ICC Note: The Nineveh Plains, the traditional home of Iraq’s Christians, has undergone much turmoil within the last decade. Christians left Iraq in three waves, the latest a result of ISIS’s targeted violence against religious minorities. The conditions which contributed to the violence in Iraq remain in place, even while ISIS no longer holds territory. As a result, Iraq’s Christians are caught between hope for the future and past experience.
06/12/2018 Iraq (Crux) – In the famous Bible story, the ancient city of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s preaching and repented. Today, however, Christians on the Nineveh Plains, a fabled swath of land that overlaps the dividing line between northern Iraq and Kurdistan, have found it’s not quite so easy to change peoples’ hearts and minds.
Ironically, in 2008 the Nineveh Plains actually was floated as a possible safe haven for Christians from other areas of the country being driven from their homes by what would eventually come to be recognized as the Islamic State’s genocidal campaign.
In 2014, that genocide reached the plains. A cluster of villages that had been traditionally Christian for two millennia was wiped out, while tens of thousands of residents fled for their lives. Many headed for the Christian enclave of Ankawa in nearby Erbil, which is today claimed as the capital of an independent Kurdistan.
While in theory those fleeing Christians could have sought refuge in a UN-sponsored camp, very few ever did, fearing that the jihadist hatred that put them at risk at home wouldn’t have much difficulty penetrating the porous confines of a Muslim-dominated refugee camp either. Thus, they turned to the churches, turning courtyards, parks and streets in Ankawa into vast informal settlements.
Some of those Christians decided to leave the region altogether, most seeking new lives abroad in Australia, North America or Europe, but the majority stuck it out – in part out of a rugged determination that Christianity wouldn’t be wiped out of its historic homeland, in part with hope that the Iraqi government with U.S. support would eventually get the situation under control, and, in part too, for a simple lack of better choices.
By mid-2017, great optimism was in the air and talk of quickly rebuilding those Christian villages and resettling their residents created an air of optimism. Then came the Kurdish independence referendum, which badly frayed relations between Baghdad and Erbil and created fear of a wider regional conflict, and the long-anticipated return from exile slowed down.
Today things are once again moving forward, and Christians of this historic cradle of the faith are beginning to make their way back. That fact is all the more remarkable given that support for the rebuilding effort from public sources such as the UN has been all but non-existent.
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