Telskuf’s Christians: Rebuilding through Resilience

By Claire Evans

06/11/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In a country filled with numerous competing militias and anonymous terrorists, Iraq’s Christians are forced to navigate life in a world of smoke and mirrors. This uncertainty has dramatically affected the lives of those who are attempting to find stability after displacement from ISIS. Nevertheless, hope exists within the Nineveh Plains, as shown through the example of Telskuf’s resilience despite the trauma of displacement.

Telskuf is a small Christian village located 30 miles north of Mosul which was once home to hundreds of families. Many villagers recall the days before ISIS with great fondness. “People here are kind and simple. They respect each other and help each other, so that was good,” said Milad. “It is well known that Christians are peaceful people and security exists among themselves, but not outside. All over the world, when you deal with a Christian, you feel like you yourself are secure.”

This peace and security, however, was interrupted four years ago when ISIS swept across the Nineveh Plains. Telskuf transformed into a ghost town as its inhabitants fled, fearful of ISIS’s targeted violence towards Christians. Following the village’s liberation, the scars of the war against ISIS were visible everywhere. Buildings were reduced to rubble. Abandoned cars sat in the streets, their doors rusted shut.

The challenges of rebuilding were obvious. However, many were hopeful that reconstruction in Telskuf would encourage Christians to rebuild other parts of the Nineveh Plains. But these hopes were placed on pause in October 2017.

At this point, ISIS was nearly two months away from military defeat and the militants were on the run. However, a new strain was building between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraq Central Government (ICG). This tension would escalate to a military clash with Telskuf as the epicenter. Over 700 returned families were displaced—again.

Kasim, who has lived in Telskuf his entire life, recalled, “We left Telskuf in the afternoon and that was before the strikes started… You know I have four children and my wife said they are afraid from the guns’ sound.”

“This is the second time of displacement during the past five years,” he added. “The first was due to ISIS. [At that time] we were in al-Qosh visiting the monastery when we received a phone call telling us we cannot go back. [This time] our area’s security advised my brother to leave because they were expecting fighting and we heard on the previous day that Peshmerga is fighting the army.”

“Even with the difficulties we are experiencing, we feel like there is a psychological part that can motivate us to live... I feel like my soul is in Iraq.”

Displacement is more than simply leaving one’s house. It means leaving behind certainty, income, education, friends, and family. For Telskuf’s Christians, two displacements within such a short timeframe was deeply scarring and regarded as part of a longer historical trend of Iraq’s Christians fleeing their homes. Frustration was widely felt among the community. Zain, who was raised in Telskuf, said, “We Christians don’t ask for anything. We just want security. [This], it’s a war against Christians.”

The situation has caused reconstruction efforts in Telskuf to significantly decrease. While several families have again returned after the October displacement, it is not unusual to find the streets abandoned. Telskuf remains part of territory disputed between the KRG and ICG, which in turn limits the options of residents. Zain explained, “We have homes [here] and whenever we are out there, they ask us to bring a kind of permission or someone who will grant us that we will go in and go out… [But] I am like, this is my home.”

Without freedom of movement, even meeting the basic needs of survival can be challenging. “I have been waiting for a food truck for over an hour. I started to have one surgery and will have another [soon]. I am tired because the waiting is so long,” said one elderly woman in April. That particular day, the food truck would eventually arrive after a five-hour delay at a checkpoint that offered no reason for the postponement. Such situations involving the transportation of basic goods are now commonplace in Telskuf.

Despite these challenges, residents of Telskuf remain hopeful for a better future. One woman, Iana, said, “No, I don’t like travel… I would not leave. If there can be employment, we are comfortable here. ISIS affected us, but they are gone.”

Iana’s son would also never think of leaving Iraq. “I don’t know why, but he likes Iraq so much. It’s like he was born from Iraq, not from me.”

Milad echoed this feeling. Now that he has returned to Telskuf, he says he feels as if his soul has come alive again. “Even with the difficulties we are experiencing, we feel like there is a psychological part that can motivate us to live… I feel like my soul is in Iraq.”

Undoubtedly, Telskuf is facing many challenges. But through residents such as Iana and Milad, Telskuf remains a beacon of hope for Iraq’s Christians. They were displaced—twice—but they came back determined to help rebuild and heal their community. As the residents of Telskuf have demonstrated, Iraq’s Christians are resilient. They are, as many Iraqis have pointed out, “like the rose in the orchard.”

For interviews with Claire Evans, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

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