As ISIS continues to be removed from northern Iraq, Christians moving back to liberated towns and villages are calling on the government to rebuild the Christian religious sites destroyed by ISIS. In June – August 2014, ISIS took over much of the Nineveh Plains which included several Christian majority towns and villages. In the following occupation, ISIS destroyed or vandalized many Christian religious sites. Now that these towns and villages have been liberated, Christians are calling for the repairing and rebuilding necessary to make their communities whole again.
05/24/2017 Iraq (Al-Monitor) – A new era has started in the northern Nineveh Plains, known for its ethnic and religious diversity, following the expulsion of the Islamic State (IS). IS took over the area in June 2014 and forced the Christians living there — estimated at more than 100,000 — to abandon their farms and towns and head to the neighboring Kurdistan Region and other areas in the country, or to leave Iraq altogether.
On May 16, the heads of the Christian churches told the media of their “concerns over the possible return of terrorism” and demanded that “the areas of the Nineveh Plains be protected by the United Nations and enjoy autonomy.” This fear, however, has not prevented many Christians from returning to their farms and cities and practicing religious rites in their monasteries and churches. During the Easter mass April 15 at the Mar Mattai Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Nineveh, Christians prayed for the safe return of the displaced to their homes and the spread of peace.
IS reduced several monasteries and churches to ruins, and Christians in the Nineveh Plains are demanding that plans be made for their reconstruction, especially for the monastery of Mar Behnam. It dates to the fourth century; IS occupied it in 2014 and bombed it in 2015. They are also calling for the reconstruction of the Mar Mattai Monastery, founded more than 1,600 years ago.
Yonadam Kanna, a Christian member of parliament, told Al-Monitor, “IS besieged the Mar Mattai Monastery in 2014 and prevented people from getting to it. So the first thing I did after the liberation of the Nineveh Plains was to restore the road leading to this monastery through the slopes of Mount Maklub, on top of which the monastery is built. [The monastery] extends over about 1 kilometer [0.6 miles] at a height of 2,400 meters [7,874 feet] above sea level.”
Kanna said, “The security forces along with some volunteers have started to remove the words engraved by IS on the walls of the monastery of Mar Behnam and other churches inciting the killing and displacement of Christians. The monks’ rooms are being renovated after IS turned them into rooms for the detention of civilians. Crosses have also been raised [on the grounds].”
He added, “IS destroyed about 40% of the Mar Behnam Monastery; this calls for government support and funding to turn these sites again into places of worship and religious tourism centers. The government needs to develop a strategic program to restore Mar Behnam and Mar Mattai in conjunction with the return of visitors.”