21 October 2019
Members of the Habib family stand outside a store they have recently rebuilt in Qaraqosh.
(photo: Raed Rafei)
In the current edition of ONE, reporter Raed Rafei revisits Iraq, two years after the defeat of ISIS, and writes of how Iraqi Christians are facing the future with Resolve. He has some additional reflections on the people he met:
It was a blazing hot August Sunday. The streets of Qaraqosh, the largest Christian enclave in Northern Iraq, were mostly empty. Compared to my last trip two years ago, there were some repaired and freshly painted homes here and there. But overall, despite the signs of improvement, heavy destruction caused by the liberation war from ISIS almost three years ago was still visible. Pockmarked walls, collapsed ceilings, piles of rubble, scorched buildings were common sights across this once thriving town.
The people I talked to during my visit to Iraq as a reporter were generally relieved to be back to their homes and felt relatively safe, but the weight of the economic crisis and uncertainties about the future were noticeable in their worried faces and resonated during the silent moments of our conversations.
As the sun started to set, I could see groups of people of all ages flocking to the Church of Saints Behnam and Sarah. Despite the difficult circumstances, it was heartwarming to see how elegantly dressed the men and women of Qaraqosh were for the Sunday Mass. To secure the area, the streets around the church were blocked for vehicles by the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, a Christian Assyrian military organization formed after the invasion by ISIS. The service was being held in a makeshift tent in the church’s courtyard because the main hall was still under reconstruction. The fallen bell tower was a stark reminder of the recent tragedy of displacement. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of hope witnessing how packed the area was and the disarming simplicity of returnees resuming age-old cultural traditions.
The next morning, reality hit again. Members of a Shiite militia supported by Iran had blocked roads leading to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, to protest attempts by the government to integrate them into the Iraqi army. This was a testimony to the fragility of the situation. A vibrant, well-built local man in his late 20’s came in his gym apparel to the monastery where I had spent the night. He was going to drive me out of Qaraqosh. On the road, he told me about his taxi business and a restaurant he owned and managed. Despite economic difficulties, he said he was trying hard since his return to Qaraqosh to rebuild a life for his wife and his young daughter. I was impressed with his entrepreneurial spirit in a country where most people rely on governmental jobs.
After driving for two hours under an intense sun through alternative dirt roads to bypass the blocked highway, I was able to reach my hotel in Erbil. That night, I received a call from my driver. With a desperate voice, he asked me if I could help him find work as a concierge in Lebanon. He said he wanted to apply from there for asylum in Australia where some of his family resides. I was surprised and perplexed by his unexpected call. Compared to all the people I had talked to, he seemed to be doing well.
I answered him, reluctantly, “I will see what I can do but I can’t make any promises.” I wanted to help but with Lebanon’s ailing economy overburdened by a large number of refugees, it would be very difficult for him to find a job there.
He said that sadly, no matter how successful he was, he felt that as a young Christian man, there was no future for him and his small family in Iraq.
Read more about the plight of Iraqi Christians in the September 2019 edition of ONE.
Tags: Iraqi Christians