Pope Francis, joining the US, the European Union and the United Kingdom, has recognized the crimes of ISIS against Christians and other minorities as genocide. That designation should make Iraq’s suffering minorities eligible for substantial international support and protection as they are reclaiming land and properties held by ISIS for almost three years. In this report, Aid to Church in Need speaks with a Syriac-Catholic family that recently returned to their heavily damaged home in Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plains.
Iraqi Christian family takes leap of faith, returns home on Nineveh Plains
By Ragheb Elias Karash
THE FAMILY HOME in Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plains suffered major damages during the region’s occupation by ISIS and during the battle that led to the terror group’s ouster last winter. Yet, even with gaping holes in the roof and collapsed walls, the house has become home again for a Syriac-Catholic family that spent three years in exile in Kurdistan. Majid Jacob Kisco told international papal charity Aid to the Church in Need his story:
“I am 51 years old. My wife, Donia Muayed Matti and I have a son and three daughters. By the Lord’s wisdom and grace, my son Jacob and Diana have been deaf and dumb since their childhood. The siege of Iraq and the lack of medicine and nutrition caused them to lose their hearing and ability to speak, God be praised. I also have two married daughters, Tamara who is 22 and Linda, who is 19.
“Now I am back in my city and live with my wife, my son Jacob and my daughter Diana in my hometown in Qaraqosh on the stricken Nineveh Plains. I have been longing to return to my wounded city, ever since our forced migration because of the invasion by ISIS. I have been counting the days to see the city liberated so that I could return.
“My family and I have suffered a lot in northern Iraq. It was hard to be there as a stranger, without my own home or work; every person should have that freedom or that dignity, so we were missing something.
“Returning here to Qaraqosh, I was not surprised to see its churches and houses burned and destroyed; I had expected that because that is what happens in war. The decision to come back was my own; my family had thought about leaving the country, but I prefer to stay here in my city despite the difficult circumstances. My family and I are back.
“When we fled our home three years ago, I suffered significant losses, up to $30,000 worth in cash, property, furniture and crops. However, I still had a reserve of money and I was able to work along with my son in northern Iraq, in Erbil. We made enough money to repair our home and get started in business again in Qaraqosh. I want to make it clear that my house was completely ravaged by fire; I have repaired part of the house so that my family and I can live here—I have no other place to live but in my house.
Life here is fairly normal now; reopened shops and markets are restoring the life of the city, little by little. There is a measure of security and safety that makes it possible for people to return. I studied to become an electrician in trade school, but I now run a small grocery store to make a living.”
Donia Moayed Matti told ACN: “I am 41-years old. I graduated from primary school and I stay at home. In fact, I would prefer to emigrate rather than stay here. The number of Christians is dwindling. And so many houses are burned or destroyed. There does not seem to be much progress in the reconstruction of the damaged areas; most of the streets are unpaved and there is a lack of water and electricity supply.
What my children and my husband and I want most of all is safety; an atmosphere that allows for entertainment, and games—clean streets, so that we can live in dignity. We constantly pray to God in our churches, asking Him for help, for ourselves and for all the Christians in Iraq; we also pray for people of other nationalities and religions—because they are human beings, human beings who are not different from us. We pray to the Lord to release us from the forces of evil, darkness, hatred and sectarianism.”
Jacob Majid is 24; he cannot speak or hear, but he does know how to smile, exuding optimism and intelligence. He and his father have developed a basic sign language through which he communicates. He loves to drive a lot and work alongside his father. Like his mom, he once wished to emigrate, but he changed his mind and now prefers to stay in Qaraqosh and settle there. He spends his time helping his father in the grocery shop. He has not attended school for many years because of his handicaps, but he taught himself to read and write Arabic.
Diana Majid is 21, like her brother Jacob, cannot speak or hear, but expresses herself also through sign language. She has never been to school, but longs to complete her education, just like her girlfriends. Sewing is her hobby. She spends much of her time helping her mother at home and in praying for her family and her country.
Along with other Christian families that have returned to Qaraqosh and other Christian towns on the Nineveh Plains, Mr. Majid and his family are petitioning Iraqi authorities charged with human rights issues to assist all Christian IDPs in returning home, to provide for their needs and give them a sense of confidence at the prospect of resettling in their old neighborhoods; Nineveh’s Christians look to the Baghdad government to provide the necessary security to prevent further terrorist attacks. For now, prayer is the one tool that all Iraqi Christians can count on for comfort and support.
Aid to the Church in Need is 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)