An Assyrian Priest Returns to Mosul
“One day a group of men came up to a Christian family’s house. They asked for their IDs and, when they read that the family was Christian, they killed the father in front of his wife and child,”
04/14/2009 Iraq (AINA)-Since the invasion 2003 the situation of the Christian Assyrians in Iraq has deteriorated. Churches have been destroyed, several priests have been killed and at the end of last year thousands of Christians were forced to leave the city of Mosul in northern Iraq .
Now Christians must use extreme methods to keep themselves in safety. One of them is the priest, Hanna.
Hanna is driving his old Mitsubishi around Bahshiqa, a village situated about twenty kilometers northeast of Mosul . With his black calotte, long black caftan and the big golden cross around his neck, he looks like a typical Iraqi Syriac Christian priest.
Using double IDs has become a necessity among Christians in Iraq . Since 2003 about half of the them, around 400,000 people, have fled the country, (that includes half of the Christians in Mosul ) and the ones that are left live in fear of threats, kidnappings and killings. The violence is aimed at ordinary Christians, but also at church representatives and churches. In recent years a number of priest have been killed, among them the Chaldean Archbishop in Mosul , and several churches have been burned down or taken by Sunni or Shia extremists. Hanna himself experienced the heavy attack in October that forced thousands of Christains to leave Mosul, a city that used to hold Iraq’s oldest and largest Christian population.
“One day a group of men came up to a Christian family’s house. They asked for their IDs and, when they read that the family was Christian, they killed the father in front of his wife and child,” Hanna says.
It didn’t end with these killings. Suddenly cars started circling in Christian areas, shouting out an ultimatum through loudspeakers.
“We got twenty four hours to leave our homes, otherwise we would be killed and our houses destroyed,” says Hanna. Three families were dragged out of their homes just to watch them blow up. People got really scared and fled.
Hanna estimates that somewhere around 1,700 families disappeared from Mosul in a couple of days, about 13,000 people according to the UN Refugee Agency. Many of them went to Bahshiqa and other villages in the Nineveh plain near Mosul . A lot of Christians also fled to other countries.
“One family was having supper when a couple of disguised men came to their house and ordered them to get out. They left without anything, not even their shoes,” she says. “They came out here for a while, but couldn’t afford to pay the rent. Now they’re back in that hell. You never know when the next attack comes.”
Hanna explains that his work in Mosul is really difficult nowadays. Carrying out a funeral or visiting a parishioner can lead to a kidnapping or, in the worst case, death.
“Sometimes it feels as my heart has died. Still, it is my duty to encourage people and to help them survive,” Hanna says and starts preparing for his return to Mosul .