11 July 2017

Iraqi Christians respond to liberation of Mosul; some are eager to return, but also afraid

As the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declares victory over the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in Mosul, Open Doors local partners have spoken to Christians who wish to return to the town, but many are fearful that the ideology of IS may remain, even after the militants are gone.

Thabet, a church leader from Karamles, a Christian village near Mosul, said, "Mosul is freed from ISIS now. We soon hope to also be free from the mentality that produced ISIS."

One local Christian said, "They (Iraqi Christians) are afraid that IS’ ideas remain alive, just under a different name. They still doubt if they can live together in peace again with the people who share in these ideas."

He said that some Iraqis who lived under IS’ rule for the last three years and have been collaborating with them are now trying to resume their lives as normal citizens. "But now we see that people start to report about them, which leads to revenge. This brings new instability.

"We don’t know how long it will take before this region will be stable again. Apart from that, the destruction is huge. Even if there would be no other tensions, it would take years to rebuild all the houses."

Returning to Mosul

William, who fled Mosul to escape IS, was recently able to return to his house in Mosul, but found it completely ransacked. He said, "When we saw the house for the first time, I was taking pictures and was crying at the same time."

William's daughter, Ghada, said, "Some windows and doors are broken. They used the curtains as carpet. We had an image of Jesus on the wall, they put it on the floor and stepped on it." William said, "They also damaged our electrical system in the house and cut the water pipes. It seems they also put something in the sewage system because the water doesn't go away."

Their house is not as badly damaged as some of the houses in the Nineveh Plain - some families have returned to their houses to find them completely burned out or bombed. But seeing the house he loved in such a state was still heartbreaking for William. "Our house was very nice, it was a treasure for me," he said.

However, Ghada and William are hoping to return to Mosul. "Our only dream is to return, to go back to our house and live there again," Ghada said. "Of course we want to go back," William adds.

But they have real concerns about their safety. Ghada continues, "There is no real safety in Mosul at the moment. In my heart I still feel that something might happen to us when we go there."

Open Doors has been supporting William and Ghada while they have been displaced in Erbil with practical aid through local churches and partners.

'We will need help to restore our house'

Jounan, a father of three, would also like to return with his family. "Our fathers and grandfathers lived there, we have our houses and our shops. I had a factory in the city," he said.

They have also been living in Erbil, with support from Open Doors provided through the church and local partners. But Jounan longs to be able to work and support his family again. He said, "I really wanted to take whatever job, but I simply didn't get work here. We lost everything. IS took our money and our jewellery when we left the city. I would like to go back as soon as it is possible to find work again. That is much better than sitting here without work."

But they will need practical help to return. "We will need help to restore our house, we have no money to do this." Many families from the Nineveh Plain are in a similar position - they have been left with absolutely nothing, and the government isn't helping them to repair their homes.

Fear and division

As well as practical difficulties, Jounan's children are afraid to go back to Mosul. "One of my daughters is in university, the other two are going to school, all in Erbil. The children are afraid to go back, my wife and I want to return.

"Our children are still scared. They saw the men of IS on the day we fled Mosul. They saw how they took all our money and jewellery and how one of the men threatened to shoot me in the head. For them it was a nightmare and still is."

Jounan has also experienced the division that has developed between different groups in Mosul. He said, "Not all Muslims in Mosul supported IS. There are Muslims who were against them. We live in a mainly Arab neighbourhood in Mosul. People living around us are good neighbours or even friends. I recently went back to see my house, these people are even shy to speak to us now. They feel that it was in the name of Islam that this happened to the Christians, that we had to flee from Mosul."

But others are trying to rebuild relationships between Christians and Muslims. Ghada said, "We heard that even Muslims are helping to clean one of the damaged monasteries in our city." William added, "A group of Muslims has replaced the cross."

Hope for the Middle East campaign

Open Doors has launched the Hope for the Middle East campaign, a global, seven-year campaign mobilising people around the world to speak out to secure the future of Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the One Million Voices of Hope petition, which will be presented to the UN in December 2017. The petition is calling on the UN to provide Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq with dignified living conditions, equal citizenship, and a role in bringing reconciliation to their communities, the key things Christians and church leaders from these nations have said they want for the future.

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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.

Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List - a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life - plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.

Iraq is number 7 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the severity of persecution faced by Christians in 50 countries. Open Doors is working through local partners and churches in Iraq to provide crisis relief, trauma training, helping to repair damaged homes, socio-economic development projects such as microloans for displaced people, biblical training for church leaders, and distributing Bibles and Christian literature.