MUTHANNA MATI TOUMA YACO (56) is an electrical engineer by training, but currently working in real estate in Qaraqosh. A Syriac Catholic and the father of three, he is also a member of the Assyrian World Union, a small Iraqi political party. His convictions and beliefs forced him into exile beginning in the early 90s, when he moved to Syria to escape the rule of Saddam Hussein. He subsequently lived in Lebanon, Turkey and finally Greece. In 2005, he finally returned to Iraq, but found the country ruled by leaders concerned only with their “personal interests and ambitions.” That’s why, he believes, the “Great Disaster” happened in the summer of 2014, when ISIS swept through northern Iraq:
“ISIS occupied our Christian regions and towns and forced the emigration of thousands of Christian families. This was certainly a plan to empty Iraq of Christians. We left everything behind us and were only concerned with fleeing to safety. We forgot that we owned a house or furniture or had money in Qaraqosh—at that time we only cared about our honor and our spirits.
“After spending some time in Erbil, Kurdistan, my family and I decided to travel to southern Lebanon, where I found some work with a contractor and where the local Church provided us with aid. When the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces announced the start of major operations to fight and expel ISIS, it was clear that for God nothing is impossible!
“It was a great joy when our areas were liberated; my family was among the first to return to Qaraqosh. The town was devastated and left in ruins. My home and office where burned down; but I managed to repair our house and the family settled back in. It was hard living here at first, because there were so few people, but today more than 5000 families have returned.
“However, the situation in my view does not seem very stable, because Christians are confronted with significant challenges that make us afraid: There is fear that the ISIS will return to our region, perhaps under a different name. That’s because of the lack of political unity in Iraq; and Christians have no confidence in their country’s political leadership, with legislators looking out for their own interests and discriminating against Christians. These conditions may put us in harm’s way again.
“We also demand that the terms of the Iraqi Constitution be implemented so that minorities will be protected from attempts to seize their land and properties and from efforts to falsify their history.
“We also hope foreign investors will come to our areas to build malls, international markets, recreational parks, schools and foreign-run universities, so that we can feel confident that our dreams may come true—that our children will be able to live in a prosperous country.
“It is also important to put a halt to the emigration of Christians, which is emptying the Middle East of Christians; we must stop emigration and arrange for the return of Christians in the diaspora. That is an essential condition for peace-building and our country’s success in the long run.
“Finally, we look first to God, who is standing with us and who has never forgotten us; then we call on all those concerned to take our needs seriously and work to achieve real peace in Iraq—to ensure our future, and the future of generations to come and the preservation of our long history here.”
—Ragheb Elias Karash
Ragheb Elias Karash writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries: www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)