Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been battling to recapture the Islamic State-held metropolis of Mosul. They’ve been encountering a ring of booby-trapped ghost towns like Bartella, where 30,000 Christians used to live.
Mosul, particularly in Nineveh Plain, was home to several ethnic and religious minorities, but after the Islamic State took over the area, residents have fled and sought refuge in nearby Kurdish autonomous region. Many minority refugees are now fighting alongside Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers to retake their hometowns, The Wall Street Journal reports.
“Today we have the right to determine the future of these areas because we are participating in their liberation,” said Yaqoub Gorgees, political coordinator of the Nineveh Plain Protection Unit.
Retreating ISIS fighters have desecrated churches and left a trail of destruction in their wake. The militants beheaded a statue of Jesus, left graffiti on church walls, and specifically targeted Christian places of worships as they flee back towards Mosul.
As soldiers reclaim towns, many residents have yet to return after heavy fighting destroyed much of the area. Despite the destruction, a mass was held in a church in Irbil last Sunday. The priest preached about forgiveness to the congregation but it seemed nothing could heal the scars left by the Islamic State.
Khalid Ramzi, a congregant, said, “We can’t fall into the same hole twice. We don’t want our children to be raised in violence and fear. Only in our dreams can we go back to Mosul.”
However, Matty Bahnam, a 58-year-old teacher from Bartella said, “I was born here. All my memories are here. Nothing can replace this house and this place for me. I will move back the day they let me.”
Yaroslav trofimov. (2016). WSJ. http://www.wsj.com/articles/iraqi-christians-return-as-islamic-state-retreats-1477661100
Washingtonpostcom. (2016). Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraqi-christians-scarred-by-islamic-states-cruelty-doubt-they-will-return-to-mosul/2016/10/30/64fd3dce-9a3c-11e6-b552-b1f85e484086_story.html
Thesuncouk. (2016). The Sun. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2092871/isis-fanatics-destroy-christians-homes-churches-mosul/