, the death toll of the Israeli war on Gaza includes 540 child deaths, which represents 25 percent of the entire death toll. Over 3,000 children were injured, some of whom have had their limbs amputated or are in critical condition…

Pope: Culture of “tolerance”, “fraternity” in Albania (Vatican Radio) Although the plane trip from Albania to Rome was only 90 minutes, it still left time for Pope Francis to give what has become a traditional post-trip in-flight interview with journalists. During the press encounter, Pope Francis stressed that he was impressed “from the beginning” by the youth of the country, and noted the cooperation among the three major religions: Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Catholicism. He reiterated the importance of the culture of “living together,” “tolerance” and “fraternity” in the Balkan country…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Albania

19 September 2014
Michel Constantin




#455576046 / gettyimages.com
An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter holds a position in Bartella, east of Mosul, Iraq, after clashes with ISIS on 16 September. (photo: Sivan Siddik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

During the ISIS invasion of the Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain on 6 August 2014, Christians were mainly displaced from nine villages:

  1. In the center of the plain, to the east side of Mosul, four Christian towns and villages were invaded by ISIS and all inhabitants were displaced: Qaraqosh (also named Bakhdida), Qaramlesh, Bartella and Baashiqa.
  2. To the north of Mosul, five towns and villages were displaced, but only four of them were invaded by ISIS militants: Tal Keif, Batnaya, Baaqoufa, Tal Eskef, and, further to the north, Al Qosh village.

As a matter of fact, ISIS never gained control of Al Qosh, but came within 20 miles of the village. Most of the families left Al Qosh; some men stayed to guard the village in case ISIS broke through.

Qaraqosh, the town with the largest displaced population (around 45,000 Christians), is located about 45 miles southeast of Al Qosh. At present, the Kurdish military forces are trying to regain land in the area around the village. But all regained small villages were initially inhabited by Kurds. And the nearest Christian village to Al Qosh, Tal Eskef, is still under the control of ISIS militants.

Following the liberation of the Mosul dam and the surrounding small villages by the Peshmarga forces backed by the U.S. air raids, the Christians of Al Qosh felt more secure and decided to return back to their homes. According to our church partners, around 500 Christian families have so far returned.

It is important to mention that the return of families to Al Qosh was relatively easy because their houses were not invaded and looted by ISIS; on the contrary, they returned to find everything as they left it.

On Tuesday, 16 September 2014, a senior officer with the Peshmerga forces confirmed that ISIS militants were booted from four villages — Hassan al-Sham, Syudan, Bahra and Jisr al-Khadhr, all located in the Nineveh plain between Erbil and Mosul. But these villages are also at least 15 miles away from the nearest Christian town of Qaraqosh.

It is worth mentioning that displaced Iraqi Christian families are suffering from a real crisis of trust. They lost confidence in the intentions of the central government of Baghdad, in the Kurdish authority, and in the Peshmerga who withdrew their forces from the Nineveh Plain overnight, leaving tens of thousands of Christian families defenseless.

I think even if their villages are liberated soon, the Christians will be very reluctant and hesitant to return back before getting some international protection and proper indemnities for the losses caused by the invasion and looting activities of the ISIS militants. I believe at present the displaced Christians of Iraq have confidence only in their churches and church people; all efforts should be directed toward empowering the local church to accompany those victims in their walk through harsh roads.

*

To support these Christians in their moment of need, visit our giving page — and please remember to keep them in your prayers.



19 September 2014
CNEWA staff




The board of CNEWA Canada met recently in Québec and, among other things, discussed the ongoing campaign to help Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq.

The Canadian Catholic TV network Salt + Light reported on the meeting. Check out the clip below.



19 September 2014
Greg Kandra




Armenian Katarine Hoveian, 91, has lived alone for 25 years. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)

Pope Francis today met with the president of Armenia. The Summer edition of ONE includes a poignant look at some of those citizens the president serves, notably the elderly:

Since the earthquake, the population of Gyumri has dropped by about half. In 1988, some 220,000 people lived in the city. But by 2011 — due to the earthquake and the country’s economic collapse after it achieved independence from an unraveling Soviet Union — Gyumri’s population declined to 121,500. Many are convinced the actual number of people living in the city is less than 90,000.

According to the United Nations, Armenia is among the world’s “aging” nations. Pensioners constitute some 14 percent of the country’s 2.9 million people. In Gyumri, the average age is trending upward as more and more of the young and capable pursue employment abroad, usually Russia.

“Imagine how things stand with the frail elderly if men leave their children to go find jobs to earn their living, if unemployment is 40 percent in the city during the summer, and rises to 60 percent in the winter due to fewer seasonal jobs,” says Sister Arousiag Sajonian of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

“If the young cannot survive, how can seniors?” asks Sister Arousiag, who arrived in northwestern Armenia soon after the earthquake. She later founded the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Center in Gyumri, which since 2011 has also included a center to care for the elderly.

Observers say pensioners in northern Armenia are left alone with no caretakers for a variety of reasons. Some may have lost their children in the earthquake. Others lost their children to emigration. But alone in Gyumri exists the phenomenon of orphaned children brought by the Soviets to work in factories — orphans such as Ophelia Matevosian — who never married or created families and remain alone.

Read more about those Shaken by the Earthquake of Life in the Summer edition of ONE.







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