ICC Note: The reality of over a million people displaced, some 100,000 Christians now in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, can overshadow the individual stories of the people and what they’ve witnessed. It is not just communities, but individuals, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, who have lost their homes, and in some cases their lives to the unthinkable violence of the past few months.
09/01/2014 Iraq (Huffington Post) – Khalid Zaki is an acting coach. A few months ago the 35-year-old Arabian Christian stage managed Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice at a local theater in Qarakosh. Today, he is one of approximately 100,000 Christians who sought refuge from the wrath of the Islamic State in and around Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
“We came here in the morning of August 7, most of us with nothing but our clothes on,” Khalid recounts. The Christian exodus was total. More than 40,000 Christian refugees fled Quarakosh — until then the largest Christian town in Iraq. According to refugees interviewed, there are but 120 Christians left in Qarakosh, who are employed by the Islamic State as auxiliaries to prevent looting in the abandoned Christian homes.
In Erbil, Nazar Hana, a manager at the Nisthiman Mall in the city center, opened up the whole sixth floor of the building to around 1,100 Christian refugees. Due to construction delays, funding problems, and local opposition by shopkeepers, the Nishtiman Mall was never completed and is now in a derelict state, with only a few shops open on the first and second floors, as well as a thriving black-market in the basement of the building.
While sipping a cup of chai, Khalid Zaki recounts the last 24 hours in the city: “On the morning of August 6, the Pesh Merga promised to defend us to the death and we believed them once the
IS fighters began shelling the city with both artillery rounds as well as missiles. Soon the first casualties appeared.
With tears in his eyes, Kaleed Kackwani, a 27-year-old construction worker, tells the story of his neighbor’s children who were killed while playing in the street. A shell exploded in their
midst, killing two boys, aged 12 and five, as well as a 10-year-old girl: “One of the boys was torn apart by the shell and all that was left of him was one arm and one leg. His family collected his remains in a nylon bag. People were panicking.”
“Around 5 p.m. we gathered for the funeral of the children,” continues Khalid, who lives in the same neighborhood as Kaleed. “Then the congregation held a service at the Church of Saint Mary. After the service I went home.” On August 7, at 3 a.m. Khalid received the news that the Pesh Merga had started withdrawing from their defensive positions. He and his family lost no time. They got into their car and started heading towards Erbil. On the road they were held up at Pesh Merga checkpoints. “It took us five hours to pass one single checkpoint,” tells Khalid.
Khaleed Kackwani explains that Ram, the brother of his wife, was hit in the head by a bullet while caught in the crossfire of IS fighters and retreating Pesh Merga forces at one of the three checkpoints that Kurdish forces had set up between Qarakosh and Erbil. “There was nothing we could do for him. We had to leave him behind. It took us 15 hours to cover the 80km from Quaraqosh to Erbil. The road was filled with cars and refugees. We were only allowed to pass the checkpoint one by one.”