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For Some Iraqi Christians, Returning to Homeland Is Not an Option

09 Sep 2014 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Uprooted from his home in Iraq by the advance of Islamic State fighters, Nouree sees no future for Christians in his country.

“It’s like a nightmare,” the Chaldean Catholic father of six told Catholic News from a modest apartment in Beirut where he and his family have temporarily resettled after fleeing Iraq. “They just came and took our villages,” Nouree said of the militants.

Nouree requested that his full name not be used to protect his identity.

“It’s not a coincidence. It’s like a plan to rid the region of Christians. We Christians paid the price, and the Yezidis [the minority religious community] did, too,” Nouree said. “Even though they pushed us out, we won’t forget our homeland. This is our past, our history.”

His village, Tel Isqof, about 19 miles north of Mosul, was home to some 1,500 Christian families, all of whom fled the advance of the Islamic State fighters in early August.

For nearly two months, following the militants’ attack on Mosul in June, Nouree and his family slept on the roof of their house to watch for flashing lights of artillery shelling, signaling such an advance because there were constant rumors that the fighters were coming toward their village.

“We were always on alert. We thought that at least if there was an attack, we could see it coming and evacuate, to save ourselves,” Nouree said.

But when the militants invaded Tel Isqof, Nouree said, the Kurdish regional forces, known as peshmerga, withdrew, leaving the villagers unprotected as they fled to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq. Erbil now hosts more than 100,000 displaced Christians and other Iraqi minorities.

“We have no trust,” Nouree said. “There is no credibility, in the government, [in] the Kurdistan forces — even some clergy are leaving.”

In Kurdistan, he added, Christians are considered second-class citizens. He spoke of Cardinal Fernando Filoni’s 13-20 August visit to Iraq as Pope Francis’ envoy and said the Kurdistan government is only trying to please the church with empty promises.

“Whatever the Kurdistan government promised him [Cardinal Filoni] will be only words,” he said.

Michel Kasdano, a third-generation Iraqi Chaldean in Lebanon who volunteers his time to help Iraqi refugees, also has observed the same mindset among the refugees he meets: They do not want to return to Iraq and, their relatives remaining in Iraq want to leave.

A retired general with the Lebanese army, Kasdano has mobilized a group of friends and relatives who have met with some 50 Christian Iraqi families, now refugees in Lebanon as a result of the Islamic State attacks in their homeland. Aside from listening to the tragic stories of the refugees, they distribute food, clothes and money to the families.

“In my opinion, there will be just a symbolic presence of Christians in Iraq, like a museum,” he told CNS.

It was clear 10 years ago that Christians were leaving Iraq, he said, not just because of threats, but “because there was no support, they saw no future.”

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Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees